UST Tigers confident of returning to Final Four despite coaching, roster overhaul
Louie Vigil takes the lead for a young Growling Tigers squad eyeing to keep their run to the Final Four going. Jerome Ascano

[Here's Part VII of our special preview for UAAP Season 79]

Season 78 review: Finished with an 11-3 record in the eliminations, reached the finals but lost to Far Eastern University

Key holdovers: Louie Vigil, Kent Lao, Mario Bonleon, Renzo Subido,

Key losses: Kevin Ferrer, Karim Abdul, Ed Daquioag

Newcomers: William Afoakwah, Tsutomi Tateshi, Jason Strait, Oliver De Guzman

UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas went through major changes for the coming season after its runner-up finish against Far Eastern University last year.

No longer with the squad are three of the key figures of last season’s squad in Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, and Karim Abdul, while Boy Sablan replaced Bong Dela Cruz as coach.

Among the new UAAP coaches, Sablan was the latest to come aboard with his team, which is why he’s impressed with how the holdovers have learned his system in such a short system.

“Limited lang ‘yung preparations namin compared sa ibang teams. Yung mga players, na-adopt agad ‘yung system na gusto ko. Matatalino mga bata. Nakuha nila ‘yung gusto namin agad,” said Sablan.

While the team does have some holdovers from last season, the Growling Tigers are still lacking in experience as some of them had limited roles during their run to the finals in season 78.

One welcome addition, though, is Louie Vigil, who originally wasn’t supposed to be part of this year’s squad due to a rule change in the age limit but got reinstated after the new rule was scrapped.

Sablan said Vigil provides another offensive weapon along with Kent Lao.

“Malaking bagay kasi veteran eh. Si Louie ‘yung captain ball namin. Siya ‘yung talagang leader ng team na magdadala this year.  May katulong si Kent kasi kung wala si Louie, si Kent lang ang beterano,” said Sablan.

Also one of the holdovers expected to lead the squad is Mario Bonleon, who had a relatively impressive rookie season last year.

New recruits William Afoakwah of Ghana and Fil-Japanese Tsutomi Tateshi have big shoes to fill as well, as they will take over Abdul’s former role in bolstering their frontcourt.

Despite their star players no longer with the team this year, Sablan remained confident with the chances of a relatively veteran squad. Sablan believes the team is still good enough to reach the Final Four.

“Actually, may experience naman sila. ‘Yun nga lang, most of them nasa bench pero nasa UAAP. At least, alam nila ‘yung game sa UAAP. Ngayon, may playing time na sila. Marami akong magagamit ngayon,” said Sablan.


"We are gunning for the Final Four. 'Yung expectations, hindi namin iniisip," he added. 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @reubensports