UNIVERSITY of the East's bright future in the UAAP as well as the school's proud past were the reasons that convinced Philippine youth standout Mario Bonleon to play for the Red Warriors starting this season.
Bonleon confirmed to Spin.ph that he has already made a commitment to play for the Red Warriors, a team that finished near the bottom of the standings last season with a 3-11 win-loss record.
Despite finishing seventh last season, Bonleon strongly believes the Red Warriors, under head coach Boycie Zamar, will be a title contender as early as the coming season following the arrival of several recruits.
“Napakalakas ng team this year, championship contender talaga,” said Bonleon. “Hindi lang alam ng mga tao pero alam ng mga ibang teams ‘yun.”
The Red Warriors have beefed up their roster with imports Charles Mammie and Mustaph Arafat. They also have a couple of promising players who are set to move up from the reserve ranks.
Calling his team as the "new breed of Warriors," Bonleon said: “Malakas ang team ng UE from my rookie year hanggang sa last year ko. Daming recruits. Nagbago na ang UE."
Bonleon was one of the top standouts of the Energen-Pilipinas squad mentored by now-Petron head coach Olsen Racela that finished sixth in the 2012 Fiba-Asia Under-18 championships.
During the Mongolia tournament, Bonleon posted a team-high 14.3 point average per game while also contributing 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists a game for the Nationals.
The La Salle Greenhills standout admitted that the hiring of his father Nonoy as assistant coach of the team also played a role in his decision to suit up for the Red Warriors.
“Assistant coach namin ang dad ko, mas gusto ko doon para may guidance ako. Simula nung naglaro ako, siya kasi ang nag-train sa akin,” Bonleon said.
The winning tradition of UE and the legendary players who once suited up for the Red Warriors also factored into the young Bonleon's decision.
“Napansin ko sa PBA, UE ang nagpo-produce ng mga legends. Simula pa nung era nila Jawo (Robert Jaworski), Allan Caidic to James Yap, and ngayon Paul Lee … Gusto kong sundan ang mga yapak nila,” Bonleon said.
During the time of Jaworski, UE captured seven straight UAAP titles from 1965 to 1971 - a feat no team has come close to matching until the Ateneo Blue Eagles won a fifth straight title last season.
But the Red Warriors have fallen on hard times, going without a title since 1985. The school has not made it to the Final Four since 2010.