UAAP Roundtable | Season 82’s outstanding players, coaches

After 56 action-packed games, the hostilities in the UAAP Season 82 men’s basketball tournament is just about to heat up.

With the double-round robin eliminations over, next up for the premier collegiate league is its much-talked-about playoff phase, set to be staged in a rare stepladder format. 

Defending Seniors champions Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles have booked an automatic finals seat via a 14-0 sweep of the preliminaries. The UP Fighting Maroons, ranked second with a 9-5 win-loss card, clinched their first-ever twice-to-beat incentive in the Final Four era, instituted by the UAAP way back in 1993. The Diliman-based dribblers await the winner of the sudden-death clash between the FEU Tamaraws and the UST Growling Tigers, scheduled on November 6.

Apart from the games, a number of personalities have made it to the sports headlines for their impressive showing in Season 82. Today, FOX Sports Philippines’ Kriel Ibarrola, Jonas Reyes and Jordan Samar discuss which players and coaches stood out amongst their counterparts after two exciting preliminary rounds of the 2019-20 season:

Who is the best local player of the season?

Jordan Samar: “The best local player for me this season has been Kobe Paras. He has been big in so many situations for UP emerging as their go-to guy especially down the stretch. Paras can basically do everything on the floor, but if he can further sharpen his outside stroke, he would be unstoppable.”

Kriel Ibarrola: “The best player usually plays for the best team in the league, but it’s hard to single out one Ateneo player given how everyone has stepped up for them throughout the tourney. Guys like Dave Ildefonso and Rey Suerte should be given merit, but they were unable to lead their respective teams to a more successful outing.  As far as being consistent goes, I’ll pick Kobe Paras for UP. Apart from taking full advantage of his natural gifts, Paras has shown the ability to pick his spots for coach Bo Perasol’s offense and has even managed to keep his teammates involved.”

Jonas Reyes: “My vote goes to Kobe Paras. The Fighting Maroons’ second straight trip to the playoffs has Paras’ imprint all over it. With Paras, coach Bo Perasol had for himself another scoring option outside of Season 81 Most Valuable Player Bright Akhuetie – who has been slowed down by injuries and the swarming defense put up by the opposition. The celebrated forward surely made the loudest noise this season after a widely-publicized stint in the NCAA Division I with the Creighton Bluejays. Also, that Season 82 highlight reel will obviously include a bevy of those Kobe Paras dunks.”

Who is the best foreign player of the season?

Jordan: “It’s no secret as to why Ateneo is the top team in the league right now, and a big part of that is the interior dominance of Angelo Kouame. He has been instrumental on both ends for Coach Tab Baldwin and he is a matchup nightmare for most of the other bigs here in UAAP.”

Kriel: “I had high hopes for Bright Akhuetie after last year’s MVP campaign, but it seems like Angelo Kouame has already surpassed him in terms of how valuable he is for his team. UST’s Soulemane Chabi Yo also turned a lot of heads with his play in Season 82 but it’s hard to deny Kouame’s claim given how big of a role he plays for Ateneo on both ends of the floor.”

Jonas: “I could have gone for UST’s Soulemane Chabi Yo, but getting my nod here is Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame. Those three-peat seeking Blue Eagles have displayed their ruthlessness on the defensive end of the floor, with Kouame’s imposing presence standing in its epicenter. Sure, there are games wherein the Ivorian big man has struggled on offense. But on defense? There seems to be no off-game for Kouame on that department.”  

Who is the best rookie/newcomer of the season?

Jordan: “UST finally made it to the Final Four after three seasons and it is because of the ascension of Rhenz Abando. In fact, he is so good that rival schools have reportedly tried to poach him. That says a lot really, and he should be the ROY no doubt.”

Kriel: “UST’s crop of spectacular freshmen all deserve recognition. Rhenz Abando gives the Tigers a possible superstar to build around for in the coming years, while gunner Sherwin Concepcion will certainly be a vital clog for the team moving forward. I’m picking Mark Nonoy as this year’s best newcomer. Sure, he still has a lot of shortcomings as a playmaker — particularly with his frequent turnovers – but you can’t deny his impressive run in handling coach Aldin Ayo’s system.”

Jonas: “My pick is Rhenz Abando, for three reasons: athleticism, hustle and the outside touch. There may have been ‘distractions’ to his maiden campaign in the UAAP, but Abando has undoubtedly risen amongst the crop of first-year players. The Growling Tigers’ return to the playoffs, after a three-year absence, has to be attributed to the fine play of Abando and fellow newcomer Mark Nonoy.”

Who is the best coach of the season?

Jordan: “Of course, Tab Baldwin gets the nod here since the results speak for itself with their flawless record. But more than anything, his eye for talent and development has been the main reason why the Blue Eagles are where they are right now.”

Kriel: “Tab Baldwin is still the gold standard when it comes to coaching at the collegiate level. However, I’ll be going with an unpopular choice in FEU’s Olsen Racela. He managed to steer the Tamaraws to another Final 4 appearance, despite fielding a line-up that’s not as star-studded as their competitors. His guidance was also instrumental in FEU’s second-round surge, helping his team overcome a slow start in Round 1 of the eliminations.”

Jonas: “Same with Kriel, I will go with an unpopular but deserving choice — Aldin Ayo of UST. The master of Mayhem has towed the España-based squad to a spot in the playoffs despite having a rookie-laden lineup. Ayo’s Tigers have scored big wins over UP and FEU this year, and came up short of an upset over Ateneo in the first round – a testament to the system installed to the UST program by a former NCAA and UAAP champion coach.”

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