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Rejuvenation in Recto

By Paolo Mariano Posted Jun 24th 2013

Roi Sumang and the rest of the University of the East Red Warriors hope that their pre-season success wasn't a fluke.

There were plenty of hugs and high fives to go around the San Juan Arena last June 12 after the University of the East (UE) annexed the Fil-Oil Flying V Premier Cup crown over fancied and erstwhile undefeated National University (NU).

The Red Warriors whooped it up in center court and celebrated as if they just captured the gold medal in the Olympics. But really, who can blame them?

After being on the losing end for two straight seasons in the UAAP—piling up 22 defeats in 28 games for a woeful .214 winning percentage—the almost surreal win over NU was a gigantic sigh of relief. Like being rescued from a fast-sinking ship. 

Even though pre-season tournaments aren’t definite gauges of a team, that championship conquest sent a stern statement to the UAAP: Watch out for UE!

“Honestly, when you’re (coming from) seventh place, you have everything to gain. Plus, coming from a losing streak, this (Fil-Oil crown) is a huge confidence-builder,” said head coach Boysie Zamar. 

Ever since Zamar took over the team in the latter part of last season, upon the go-signal no less of the guy he replaced and long-time friend Jerry Codiñera, UE has made incredible leaps. The first thing you’ll notice is the renewed confidence of the players. They play with more pride and toughness, unlike the past two years, wherein it looked like they were just happy to be in the UAAP. This Season 76, expect a much competitive squad.  

Fearless guard Roi Sumang, who posted 18.4 PPG (3rd in the league), 4.9 APG (2nd in the league), and 1.4 (3rd in the league) last season, is poised to have an MVP-type year. He’s arguably the best one-on-one player in the UAAP today and he has shown improvement in his decision-making and defense. But more importantly, he’s fully embraced the leadership role in the young UE roster. 

Also expected to make immediate impact is African big man Charles Mammie. The 6-foot-8 transferee from Arellano University is the Energizer Bunny on steroids. He has boundless energy and wears his heart on his sleeve. While he isn’t a legit offensive threat, his defense and hard work will pay dividends for the Red Warriors, who lacked passion the last two years. 

The rest of the squad is a rag-tag collection of under-the-radar guys, who are not ashamed of playing smaller roles. Chris Javier, Adrian Santos, Jay-Ar Sumido, and the returning Lord Casajeros will provide the much-needed artillery on both ends. Two guys who’ll also see consistent minutes are newcomers Gino Jumao-as, a former NCAA Juniors MVP from San Sebastian, and Ralf Olivares, a product of the University of Visayas. 

“I’ve instilled to my players the ‘3D’: Discipline, Defense, and Determination. The skills are already there, I just need to constantly remind them about their effort,” said Zamar, who led UE to consecutive Final Four trips from 2002-2006 with studs like James Yap, Paul Artadi, Ronald Tubid, KG Canaleta, and Bon-Bon Custodio.

The Red Warriors, who competed in tournaments in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia in the off-season, will once again rely on their speed and athleticism. But if they want to improve on their back-to-back seventh place finishes, they need to buckle down on defense. UE was the worst defensive team last season, allowing a whopping 78.5 PPG on 41.7% field goal shooting.

Zamar will be the first to tell you that his team is far from being great. He’s always been quick to quell all the pre-season hype his crew has garnered after winning the Fil-Oil tournament. As with most veteran ringleaders, he’s putting everything in perspective.

”The UAAP is a different story,” admitted Zamar. ”A coach can’t be a fortune-teller. You can’t give false hope to UE. What’s important is we’re building the characters of the players. They’re really working their butts off.”

In fact, he’s not even looking at the number of wins or at least a ticket to the Final Four.  

“Our goal is to wake up the UE community again. Gusto naming mapag-usapan ulit (We want to be relevant again),” said Zamar. “Our fans have been sleeping for a long time.”


UAAP Season 76 Lineup:

Alberto, Dan Irvin
Casajeros, Lord Howier
Flores, Jairold
Galanza, Pedrito Jr.
Guion, Leo
Hernandez, Ivan Jeric
Javier, Christopher Joyce
Jumao-as, Gino
Mammie, Charles
Noble, John Michael
Olivares, Ralf
Pujante, Luis Adrian Vinci
Santos, Adrian
Sumang, Shej Roi
Sumido, Jhon Rey