Not only key returnees, top recruits and promising rookies are eager to stamp their class in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament that gets going on Sunday with a pair of blockbuster matches at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Five new mentors, including a pair of collegiate champions, are out to make a good account of themselves against three old tacticians, led by Nash Racela of defending champion Far Eastern U, in another title race for the league’s ultimate reward in centerpiece basketball.
Five-time UAAP champion coach Franz Pumaren will make his much-awaited return to the league as he calls the shots for Adamson U while Aldin Ayo, who led Letran to a surprising title run in the NCAA last year, is eager to do the same thing for powerhouse La Salle.
Season host University of Santo Tomas will also parade a new mentor in the mold of former assistant Rodil ‘Boy’ Sablan while Bo Perasol, fresh from steering Mighty Sports-Team Philippines to the Jones Cup title last month, is hoping to help his alma mater, University of the Philippines, turn its fortunes around.
The Blue Eagles filled up the void left by Perasol by elevating long-time assistant Sandy Arespacochaga as their mentor, with Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin serving as his prized consultant.
“Personally, it’s really very challenging,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano, now the league’s longest tenured mentor since he assumed the Bulldogs’ coaching post in 2012. “‘Yung mga pumalit na coaches, they’re all well-accomplished and multi-titled.”
Aside from Racela and Altamirano, University of the East’s Derrick Pumaren is also included among the league’s elder statesmen as he embarks on his third-year at the helm of the Red Warriors, considered by many as this year’s darkhorse team.
Even Ayo, one of the country’s promising tacticians, acknowledged the fact how daunting the battle will be from the sidelines.
“If there’s one thing na maganda dito, ‘yung credentials ng mga coaches dito, makikita mo. They’re the top coaches in college,” he said.
“Not to take away anything from (San Beda) coach Jamike (Jarin) and coach Jerry (Codiñera of Arellano U), ito talaga mga seasoned coaches.”
Altamirano, who led the Bulldogs to the 2014 crown, the school’s first in over 60 years, admitted the coaching changes also gives them added work to make the needed adjustments.
“Of course, kailangan naming mag-adjust kasi bagong system ang lahat ng ‘yan,” he noted. “It’s very exciting and very challenging. I’m looking forward to this season.”
On the opening day inside the Big Dome, Pumaren, the architect behind the Green Archers’ dynasty highlighted by a ‘four-peat’ romp from 1998 to 2001, is in for a tough challenge against Perasol as the Soaring Falcons take on the Fighting Maroons at 2 p.m.
In the main header set at 4 o’clock, Sablan, who served as an assistant to Pido Jarencio in UST’s title conquest back in 2006, is out to prove he also has what it takes as the Growling Tigers take on Arespacochaga and the revamped Blue Eagles.
On Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena, Altamirano and the Bulldogs square off with Pumaren and the Red Warriors at 2 p.m. before Racela and the Tamaraws open their title defense against Ayo and the Green Archers at 4 o’clock. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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