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UAAP Season 77 Preview: UP Fighting Maroons - UAAP Season 76

UAAP Season 77 Preview: UP Fighting Maroons

By Anton Roxas Posted Jul 5th 2014

The UP Fighting Maroons are aiming for at least three wins after two winless campaigns in the last three UAAP men's seniors basketball tournaments.

It seems that every year, the prognosis for University of the Philippines’ Men’s Basketball team is that they will live up to their moniker: The Fighting Maroons.

And although they have shown the ability to stand toe to toe with their foes in competition, the Diliman based squad still has not able to produce favorable results during the recent UAAP seasons. In fact, in the past five years, UP has only won a total of six games combined out of 70 games.

Veteran Mikee Reyes has not only had to endure this horrendously low winning percentage throughout his stay in college, he also had to overcome a devastating injury to his right shoulder that kept him out of action for two straight seasons and a forgetful season last year. Now 23- years old and entering his sixth year at the university, Reyes admitted that he does feel like an old man on campus. But despite that, he also knows how extremely lucky he is to have yet another chance to play the game he loves.

“Grabe… I really feel blessed. I really thought, ‘Wala na. It’s not for me na. Mag-aral ka nalang.’ I’m happy to be given the chance again to play at this level,” said Reyes, who still has two more years of eligibility in the league including UAAP Season 77.

It’s definitely a new beginning for the embattled point guard and fortunately, the entire team is also seemingly gearing up for a positive transformation.

Last April, it was revealed that UP alumnus and team manager of the National Football Team, Dan Palami has decided to give back to his alma matter by become the new team manager of the Fighting Maroons. Palami has done wonders for the Philippine Azkals, who are now ranked 129th in the world in the latest rankings released by FIFA last June 5 (From an all-time low of 195th place back in September 2006).

Another alumnus who will be returning to UP this season is former player Rey Madrid, who was part of the last UAAP champion team in men’s basketball back in 1986.

Madrid, who actually took over from Ricky Dandan during the last seven games in UAAP Season 76 last year, had to once again undergo the application process of becoming the team’s head coach during the off-season before being reinstated.

Madrid is delighted to have Palami on board to back the UP Fighting Maroons.

“He (Palami) came in in a big way. We are hoping that he can weave his magic and turn things around for us.”

Unlike last year, the players had more time to get accustomed to the style of the coaching staff, which also includes Ramil Cruz plus former pros, Poch Juinio and Bong Hawkins. Madrid believes that a full training camp will benefit them in UAAP Season 77.

“The big difference is we got to spend a lot of time together working on a system that we all need to be familiar with. More than anything, I think it will be us having more cohesiveness and chemistry that will bring us some positive results,” said Madrid, who is also an architect.

Prominent names like Joseph Marata, Raul Soyud, Julius Wong and Chris Ball have all maxed out their eligibility leaving the likes of Reyes, Team Captain Moraih Gingerich, third year point guard Henry Asilum and energy guy JR Gallarza with the opportunity to step up as the new leaders of the squad.

Another familiar name making his return to the league is former UAAP Juniors MVP Mark Juruena. The 6’5” big man, who played for UP from 2009 to 2011 but sat out the last two seasons is looking to make an impact with his rebounding and passing in the post.

Former San Beda Red Cub and Red Lion, Dave Moralde is also looking to come in and become an offensive threat for the team. The 6’2” wingman led UP in scoring with 13.7 points per game in the 2014 Fil-Oil Flying V Premier Cup. Moralde still has three playing years left including the upcoming season.

Two rookies that are expected to contribute right away are former La Salle Greenhills and RP Youth player Gelo Vito and point guard Diego Dario of UPIS. The 6’4” Vito will help out sophomore Andrew Harris at the center position while Dario, who is also an RP Youth player himself, adds depth at the one spot for UP.

If there is one player on the squad that appears ready to take his game to another level, it is former Xavier standout Kyles Lao. The UAAP’s reigning Rookie of the Year has worked hard during the off-season on building up his body in order to withstand the bumps and bruises he is expecting to experience when driving hard to the hoop. Lao has also been working on his shooting and in extending his range beyond the three-point line.

UP did not win a single game last season, but Lao feels that come UAAP Season 77, a new Fighting Maroons team will be unveiled.

“We’re a more enthusiastic and happy team that will give our opponents a hard time. I know it’s a cliché that every year, we say, ‘UP will fight.’ But, right now, I can really say that we will win,” said Lao.

Lao’s coach, Rey Madrid himself, was more specific with how much UP would win.

“I do guarantee and the team guarantees a minimum of three wins.”

“Baby steps lang muna kami. We are working on three wins muna and then hopefully, win some more.”