UAAP: Overlooked freshmen in Season 81

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The UAAP Season 81 Rookie of the Year race will almost certainly end up as a two-man contest between CJ Cansino of UST and Dave Ildefonso of NU. But to think that they are the only rookies worth keeping track of for this season is a huge mistake.

While Cansino and Ildefonso have (understandably) grabbed all the headlines for their gaudy numbers, there are also a number of other rookies who have been steady contributors for their respective schools this early in their UAAP careers. While these rookies may not have eye-popping stats, the significant roles they have been given and experience they have been gaining this early certainly bodes well for their individual growth and for the future of the UAAP.*

L-Jay Gonzales, FEU Tamaraws

FEU is known as one of the best programs in producing quality point guards. With the likes of Johnny Abarrientos, Denok Miranda, Marc Barroca, RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo, and Mike Tolomia all hailing from the Morayta-based squad, it is no surprise that the Tamaraws seem to already have a successor to that lineage in L-Jay Gonzales, who is set to take over as the team’s lead quarterback once Jasper Parker and Hubert Cani graduate.

At the end of the first round, Gonzales is averaging only 7.1 minutes and 3.8 points per game for FEU. But those numbers fail to show Gonzales’ persistence and hard work to play himself into coach Olsen Racela’s rotation. After barely figuring in the Tamaraws’ first three games, Gonzales has now earned Racela’s trust and has slowly been given more and more playing time as the season has gone on.

The speedy guard is a former UAAP Juniors Mythical Five member and Finals MVP, so he definitely has the ability to make it big in the collegiate ranks. And while we may have to wait a couple more seasons before he truly breaks out, the fact that he has already rapidly developed midway through his first season in the league is definitely a promising sign.

Jed Colonia, AdU Soaring Falcons

Speaking of true freshman point guards, the relatively unknown (at least to the general UAAP fanbase) Jed Colonia has arguably been the best one so far in Season 81.

Colonia has started all six games for Adamson so far despite the presence of the veterans Jerie Pingoy and Jerom Lastimosa (a UAAP rookie, but not a true freshman), and has averaged 1.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in 11.8 minutes per game. While his scoring efficiency can definitely be improved, Colonia has already proven to be one of the best playmakers in the entire UAAP. He is second on the team in assists per game and, more impressively, leads the entire league with a 5.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Colonia is actually a two-time CESAFI Juniors MVP for Sacred Heart School Ateneo de Cebu, so he definitely has talent. Nonetheless, it is still rare for rookie point guards in the UAAP to be named as a regular starter, especially for a Finals contender like Adamson.

Joaqui Manuel, DLSU Green Archers

After stirring some mild controversy for deciding to play for La Salle in college despite graduating from the Ateneo High School program, Joaqui Manuel is now a beloved figure for the Green Archers for his grit and toughness.

Often overlooked in high school due to the presence of more highly-touted teammates such as SJ Belangel, Dave Ildefonso, Jason Credo, and Kai Sotto, Manuel has found his niche with the school from Taft. Mainly a power forward in high school, the brother of former UP Fighting Maroons star Jett Manuel has noticeably cut his weight and adjusted his game to be a converted wing player for La Salle. Manuel’s dedication to improving his overall game has been rewarded by head coach Louie Gonzales by naming him a starter for all of their games thus far.

The 6’3 Manuel is currently averaging 3 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 15.3 minutes per game for the Green Archers.

*This list only includes “true freshmen,” or those who graduated from high school last school year.
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