Restocked Blue Eaglets remain favorites in UAAP 78

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Nov 13, 2015 03:21 PM
Restocked Blue Eaglets remain favorites in UAAP 78
TOP DOGS. The top three finishers from a season ago have a great chance of doing so once again in UAAP Season 78.

The 78th Season of the UAAP Juniors Basketball Tournament does not hold anything back from the get-go as it begins with a bang – a clash between defending champion Ateneo de Manila High School and archrival De La Salle Zobel.

A fitting matchup to usher in the new season with as the rivals stand ahead of the pack with loaded lineups and playoff experience. Still, no one is counting out runner-up Nazareth School of National University just yet.

Ateneo de Manila High School Blue Eaglets

A season ago, Ateneo fell just once in a total of 17 games en route to their first championship since 2011. Season MVP Mike Nieto and Mythical selection Matt Nieto are now showcasing their wares in the Seniors ranks, but Finals MVP Jolo Mendoza and Batang Gilas leading scorer Gian Mamuyac remain as Blue Eaglets.

While coach Joe Silva may find himself missing the steady leadership of Matt Nieto at the point, set to take over at the position is SJ Belangel who famously poured in 99 points in a game when he was still playing for Bacolod’s Tay Tung High School. Meanwhile, the big void left behind by Big Mike Nieto will be taken care of by Shaun and Sean Ildefonso – yes, the sons of the legendary Danny Ildefonso – as well as 6’5” rookie Victor Berjay.

Still, Silva shrugged off the tag as favorites and even Mendoza’s next step as an MVP candidate. “We are a team. We will rely on each individual on the team,” he told ABS-CBN Sports.

De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers

With the Nietos, Mark Dyke, and Jaydee Tungcab now in the Seniors ranks, the only Mythical selection still in the tournament plays for DLSZ. Last year’s league-leading scorer Aljun Melecio remains at the forefront of the offensive for coach Boris Aldeguer.

However, Melecio’s intact supporting cast just may be the more important factor in the Junior Archers’ drive for their first title since 2008. Along with his top gun, Aldeguer also has Brent Paraiso, Martin Romero, and Marco Sario still at his disposal.

That doesn’t mean that Alabang hasn’t been injected with some new blood with Jan Sobrevega and Bryant Terrado showing much promise to fortify the other guard spot right beside Melecio.

Nazareth School of National University Bullpups

For the first time in three years, NU will not have a ready-made star in the mold of Hubert Cani or Mark Dyke on its roster to begin the tournament. What coach Jeff Napa has, however, are talents who flashed potential a season ago and are only raring to level up this time around.

There were times last year that long and lanky Justine Baltazar looked to be a better end-to-end player that Mythical Team member Dyke. There were times last year that John Lloyd Clemente looked steadier than both Jordan Sta. Ana or Allen Mina.

The only definite question mark keeping the runners-up a notch below Ateneo and DLSZ is who replaces the heady playmaking of Philip Manalang. Nonetheless, nobody is betting against Napa’s goal of “just making the Final Four first.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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