A peek into the future: UAAP players to watch out for
Pio Garcia, Unblogged Sports (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2014 - 12:53pm

MANILA, Philippines – It is still early – wait, very early – to be even discussing the UAAP Men’s Basketball tournament. Heck, the Women’s Volleyball tourney has just wrapped up. But talking about Season 77 as if it is just around the corner is something collegiate basketball hopheads want to ponder. It doesn’t help that the US NCAA will be aired in the country live every day until they reach the Finals of the Last Dance.

Well, we all know that Ateneo reloaded itself in a very Empire-y kind of way. They lost the Death Star when senior stalwarts like Justin Chua, Greg Slaughter and Emman Monfort walked away towards the sunset with rings adorning their fingers. The architect of that Empire also walked away to the pro league and the Blue Eagles were left with a Sith Lord who does not know his powers or how to properly wield them. Given, Bo Perasol did not have the materials to work with in a severely gutted ship that was broken stem to stern (or was that the other way around?).

The rebel forces of De La Salle University, the eventual conquerors of Season 76, and UST and even National U jumped the gun on them and left behind a smoldering Death Star. It was a magnificent job that they put up that denying them victory would be inconsolable. Juno Sauler coached his brains out for the men in Taft. Pido Jarencio left his fighting heart on the floor for his alma mater. Eric Altamirano and National U, being the platoon that got force choked, still made an impressive run for their dream title.

But like in The Empire Strikes Back, Ateneo has reloaded in the best possible manner, and the half-built Death Star is now a complete whole. A moon dangerously raring to fire its initial salvo in the preseason tune-ups just to test out whether the guns installed are up to the task. But De La Salle, UST and the other schools won’t go down without a fight and they may as well end up on top of the heap once more, slugging it out in the Finals.

But speaking of guns, who recruited the best and who has that ready-to-explode vet for the coming cage wars? Here, you get a peek of the future. Is your “homie” in it? This isn’t a top rookie list though, I must warn you. So for the Green groupies out there, I don’t have a whiff of your rooks just yet. But let’s get it into a mix, it’s more fun that way. Shall we?

Aljon Mariano, University of Santo Tomas

Mariano must be looking forward to the next UAAP opening. The sting of that Finals defeat will never be abated until he’s the one lifting that heavy trophy at center court, surrounded by his teammates. Not being a numbers person myself (leaving that to someone else, you know who you are), Mariano suffered a down year after dueling with Nico Salva head-on prior to Season 76. He did not shoot quite well, evidenced mostly by that Finals choke job, and just wasn’t the match-up nightmare he was. And this being his last tour of duty, if my math is right, Mariano is out to erase the tarnish on his name and might just go bananas on everybody.

Chris Javier, University of the East

I’ve been putting up this guy for a long time now. And yet, his head coach fails to recognize what an asset he has at that bench.

He should’ve started alongside Charles Mammie, yet curiously was downgraded to a bench job. What gives? I mean, he’s a legit big willing to get it done dirty and annoy the hell out of the Van Opstals, Torresses, Sewas, Mbes but you demote him to a bench job. For what? To say your team has depth? That won’t work. Here’s a guy who’s going to be a pressure release for Charles Mammie down low if the Sierra Leone native gets doubled or tripled. He was a former cog, very vital cog, in the San Beda Red Cubs team that won crowns left and right. Mind you, given the proper burn, he can give you a healthy 10 and eight a game alongside Mammie’s and Roi Sumang’s eye-popping numbers. He’s not soft either and can finish around the hoop as opposed to Zamar’s other 4s who want to Dirk Nowitzki all day.

Arnold Van Opstal, De La Salle University

He surprised a lot of people last season. I’m sure every team is gearing up to stop this mobile 6’9” big man or die trying. What’s not to like about his development after seeing him be a ragged doll in the post in the years prior? A fabulous year tucked under his belt should be enough to motivate him to post even better numbers and earn an outright slot into the National Team (if this guy ain’t invited to train rigorously with them, there’s something wrong). He’s 6’9” and can put up what, 20-22 and at least 10 boards a game if he decides to go Shaq circa ‘92 on everybody. Jeron Teng remains to be Juno Sauler’s main cannon but AVO should grab more attention in the coming season.

Troy Rosario, National University

Troy Rosario is one intriguing prospect. He’s 6’7” reportedly, moves well, can shoot and does not lack the work ethic. What lacked is playing time. He was mired behind Emmanuel Mbe, NU’s tireless workhorse, when he could’ve been used as the starting 4 to form a Twin Tower combo. Would that have been better for NU? I think so, yes. Graduated senior Jeoff Javillonar was more intent on taking out people’s shoulders rather than putting up a decent game, which Rosario has done ably. I’m very high on the kid and his potential to be the next Danny Ildefonso, not counting current Danny I skill set user Jun Mar Fajardo. How different could NU’s Final Four could’ve been had Rosario been given consistent minutes rather than spot ones.

Jericho Cruz, Adamson University

Cruz was great last year. But he took an awful lot of shots and sometimes they were forced. How do I imagine Cruz re-upping? Let’s see. First, that shot has to fall. I see him as the next PJ Simon. Someone who can slash, and create or stop on a dime and be a ilista mo na jump shooter. Also, he needs improvement when passing out of lanes that have been shut down for him. Too turnover prone for my eyes. He’ll be alright. Next thing we know, he might be dropping 20s a night with six boards and four dimes to boot.

Jon Sherrif, University of Santo Tomas

Sherrif was a virtual nobody before exploding into the scene as a last-resort point guard solution of Pido Jarencio as UST roared its way back into the Finals. Sherrif was able to sneak up on everyone else but this time around, teams will be intently trying to get that bouncing leather off his palms since UST played at a much more efficient pace when he was on the floor directing traffic compared to the moments he was cooling off at the bench. It also helps his case that he is not a Japs Cuan and teams cannot just sag down on him.

Kevin Ferrer, University of Santo Tomas

This will be Ferrer’s year for UST alongside Sherrif, Mariano and ever-reliable Karim Abdul. Make no mistake, UST will be Ferrer’s team. Mariano will try to bounce back and dole out better numbers, Abdul will get his, but without Ferrer, they’ll be sorely challenged for offense. There’s no one who can go toe to toe with Ferrer since if you put a small guy on him, he’s smart enough to school him in the post. But if you put a burly twinner on him, the poor guy will be burned repeatedly off the deck. Is it too much to ask for Ferrer to average a Pippen-esque or fine, JC Intal-esque 17-7-4/5ast? It’s quite within reach.

Chris Newsome, Ateneo de Manila University

Newsome was good as advertised. He’s so athletic and strong that he can play the part of a small four. He can bring the ball down on his own, direct traffic and even finish with aplomb. The jump shot will get there hopefully so this beast can be complete. Motor isn’t a question since he’s loaded with a V8. In Ateneo’s loaded line up, a decent 13-6-3 should be enough of a worthy contribution.

Arvin Tolentino, Ateneo de Manila University

Allow me a moment here. But this kid will probably be aping older men by the time he steps on the hard court. Here’s a 6’5” dude who can go up and down the floor with guards, has range until the three-point line, makes jump shots on a consistent basis and can play almost every position. Drool-worthy? Very much so.

AT had a great battle with Prince Rivero during the last NCAA Juniors Finals and it warranted the hype. He scores when needed most and dropped the house on the Greenies’ squad when it was winning time. He was unstoppable in the fourth quarter after looking lax in the first three. I guess only the motor is in question, together with the motivation. But he knows what is at stake when he decided to don the Blue and White for Ateneo. Get ready for this monster I say.

For now, I guess these folks are at the top of my head. Should we go for a part 2? I think we should. That would make fore exciting stuff to look forward to.

 And this may well be, just maybe, a fitting farewell… for the seniors, those to be featured, at least.

Complaints? Protests? Hate? Do drop a line to @PioVGarcia.

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