TWO teams which had their share of disappointment over the years have been tagged the unlikely favorites going into UAAP Season 76 crown which begins on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
University of the East and National University have been tagged as the teams to beat by virtue of their superior performances in the preseason, according to the prevailing sentiment among head coaches during a press conference held at the MOA Arena on Tuesday.
UE won the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup recently at the expense of NU, which in turn captured the Fr. Martin Cup crown, making them the top picks among the six other head coaches for this season.
NU has not won a league championship in close to 60 years, or not since 1954; UE's last championship came when their coach, Boycie Zamar, still wore the school's colors.
“For us to be included as a contender ng mga coaches, we are flattered,” said UE Zamar. “But we should not be contented.”
NU coach Eric Altamirano said his team, while humbled, is ready to embrace the favorite label, saying this season is the best chance for the Bulldogs to go all the way.
“We were humbled and grateful for getting that tag as a team to beat,” Altamirano said. “But like what I’ve told the boys, we have to embrace it. If there is a year that we can do it (win the title), this is the year.”
UE opens the season with a game against Far Eastern University in the first game of the opening-day doubleheader that also features a match pitting De La Salle against University of Santo Tomas.
The coaches, though, aren’t counting out other teams like Ateneo, the five-time defending champion which has lost key players Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva, last season’s runner-up University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle.
“You can’t discount them (Ateneo),” said Adamson coach Leo Austria. “They are very dangerous even without a big man.”
Altamirano said: “I still think UST is the team to beat. They have been in the finals, they won the Champions League (last year), they have a very good coach. Si coach Pido (Jarencio) tahimik lang ‘yan pero pag season, dun mo makikita ‘yung pagka-Tiger niyan.”
“Everybody can do it. Whether it’s NU, UST, Ateneo, they will always be there but do not discount UP, FEU, Adamson, and most especially La Salle,” Zamar said.
“We can’t discount the fact that La Salle will still be there lurking in our backs,” said Ateneo’s new coach Bo Perasol. “I really think everybody is going to be strong to really contend for the championship.”
The season will also feature three new head coaches in Perasol, Nash Racela of FEU, and Juno Sauler of De La Salle.
“Right now, I’m just happy with the development,” Racela said. “We are taking the right steps in the right direction. We just have to take it a game at a time.”
Sauler said that it’s still too early to assess the chances of his team after being hired just three weeks before the season starts.
“It’s going to be an exciting year. We have a balanced league. It’s really hard to say who the strongest teams will be,” said Sauler.
The press conference was also attended by the UAAP board led by president Fr. Max Rendon and secretary/treasurer Malou Isip, and basketball commissioner Chito Loyzaga.