The college basketball world is still reeling from the tremors caused by Ricci Rivero’s transfer from the De La Salle Green Archers to the University of the Philippine Fighting Maroons.
The reigning UAAP Most Improved Player himself confirmed the development by posting a picture on his Twitter account of him wearing a UP shirt.
The 6’ 1” guard said that he decided to join the UP Maroons after consulting family and friends, as well as Gilas teammates who were raving about how supportive the UP community was of the UP Maroons. He added, “If a school is willing to give me an opportunity to keep playing in the UAAP and grow as a basketball player and as a person, then I will gratefully accept it and do everything I can to help that school win a championship.”
Social media was ablaze with reactions of disbelief upon the announcement of this seismic move. But the aftershocks of this decision will continually be felt in the near future.
What’s in it for UP?
The Fighting Maroons acquired a marquee player who can be the heir apparent to Paul Desiderio who will be graduating after Season 81. As per UAAP rules, Rivero has to sit for one season before donning the UP jersey for Season 82. That seamless transition will make the squad of Coach Bo Perasol legitimate Final Four contenders for three or four years and lessens their recruitment concerns. It also proves Perasol’s penchant of having an elite scoring guard in his line-up, just like Kiefer Ravena and Gary David in his previous coaching stints.
While Rivero cannot play for the Diliman-based squad yet, he can join them in practices to build chemistry with his future teammates. He has a headstart in jelling with the team while playing with Maroons captain Desiderio, former NCAA Juniors MVP Will Gozum, and former UAAP Juniors MVP Juan Gomez De Liano for the Gilas Cadets during the 2018 Filoil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup. While they are not achieving much success under the nation’s colors, that increasing familiarity among them will bolster UP’s chances to go deeper into the season.
There might also be a shift in the rotation for Desiderio is more of an outside shooter while Rivero is deadlier when conquering the lanes using his Eurostep. It’s possible that Rivero will play some minutes at the small forward spot while the younger Gomez De Liano and Jun Manzo both start at shooting guard and point guard, respectively. This gives the Maroons two slashers with great court vision and a dead shot from the perimeter. When all else fails, they can dump the ball inside to either Gozum or Bright Akhuetie and barge their way in for points.
Another possible scenario would be Manzo and Rivero manning the starting back court, while Javi Gomez De Liano, Jaydee Tungcab, or Evyn Santiago fill the small forward spot. That way, they still have that outside threat who can space the floor and open up lanes especially for the Akhuetie and Rivero. Likewise, the shooters will have a heyday if Rivero, Manzo, and Diego Dario can attack to the basket at will. The guards can also initiate pick-and-rolls with Gozum, Akhuetie, or Jerson Prado, Gelo Vito to misdirect the opponent’s defensive rotation.
Rivero makes the UP Fighting Maroons a well-rounded team for it gives them another threat on the open court and a player who can attract multiple defenders. When he gets to execute what he is great at, the entire Maroons roster will benefit.
The familiarity of the Green Archer’s tendencies and knowledge of UST coach Aldin Ayo’s system are also vital pieces of information that he can share to help Perasol and his assistants map out a perfect game plan.
Indirectly, the transfer of Ricci gives the Maroons fans room to speculate that his older brother Prince will follow suit, given that their father often promote them as a package. He would be a nice addition to the squad as he can bolster their rebounding while disrupting the opponent’s psyche with his defense and teasing antics. However, he might not be able to crack the solid front court rotation of Akhuetie, Gozum, Prado, Vito, Javi Gomez De Liano, and David Murell.
In Season 80, UP secured six victories with Ibrahim Outtara in the middle. Akhuetie is expected to be an upgrade as he gives the Fighting Maroons a legitimate inside scorer who can also defend the likes of Pape Sarr, Issa Gaye, and Prince Orizu. Meanwhile, Gozum is a great weapon should they go for bigger line-ups. With the back court rotation still intact, the Fighting Maroons now boast one of the deepest rotations in the UAAP. Thus, anything short of a Final Four stint would be a disappointment.
Ateneo will still be a contender due to coach Tab Baldwin’s premium on ball movement and hounding defense. La Salle will regain its bite with their twin towers of Taane Samuel and Brandon Forbes who can fill the void that Ben Mbala left. Adamson and FEU remains to be a steady contenders but the UP ballers can now go toe-to-toe with them. In the end, it seems like the Tamaraws will slide out of contention due to the loss of Ron Dennison, making way for the Maroons’ first Final Four appearance since 1997 by winning seven or eight games.
Indeed, the fight is back for the Fighting Maroons. Come UAAP Season 81, they have a clear shot on making the playoffs. But by 2019, the impending addition of Rivero will ensure that there is nowhere to go but up for the perennial underdogs.