UST Growling Tigers: A season of hope and the horizonâs silver lining
The UST Growling Tigers pose with their runner-up trophy in the 82nd UAAP men's basketball tournament. Cagadas
UST Growling Tigers: A season of hope and the horizon’s silver lining
Rick Olivares ( - November 23, 2019 - 10:23am

MANILA, Philippines – As someone who has closely followed what has been going on in the University of Santo Tomas’ basketball teams, I can say that sometimes, in these difficult losses, one can find healing.

We already know what sports can do — unite a group, community or even a country. In the case of these UST Growling Tigers, they have given their school, community and fans something to be hopeful about.

Losses in championships can be galling especially for a school that in the pre-program days were the dominant power in basketball, football and volleyball.  The world has tilted on its axis and others have taken over. But UST soldiers on.

No team of theirs has symbolized this more than their basketball team. Prior to their incredible championship run of 2006, they suffered a drought. Since 2006, they have made the finals thrice more but each time came away as the bridesmaid.

There have been instances of dissention, hazing and all sorts of accusations related to the unsavory side of basketball. This season was not even spared of that. Joshua Marcos, who showed flashes of what he could do in the previous season, chafed at his benching and transferred to the College of St. Benilde. And the year before, a bunch of players like Justin Araña (who became such a vital cog for an Arellano University team in transition) and Leon Lorenzana (who is now with the University of the East) left.

Marvin Lee, the mercurial guard who was a symbol of their devil-may-care, run-and-gun style was removed. Lee’s backcourt mate, Renzo Subido, nearly did not come back owing to a misunderstanding with the coaches. He was even demoted to back-up status, but he quickly underscored his importance and he returned to the starting lineup. He hit some big shots but perhaps none bigger than the long bomb he launched to propel UST to the finals.

Come the UAAP, controversy surrounded their star forward Renz Abando and an alleged move to a rival school. 

What was sad though was during the PBA D-League conference that preceded the UAAP, UST showed its potential and basketball observers took notice. They struggled in the Filoil Preseason Cup, but the potential was there for all to see. Yet they seemed unable to shake off all the troubles that have shadowed them all these years.

A close game — a 71-70 loss to Ateneo in the first round of UAAP Season 82 — had everyone singing their praises. See what we mean about even in defeat one can find something to be proud of?

Then they struggled, found their second wind, and embarked on an incredible run that saw them take down two other higher-seeded teams to arrange a finals series with Ateneo. It was a tall order to topple the juggernaut that is the Ateneo squad, and the Blue Eagles finished them off in two matches.

They are losing three of their cogs of their recent years in Subido (who is now a UST folk hero), Zach Huang and Enrique Caunan (who hardly played this season). And there are questions on how they replace the first two, who have provided them with huge output, as we all know Ateneo still remains a very good team capable of winning a fourth straight title and La Salle is re-arming. Who knows how UP will shape up to be? And NU is building a powerhouse team that can win it all as well. 

If it is any consolation to UST, it is the messages of hope from Aldin Ayo saying he is staying as long as the school wants him. They have very good players in CJ Cansino, Mark Nonoy and Dave Ando. Brent Paraiso still has one more year in him, and Ando and Abando are still around.

Some players will move up from their Team B in Paul Manalang, the younger brother of Philip Manalang. After his high school career in NU, Paul went to UE but now transferred to UST. They have 6’7” Carlos Sumabat, who will add to their ceiling. Hopefully, their junior forward and Batang Gilas player Bismarck Lina will move up the ranks as well. And their scouts are still scouring the country for gems like Nonoy and Abando.

Imagine too Soulemane Chabi Yo, Abando, Nonoy and Cansino next season. With a year of experience (in the case of Cansino — two), they will be better.

Furthermore, they have one of the best and brightest minds in coaching today. If UST can build on this past season, this will propel their team even higher. Imagine this... they came out of nowhere to pip the more moneyed programs like UP, National University, La Salle and Adamson to make it to the UAAP finals. That says something. The trick is to do it again as the last time there was a sense of consistency was during the Pido Jarencio years.

The men’s basketball team, including their women’s volleyball team (that made last season’s finals but lost to Ateneo as well), have given this proud school something to cheer about and be hopeful for what is to come.

I am sure everyone in the España school cannot wait for what is next.

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