FROM fresh faces in the squad to a new basketball facility, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
“All can agree that the ‘fighting’ is back in the Maroons,” said UP coach Ricky Dandan.
“Half of the team is new. We will be one of the youngest, if not the youngest team in the league. The UP community is excited,” said Dandan.
The team also received a boost when a new basketball facility was opened and the team finally moved out of the old College of Human Kinetics gym.
“Thirty years na ’yung gym namin and it has become very crowded. Panahon ko pa ’yun, 80s pa ’yun eh. Kaya finally when our new gym was completed, it is much smaller but mas private ang ensayo at walang distraction,” said Dandan.
However, Dandan is toning down the expectations on a team that went 1-13 last year.
“I don’t think anybody will disagree that we are the underdogs. We have taken the attitude that every game we play will be against contenders and high-rated teams. That’s our attitude. We look at every game as teams we need to beat and we want to beat.
“From where we were at from the previous year, ayokong i-overwhelm ‘yung mga bata. We are just going to take it a day at a time,” said Dandan.
The UP head mentor was pleased with the results in the preseason after the Maroons reached the semifinals of the Fr. Martin Cup where it bowed to eventual champion National University.
The Maroons had a slow start in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup but went on to win their final two games.
“We struggled at the start. First time naming sumali ng maaga ng Fr. Martin (in November). And for the first time, I decided to coach it instead of the assistants because we have a new team.
“Overall, towards the end, we got our bearings. Matagal pa ’yung cohesion dumating but I’m happy that we were able to recover,” said Dandan.
Eight rookies led by former Tiong Lian MVP Kyles Lao, Cebu guard Paul Desiderio, and Andre Paras have given the Diliman-based cagers new hope for the future, joining sophomore guard Henry Asilum, Chris Ball, Raul Soyud, Sam Marata, and Mikee Reyes.
Dandan said that the rookies will definitely play a big role this season.
“I will rely on my veterans but a lot of the rookies will be in the rotation. It’s good dahil mahaba naman ang season. We will insert them here and there in order for them to gain experience,” said Dandan.