UNIVERSITY of the Philippines (UP) is thinking big.
And not only because UP is the Season 78 host of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) but the Fighting Maroons’ rookie coach feels he has the materials to go deep in the men’s basketball tournament.
Rensy Bajar, a surprising pick by UP to host its men’s team, said the Diliman-based team has no other goal but to surpass its 1-13 campaign last season.
And he’s not only talking about the desire of the players to make it to the Final Four this season, but also the support the team is getting from the school, alumni and private groups.
I’m seeing in the players that they really want to achieve that [Final Four] goal. They’ve been working hard in practice, that’s why we’re looking forward to the coming season, Bajar said.
And the reason they are also inspired is the support of the UP community, alumni and those who are helping us in different ways, he added.
The Gokongweis have been the school’s staunch supporter for several years now and UP Team Manager Dan Palami, known for putting the Azkals to national consciousness, is involving other alumni to pitch in.
That’s why Bajar, who played seven years in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), hopes they could reward the good deeds of their supporters by giving their best effort each game.
We just need to work hard and play together as a team, said UP’s Assistant Coach Joe Ward, who supervised the team’s training before Bajar was named head coach before the season.
Besides Ward, Allan Gregorio, former UP center and ex-Fighting Maroon Poch Juinio and Mo Gingerich are on the coaching staff.
Manpower-wise, UP has improved a bit with Paul Desiderio and Jett Manuel returning. Mark Juruena, Kyles Lao, Diego Dario, JR Gallarza, Dave Moralde and Henri Asilum are key holdovers from last season’s squad.
Six-foot-nine Cheick Kone, a find from Cornerstone High School in the US; Janjan Jaboneta, a standout from Ateneo de Cebu; and former La Salle-Zobel forward Noah Webb are the notable rookies for UP this season.
The last time the Fighting Maroons reached the Final Four round was in 1997 behind Paolo Mendoza, Ogie Gumatay and the late Bryan Gahol.
The Fighting Maroons will face University of the East in the opener at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, followed by the Adamson University-University of Santo Tomas duel at 4 p.m.