Photo by Naveen Ganglani/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – When the UP Fighting Maroons open their UAAP Season 79 campaign next week, many will be watching how the team performs under new head coach Bo Perasol. Some will be curious to see if a veteran like Jett Manuel, Dave Moralde, or Paul Desiderio can take a leap and become a star in the league.
There will also be those who follow the development of Maroons rookie Javi Gomez De Liano, who in 2015 was part of the UAAP juniors division Mythical 5 while playing for UP Integrated School (UPIS) - UP’s team in the high school division.
Together with brother Juan Gomez De Liano, who was also in the Mythical 5, Javi led UPIS with averages of 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, including a 37-point outburst in the team’s last match of the season. Unfortunately for the duo, UP finished the elimination round with only a 3-11 record.
Now in his freshman year of college, Javi expects to play a minor role for the Maroons compared to what he had to do on a game-by-game basis as a high school senior, but is ready to deliver whatever Perasol requires of him.
“Every time I get on the court, I’ll just play my best. As a rookie, I won’t expect much but I’ll show what I can do with the minutes given to me,” he told Rappler.
“Coach Bo hasn’t specifically told me what my role is, but I think I’m going to do the little things: hustle, rebounds, passing.”
Javi says that he likes Perasol’s style, and that the head coach “trusts everyone.”
“He gives everyone a chance,” added the 6-foot-5 forward. “If you have a good game, the next game, he’ll give you more minutes.”
Perasol himself is also high on his new player. Javi still makes mistakes common for a rookie during training, and the head coach sees his first year as more a learning curve, but envisions a promising future for the 18-year-old.
“I think in the years to come, he’s really going to be a big addition to us, but right now he’s young, he’s learning the ropes, he’s trying to adjust to the college game,” said Perasol.
“I’m not going to be pressuring him to deliver right away, but if he’s going to deliver, he has the potential for it.”
Perasol also insists that he won’t hesitate to give Javi more minutes than usual if he plays above expectations during the season.
“When his number is called and he performs, then he’s going to be there,” said the head coach, who also explained that he will need the elder Gomez De Liano brother to play multiple positions.
The younger of the brothers, meanwhile, will enter what’s likely his final year as a high school player for UP when the juniors season starts in November. With Javi moving on to the seniors rank, the load on the shoulders of Juan undoubtedly increases.
“My main thing is to stay healthy,” he said to Rappler. “Two seasons ago I was injured, so I missed the whole first round, so that’s the main thing. Second thing is to keep my focus and stay motivated.”
Juan, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists a game last season, is wasting no time getting into shape for his upcoming campaign. UPIS trains every day, and starting on September 5, the 6-foot-2 combo guard will be participating in Steph Curry’s Under Armour basketball camp to be held in Taiwan. Juan is one of the only two (Gian Mamuyac) student-athletes in the Philippines who were chosen to be included at the event.
“I’m definitely excited for it. I’m really looking forward to it. These opportunities, I will grab them right away,” he said.
“First I was shocked, but I should take this opportunity. I should just do my best through the camp. It’s really for me. It’s for me to get better. I’m just going to ask for advise from Steph Curry or any coach that’s there. Just trying to learn from them.”
Juan is unsure yet where he will play college basketball and insists his focus right now is to finish the upcoming season with his juniors team. But the younger of the Gomez De Liano brothers admits UP has a strong appeal because of how long he’s been with the educational institution and the presence of his elder sibling.
If Juan decides to join the Maroons, and Javi blossoms into a star player some believe he can be, University of the Philippines could have a reliable one-two punch over the next few years.
But for now, it’s going to be Javi who will first get the chance to show what he can do in the tougher environment of college basketball. UP, which had a 3-11 season in the seniors division last year, is hoping to improve on that record.
“I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished,” Juan said about his big brother. “I’ve seen him play all throughout the years. I’ve seen his improvement as well. He became bigger.”
“I think there’s really a big chance we get more than 3 wins this year. Hopefully we get in the Final Four,” said Javi. The Maroons haven’t made the Final Four since 1997.
“Ever since I was recruited by UP high school, my personal goal was really to simply help UP go back to that winning attitude. Getting to the Final Four. Now that I’m in college, throughout the years, I hope I can help this school by making it to the Final Four one day.” – Rappler.com