Nowhere To Go But UP
A potential starting lineup with Javi and Juan Gomez De Liaño, Bright Akhuetie, Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras has UP fans optimistic about UAAP Season 82.
Akhuetie secures the defensive rebound! In one motion, turns and makes the outlet pass to Juan Gomez De Liaño streaking from the wing… before he even puts the ball on the floor he makes another forward pass to Paras who then takes a power dribble from the 3-point line, takes two steps and then soars for the tomahawk slam…
Two possessions later, it’s a ball screen set by Akhuetie for Juan at the left wing. The defender – who fights over the screen – is left behind; as Bright’s man tries to hedge, Akhuetie sucks the help defense in with a strong roll to the hoop. Juan whips a pass to the right corner to an open Ricci Rivero, who shot fakes, gets his man in the air, drives baseline and eludes the last defender with his trademark euro-step to the middle, before kissing the layup softly off the glass…
Deep in the fourth period, UP enters the ball into Akhuetie in the post. He backs his man down, and after a couple dribbles, sees the double team from the middle and makes a kickout pass to a wide open Javi GDL at the top of the key. The weakside defender rushes to close out against an open 3, but Javi passes it off to his brother Juan at the wing, who knocks down the booming triple!
These are just some of the plays that UP fans will bask in the glory of come UAAP Season 82, when their highly-touted all-UAAP 5 are finally all eligible to suit up for the Fighting Maroons.
Before we get ahead of ourselves however, let’s dial it back and take a look at each of these players at this point of their college careers and what they bring to the Diliman stable.
Javi Gomez De Liaño
A product of the UPIS system, Javi is the first of the De Liaño brothers to play in the Seniors division after a successful stint in the high school ranks. Although not as highly-touted as his younger sibling, Javi is a stretch 4, standing 6’5” with lots of length and athleticism, and a reliable outside touch. Definitely one of Coach Bo’s blue-collar glue guys, who has stepped up his game (8.3ppg, 5.9rpg, 30% 3P% 21.2mpg in S80) as his minutes have increased. He will play both ends of the floor, can defend an opponent’s best scoring big or forward, and will be Mr. Intangibles on the court.
Juan Gomez De Liaño
Season 80’s Rookie of the Year, Juan GDL is already one of the UAAP’s most exciting and explosive players to watch. Arguably the most athletic and shifty guard in the league today, he’s a natural born scorer who can finish at the rim but has also shown the ability to run a team and make great decisions. While he needs to raise his 3pt shooting percentage to the high 30’s to be a real threat from the outside, he has that same winner’s mentality as his fellow fighting Maroon, Mr. “Atin to!” Paul Desiderio.
The two-time NCAA Mythical Five member and former Perpetual Help double-double machine could easily be the most dominant big man in the UAAP after Ben Mbala. Not only will he bring the much needed inside scoring UP has sorely lacked for the past several years, but he will immediately be a dominant inside presence on both ends of the floor – commanding double and even triple teams on offense, and altering shot after shot as the last line of UP’s defense. After serving a year of residency after transferring from UPHSD, Akhuetie is surely raring to stamp his mark in the UAAP, much like he did in the NCAA during his two seasons with the Altas.
The biggest surprise and recruiting coup this summer belonged to UP Diliman, if only for the transfer of Ricci Rivero from DLSU. The prized former LSGH swingman was already making waves as the possible next King Archer when his career at Taft was cut short due to out-of-court issues. But on the court, Rivero has dazzled UAAP fans the past two years with a combination of athleticism and finesse not seen in decades. His natural scoring ability (12.9ppg, 35% 3P%, 5.9rpg, 1.6apg in Season 80) and trademark euro-step have left many defenders bewildered, and have unleashed a social media fandom unlike any we’ve seen so far.
As if the UP Community didn’t already have enough to watch out for in season 82, they pulled off another big catch when Kobe Paras, son of former UP legend Benjie Paras, committed to Diliman just early this month. Another LSGH product, Kobe played for the Creighton Bluejays in the US NCAA and has represented the country in multiple FIBA tournaments, including a gold medal finish in the 2017 SEA Games. Another prolific and high-flying scorer, Paras stands 6’6” but plays the wing position; and while he has a respectable outside touch, he is more known for his thunderous finishes, as a 2-time FIBA 3x3 dunk champion. With Paras and Rivero, UP would have the most athletic wing combination the UAAP has seen in years.
BUT, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that basketball is still won by an entire team, and not just the five on the floor, star-studded as they may be. And more importantly, not only will UP be able to seriously contend for the final four and even a championship in Season 82, they could in fact contend for one as early as this Season 81.
Paul Desiderio, their undisputed leader, will be playing out his final year, coinciding with Akhuetie’s first year with the team. Together with the GDL brothers, Jun Manzo, Noah Webb, Gelo Vito, Diego Dario, Jan Jaboneta, Jerson Prado, Jarrell Lim, and even Will Gozum, among others, UP will have its deepest roster in more than a decade; and will definitely be a favorite to finally barge into the Final Four.
Thus, while Season 82 is ripe with championship promise; as early as now, there is nowhere to go but UP for the Fighting Maroons.