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    UAAP yearender: Focus turns to recruitment as virus wipes out games

    Dec 25, 2020

    UNDER normal circumstances, champions in the collegiate level would have been decided by now.

    Teams who made it to the Final Four last year had the edge to make return trips, with Ateneo favored to win the UAAP crown.

    However, these are not normal times and no games were played, which meant that the battles turned to the recruitment pitch in this extended offseason.

    A lot truly has changed among the Final Four of last season.

    With the first part devoted to those who missed the cut, this second part is for those who made it to the stepladder semis last year.

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    Ateneo Blue Eagles

    Additions: Gab Gomez, Dave Ildefonso, Chris Koon, Josh Lazaro, Forthsky Padrigao, Dwight Ramos, Eli Ramos.

    Losing five key players would have been deathknell for any team, but even with exit of Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, twins Matt and Mike Nieto, and Adrian Wong, Ateneo remains the title favorite.

    The three-peat champions did well in maintaining their position as the Blue Eagles maximized the offseason retooling.

    The key guys from the three-peat team are gone, but the Blue Eagles now parade Gilas Pilipinas' breakout star Dwight Ramos.

    Add to that the continued improvement of guys like Ange Kouame and SJ Belangel, and the impending arrivals of Dave Ildefonso and incoming rookies Forthsky Padrigao and Josh Lazaro for UAAP Season 84 and what you have is an Ateneo team that is still a force to be reckoned with.

    Safe to say, the boys of coach Tab Baldwin will be more than alright.

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    UST Growling Tigers

    Additions: Coach Jinino Manansala, Adam Caniones, Aldave Canoy, Johnvic Casingcasing, Daniel Coo, Jethro Escoto, Thirdy Esmena, Johnsherick Estrada, Joshua Fontanilla, JC Garing, Jonathan Gesalem, Ian Herrera, Rom Junsay, Paul Manalang, Christian Manaytay, Nikko Panganiban, Rafael Pangilinan, Brian Samudio, Bryan Santos, Renzel Yongco.

    Catastrophic was the downward spiral University of Santo Tomas had this past year.

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    All the gains from last year's inspirational run to the championship were seemingly lost after a controversial sojourn in Sorsogon as key cogs from that Growling Tigers team have bolted elsewhere.

    Yet there's no time to weep, and new coach Jinino Manansala has retooled a the squad with role players to back last year's MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo and Sherwin Concepcion.

    Joshua Fontanilla and Bryan Santos, star players from their old teams, will be vaulted into prime roles this season as the Growling Tigers look for direction in what is shaping up to be another trying year in Espana.

    It's just hard to imagine UST making the same run to the finals when the competitions resume, but if there's something working for the boys in black-and-gold, it's that there's no harm in trying for teams like them who are constantly underestimated.

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    UP Fighting Maroons

    Additions: Gerry Abadiano, Jancork Cabahug, Joel Cagulangan, RC Calimag, CJ Cansino, Maodo Malick Diouf, Sam Dowd, Anton Eusebio, Cyril Gonzales, Ethan Kirkness, Bismarck Lina, Carl Tamayo, Alonso Tan, Miguel Tan.

    No longer the league's whipping boys, University of the Philippines had a bullish offseason which has been the envy of many.

    Questions remain on who can and will return from last season's Fighting Maroons side, but just look at the boatload of talent coach Bo Perasol netted in his recruitment trips.

    It's a who's who of top prospects led by Gilas Pilipinas Youth stalwarts Carl Tamayo and Gerry Abadiano from NU, RC Calimag of LSGH, and Bismarck Lina of UST, all poised to be a big part of UP's future, together with players who came to Diliman last year in Joel Cagulangan of La Salle and Maodo Malick Diouf of CEU.

    As if the competition for the roster spots aren't stiff enough, CJ Cansino of UST, Cyril Gonzales of Mapua, and Jancork Cabahug of UV have also hopped in the wagon, making the roster cuts all the more harder for the coaches.

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    Yet as strong as the Fighting Maroons' roster and additions are on paper, their teamwork remains suspect, and it's the biggest question mark Perasol and the rest of UP will have to deal with come next year: to not just win games but try to truly win it all.

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    FEU Tamaraws

    Additions: RJ Abarrientos, Kevin Guibao, Jason Li, Emman Ojuola, Joshua Ramirez, Ximone Sandagon.

    Finally, Far Eastern University's long awaited guard tandem is ready for its snapshot as RJ Abarrientos joins L-Jay Gonzales in the green-and-gold's backcourt.

    The exciting 1-2 punch is expected to be the focal point of the Tamaraws' attack as coach Olsen Racela takes advantage of last season's learnings.

    Emman Ojuola's entry will certainly help, but it's now the wings which FEU will have fill after Ken Tuffin's decision to forego his final playing year and stay in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL).

    Onus is on senior Branrey Bienes and incoming recruits Joshua Ramirez, Kevin Guibao, and Ximone Sandagon to make up for that loss and help the Tamaraws continue to contend.

    FEU has always been used to being in the mix, but in an offseason where the opposition made significant reinforcements, the boys from Morayta will truly be tested game-in and game-out.

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