“I just want the championship”: Reigning MVP Allwell Oraeme zones in

Ceej Tantengco on Sep 16, 2016 04:02 PM
“I just want the championship”: Reigning MVP Oraeme zones in
“I’m not looking at individual awards anymore, I just want the championship." - Mapua center Allwell Oraeme

If last season seemed like smooth sailing for the Mapua Institute of Technology’s rookie big man and individual-awards-hakot-machine Allwell Oraeme, NCAA Season 92 is a different story.

The 6’9” center has faced several injuries and nasty falls on the court, while the Mapua Cardinals as a team have had a roller coaster of a season. On a good day, they can beat dominant teams like the San Beda Red Lions and the defending champs Letran Knights; on an off day, the bottom-ranked College of Saint Benilde Blazers almost notched a win at their expense.

But now with their ticket to the Final Four secure, the reigning MVP makes his priorities clear. “I’m not looking at individual awards anymore,” says Oraeme. “I just want the championship."

Then and now

“There’s a big difference,” Oraeme says of their journey to the Final Four in NCAA Season 91 and 92. “We had a lot of challenges this year, so many injuries, it was so difficult,” he says. Last year, they were able to notch their longest winning streak under head coach Atoy Co; this year, the wins came in staggered bursts.

“Last season, everyone was clicking on the court, connecting on the shots. Now, it’s been harder to get to that point. But despite that, we’re still in a better position [at this stage of the competition] than where we were last year,” he says, noting that if all goes well in the remaining games, they could enter the final four as the Top 2 team. That’s already one spot better than last year’s Top 3 finish.

In spite of the hiccups, Oraeme believes there’s reason for optimism: “It was so difficult…but I also think we came out stronger because of it.”

On the way back to health

Oraeme is one of several Cardinals who were hurt this season—team captain CJ Isit missed several games after a hand injury, Exie Biteng is still out with a groin injury, while Co repeatedly talks about how much he misses the shooting of JP Nieles, who suffered an ACL injury in the pre-season.

“My elbow still hurts, my finger needs to get checked…but I’m good,” Oraeme says. “I’m working on getting back to 100% because we’ll need everything we got.”

Part of that is the Cardinals’ new addition to their conditioning program: road running in Manila. “Our route is Mapua to CCP and back,” he says. “It takes us about 35 to 45 minutes. We’re a running team, so this is how we do it.”

Love from Lagos

Oraeme’s family lives in Lagos, the smallest of Nigeria’s 36 states. If it sounds like it’s halfway around the world, it is. With no way to watch the games live in Nigeria, foreign student athletes like Oraeme develop their own ways of sharing their basketball journey with their relatives back home. (Fun fact: San Beda Red Lions alum Ola Adeogun used to stockpile game tapes and bring them home for Christmas.)

“The games aren’t shown there and the livestream doesn’t work in their area, but I call them every day,” he says. They supported his decision to uproot himself and play basketball halfway around the world, and nothing would make them happier than to get a phone call with news about a championship.

“I’m keeping them updated,” he says with a smile. “They’re very excited.”

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Ceej Tantengco is a courtside reporter with the NCAA. Watch the games live every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on S+A or livestream here. Follow this writer on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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