University of the Philippines

University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons

Fighting Maroons Rensy Bajar shares that his wards are going to put premium on defense. Can it take them to the top? | Toledo

UAAP Season 78 Preview: UP Fighting Maroons

Head coach: Rensy Bajar, who played for San Beda in the NCAA

Season 77 record: 1-13

Losses: Darwish Bederi, Carlo Escalambre, Mo Gingerich, Nomer Gonzales, Kyles Lao, Martin Pascual and Mikee Reyes.

Holdovers: Agustini Amar, Henry Asilum, Diego Dario, JR Gallarza, Andrew Harris, Mark Juruena, Jarrell Lim, Jet Manuel, Dave Moralde and Gelo Vito.

It used to be, "next year again." A battlecry almost as ubiquitous as "UP Fight!" Now it looks like yes, this could be the year where they move up from the lower half of the UAAP standings to challenge for a Final Four slot.

Yes, that is how bold they are to make that announcement. No more, "get out of the cellar" or "win more games than the previous season." They want to crowd the big boys. And they are loaded with seasoned veterans and talented newcomers who make for a hungry bunch. And first year coach Rensy Bajar minced no words - Final Four or bust (more so since they are hosts this season).

They won the Filsports Basketball Association, and that in itself is something as they went up against taller and older players. They needed that to toughen up.

Having said that, you cannot take the Maroons lightly. These guys found a style that they were comfortable with - frenetic-paced and physical basketball. These guys are like the Golden State Warriors as they have loads of scorers who can bombard from the outside. Even with Kyles Lao on the mend after an ACL tear, they've got Manuel, Gallarza, Dario, Desiderio and Moralde. Heck, Mark Juruena and Jarrell Lim can also hit the outside shot.

They have some exciting newcomers in Jan Jaboneta and Pio Longa, who add to their Ateneo de Cebu alumni alongside Henry Asilum. Jaboneta is a fearless attacker who can rebound and hit some shots. Longa is a long range threat.

Personally, I think the addition of Jaboneta is huge. He is a physical player blessed with scoring gifts and a nose for the ball. I thought that the Maroons took a cue from his play aside from the return of Desiderio who despite standing 5'10" likes to post up opposing guards.

Jaboneta and Moralde are players who like to drive inside and that adds another dimension to their game.

Speaking of inside players, there is Cheick Kone, who at 6'9" can correct their rim protector woes. And this Burkina Faso (formerly called Upper Volta) national got better as the summer wore on. He'll man the slot with the energetic Gelo Vito and Andrew Harris to play backup.

They made a lot of noise in the pre-season and they backed it up. For sure, come UAAP Season 78, no one can take them lightly.

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