MANILA, Philippines - Four more days until another season of competitive collegiate sports.
The 75th season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) is set to open on Saturday, July 14 as the men's basketball team of hosts National University (NU) face off with the University of the East (UE) for the first official game of the league.
"This year we are celebrating the emergence of the UAAP as the country's premier collegiate league not just in basketball but for all other sports in our calendar," said UAAP Season 75 president Nilo Ocampo at a press conference Monday, July 9.
Themed "Unbreakable," this season also marks the first time the colossal Mall of Asia Arena will be used for university sports, which Ocampo said will raise the caliber of competition in the UAAP.
ADMU, NU power
Head coaches of each team shared their assessments of their line-ups, as well as their opponents'.
The general consensus among coaches pointed to Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) -- which is on a quest for its fifth consecutive championship -- as the team to beat. NU also garnered much praise after a dominant pre-season showing and winning the summer league.
"I think Ateneo is very strong along with NU - that's a fact. They've been together for quite some time already," said the league's newest coach, Gee Abanilla of De La Salle University, who has taken the place of Dindo Pumaren.
Abanilla said the team's goal was to make it to the Final Four this season, after failing to do so twice in the last three years.
Despite the attention NU got, head coach Eric Altamirano shared the same "modest" goal with Abanilla to make the final four, although he admitted the team was "very optimistic" about this season.
"We had a good summer tournament, I just hope yung record namin sa summer madala namin sa UAAP (I just hope we carry over our record from the summer to the UAAP)," he said.
NU swept 11 games before defeating DLSU for the FilOil-Flying V Preseason Hanes Cup.
Coaches also agreed that while ADMU and NU are the top two contenders, Season 75 will not be a walk in the park for any of the teams.
Adamson University (AdU) head coach Leo Austria said that his team, as well as underdogs University of the Philippines (UP) and UE could very well surprise the competition.
Head coach Ricky Dandan of UP echoed Austria.
"What we can guarantee is playing UP this year is not an automatic W even with a depleted line-up," he said. "We will go there fighting."
ADMU Head Coach Norman Black also acknowledged that a historic 5-peat will be anything but easy.
"We know its going to be difficult. We have some question marks in our team because we lost some key players last year," he said. "Any team can be beat at any night. I expect all the games to be tough, I don't expect it to be easy at all."
As for UST Head Coach Alfredo Jarencio, he had few words to say about his team and his predictions, but instead assured the fans of a good fight from his boys.
"Basta kami, basta nasa lupa and Tigre, matapang. Deadly (For us, as long as the Tigers are on the ground, we're brave. We're deadly)," he said. - Rappler.com