THE local sporting collegiate scene gets added oomph with the start this weekend of Season 80 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).
Hosted this year by Far Eastern University (FEU) and carrying a theme of “Go for Great,” the new season as customary will begin with men’s basketball as one of the first marquee sports to be played.
The De La Salle Green Archers are the defending champions after sweeping archrivals Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals of Season 79.
They remain as the consensus favorites entering the new season even as they are set to play sans league most valuable player Ben Mbala early in the season after the Cameroonian got a call-up from his motherland to play in the FIBA Afrobasket 2017 in Tunisia.
Despite not having the full complement of players in the early goings of the tournament, opposing coaches still picked La Salle as one of the teams to contend with even as they said the field would be competitive, owing to the fact that all teams worked hard to improve.
“Defending champion La Salle is still the team to beat,” said Ateneo assistant coach San Arespacochaga, who represented head coach Tab Baldwin in the press conference for the new season early this week.
He was seconded by University of the Philippines’ Bo Perasol, who added Ateneo and FEU as the “usual suspects.”
“These teams have the programs year in and year out. They always come out strong,” said Mr. Perasol.
For coach Aldin Ayo of defending champion La Salle, being installed as the team to beat is something they are taking on as a challenge.
“We’re very excited for the new season. We’re ready. This is a new team but we’re ready,” said Mr. Ayo, who led La Salle to the title last season after helping the Letran Knights to the National Collegiate Athletic Association crown the previous year.
Also getting the coaches’ attention for Season 80, apart from the usual suspects, are Adamson University, UP and National University (NU).
“Adamson is actually a strong team under coach Franz Pumaren and so is UP, which was a dark horse last year but I think will be a contender this time around,” Mr. Arespacochaga said.
“NU I think is the dark horse of the league this season,” added the Ateneo deputy of the Bulldogs, who are now handled by NCAA champion coach Jamike Jarin.
Installed as one of the tournament favorites, Adamson is not backing from it but mindful nonetheless not to get ahead of themselves.
“All the teams are coming in well prepared. We’re going to compete but we’re not expecting anything easy,” said Franz Pumaren of Adamson.
It was a sentiment shared by FEU coach Olsen Racela, who is set to make his collegiate coaching debut this season after taking over from brother Nash.
“The league I think is well-balanced. Everybody should give their all this year and we must be ready,” said Mr. Racela.
Also present during the press conference were University of the East’s Derrick Pumaren and University of Santo Tomas’ Boy Sablan, who vowed to be competitive in Season 80.
“We are parading an all-Filipino team, and a young team, but we will be competitive,” said Mr. Pumaren.
“On our part, we had more preparation time this year than the last. Hopefully it makes a difference,” Mr. Sablan, for his part, said.
Organizers of UAAP Season 80 said their aim is to make the new season more “fan-friendly” and to reach more people as well as fine-tuning the conduct of the games, including the officiating.
UAAP Season 80 men’s basketball kicks off tomorrow at the Mall of Asia Arena with UE taking on NU at 2 p.m. while Ateneo faces off with Adamson at 4 p.m.
On Sunday, also at the MOA Arena, UST battles UP at 2 p.m. to be followed by the clash between FEU and La Salle at 4 p.m.