For fully loaded UP, it's first Final Four since 1997 or bust

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Sep 03, 2018 07:27 PM
For UP, it's first Final Four since 1997 or bust
Paul Desiderio is nothing but determined to lead UP to its first playoff berth in more than two decades

HOW’D THEY DO LAST SEASON? 6-8, fifth

YES, THEY’RE STILL HERE: Paul Desiderio, Javi Gomez de Liano, Juan Gomez de Liano, Jun Manzo, Gelo Vito

WELCOME TO THE FAMILY: Bright Akhuetie, Will Gozum, David Murrell, Jaydee Tungcab

GOOD LUCK ON FUTURE ENDEAVORS: Kyles Lao, Ibrahim Ouattara, Noah Webb

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM UP?

This is the year fans of the University of the Philippines have been waiting for – because this is the year it’s all supposed to come together for this long-suffering team.

Head coach Bo Perasol has always said that, slowly but surely, the Fighting Maroons will be in contention once more.

“Nobody can assure success in terms of winning, but I know we are progressing. From where we were and where we are right now, nag-iimprove from year-to-year, month-to-month. We’re just positive na dapat lang, mas mahigit sa anim yung aming maipapanalo this coming season.” – head coach Bo Perasol

And the upcoming UAAP Season 81 is the culmination of all the development, of all the recruitment, and of all the hype.

“We anticipated this, we planned this. In everything we improved on, expectations are really high. (That means) that we are doing the right thing.” – head coach Bo Perasol

The core of Paul Desiderio, Jun Manzo, and Gomez de LIano brothers Javi and Juan is back and better than ever – with Paul and Juan even getting valuable experience as Gilas cadets.

Only now, that core has also welcomed with open arms even more talent in the form of Nigerian powerhouse Bright Akhuetie, NCAA Juniors MVP Will Gozum, former Adamson University slasher Jaydee Tungcab, and versatile Filipino-Amerian forward David Murrell.

Hands down, this is the strongest lineup UP has ever had on paper – yes, even stronger than that 1986 championship led by Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc.

Still, that championship team had long proven to be winners before they even got to DIliman. That is yet to be determined for this current crop of Fighting Maroons.

WHO IS/ARE THE PLAYER/S TO WATCH OUT FOR FROM UP?

Desiderio wants his legacy in UP to be that of the captain who led his team to its first Final Four since 1997 – and its first Final Four of many for the foreseeable future. After a championship in the PBA D-League, the main man is nothing but willing to do it all for more of that winning feeling now in his alma mater.

For the first time since the days of Paras, the Fighting Maroons will have a dominant inside presence in Akhuetie who once powered University of Perpetual Help to the Final Four and a near-upset of dynastic San Beda University. the rest of the frontline isn’t too shabby either with Javi GDL, Jerson Prado, and Gelo Vito.

The most must-watch aspect of State U’s season, however, has got to be the leap Juan GDL is supposed to make. The former Juniors MVP and reigning Rookie of the Year was always destined for superstardom – the only question is will he be getting there as a sophomore.

WHY SHOULD WE ROOT FOR UP?

For years, UP has said that there is nowhere to go but up. With just 13 wins in nine seasons from 2007 to 2015, that is indeed the case.

The loveable underdogs are no more though, as the Fighting Maroons have the makings of a league powerhouse for years to come.

“Wala na kaming excuses. Lahat (training camp, gym, weights room, et al) yan, at par na sa malalakas na programa. Ang kulang na lang is for us to deliver.” – head coach Bo Perasol

If they live up to the hype, then a 21-year wait will come to an end and a long-awaited, much-wanted Final Four berth will be theirs to celebrate.

“The important (thing) is we believe we can. We believe it’s difficult, but we’re willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it.” – head coach Bo Perasol

WHERE WOULD UP BE AT THE END OF UAAP SEASON 81?

Ready that bonfire at the Sunken Garden, Diliman.

UP’s playoff drought will end – there will be a lot of hiccups on their way there as they are still on the process of learning how to win, but they will get there.

“I don’t know where we’re going, but the mere fact that people are trying to pressure us, (that means) we’re stronger now. Before, I don’t think people were expecting people to win. This time, we’re happy and we’re up for it.” – head coach Bo Perasol

This team is too talented and Desiderio is too determined for them not to get there.

“Hindi (na) lang enough yung fighting, we have to win. Kailangan, iniintindi namin na hindi pwedeng Fighting Maroons kami – we have to be the Winning Maroons.” – head coach Bo Perasol

WHEN IS UP’S FIRST GAME IN UAAP SEASON 81?

UP is out for a confidence-booster right out of the gates when it is matched up opposite new-look University of the East on September 7.

Of course, It All Begins Here on S+A, S+A HD, LIGA, LIGA HD, and livestream.

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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