Rizal Memorial Coliseum
August 1, 2013
UAAP Mid-Season Grades, Forecast (Final Part)
Sitting on this dusty seat somewhere in this antiquated, air-conditioned-less venue, the exact same site of the 1960 and 1973 editions of the FIBA-Asia Championship, then known as the ABC (Asian Basketball Confederation) Championship, the day before and watching the Bahrain national team practice, it dawned on me that one this squad’s players is a familiar face. His name is Bader Malabes. He will play for Bahrain in the FIBA-Asia Championship that has started today, August 1, and will end on Aug. 11 at the better, bigger and cooler venue, the MOA Arena. Malabes has Filipino blood and spent his college years with La Salle. As far as I can remember, I know Malabes as a lights out shooter and nothing else. He was excruciatingly inconsistent during his time, but man, when he has it, he can torch any team and any player in the UAAP back then. But I’m not here to praise nor malign the guy or talk about his old Archers team. I’m here to finish off what I started, which is to give mid-term grades to the other four teams that are in the upper half of the standings. And we’re opening this with…
It’s not a bad way to wind up with a 4-3 slate and inside the magic four considering that the Bulldogs had to embrace the idea that Cameroonian Alfred Aroga could no longer play the rest of the season due to eligibility issues. But NU plodded on, with or without Aroga. The Bulldogs struggled, yes. But they also showed they could live up to high pre-season billing after practically winning all the tournament they participated with the exception of the Filoil Flying V joust last summer after getting ambushed by UE from behind with a shock loss. But hey, Emmanuel Mbe has stepped up big and reigning two-time MVP Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. has rediscovered his old groove amid his early struggles. The dynamic duo has carried and willed NU by themselves to where the team is now. Parks piled up impressive norms of 18.9 points, 9.4 boards, 4.4 assists, 1.3 steals and nearly a block a game that put him just a monster game from overtaking FEU’s Terrence Romeo and cornering an unprecedented third straight MVP trophy. Mbe, for his part, is equally dominating with averages of 17.1 points and 11.9 caroms with efficient percentages from the field (54.9%) and from the free throw line (71.4%). But you and I know Parks and Mbe couldn’t do it by themselves. They need perhaps a third and fourth player and some of the role players to assert themselves more and lessen the burden from Parks and Mbe a bit. Now if they could do that, I will not be surprised if NU makes it as far as the finals and eventually end a….yes, 59-year drought.
After an ugly start, the Warriors, who surprised everyone–perhaps including themselves–by beating NU and topping the Filoil Flying V Cup, have started to regain the same form that made most of us rank them in the higher echelons of the UAAP. And boy, this UE team is darn scary as it pulled together three wins in row to finish the first round on a bright note. Sierra Leone’s Charles Mammie and Roi Sumang have been in the forefront of the UE juggernaut. Mammie is somewhere in the Top Three in the MVP pecking order with averages of 14.5 points and a god-like 17.1 rebounds a game. If not for a suspension that was slapped on him for an unsportsmanlike act, he should make Romeo and Parks nervous in the race for the MVP trophy. If Mammie keeps his torrid pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if people start to call him Charles Mammoth. Sumang is as exciting, if not better, with norms of 19.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, four assists and 1.1 steals a game. And UE is a deeper team than what everyone sees superficially. I mean, where did players like Ralf Olivarez and Dan Alberto come from? I also have to say that Zamar is not only brilliant and a master of adjustment, but is also challenging UST’s Pido Jarencio for the Quotable Coach award given annually by the UAAP Press Corps. Here’s my favorite quote of him in the first round: “Success isn’t a popcorn that you’ll put in a microwave and get cooked in five minutes.” Need I say more?
If Jeric Teng wasn’t side-swiped by NU’s Jeoffrey Javillonar, the Tigers would have been better than where they are right now. Of course, everybody knows that Teng has been out for four games and could probably miss a game or two or probably more due to a shoulder injury he sustained because of the collision, accidental or otherwise. But in the absence of its leading scorer, who averaged 15 points, UST has limped to a 2-2 record in its next four games. Next to FEU, UST is the most balanced team having four players–Teng, Cameroonian Karim Abdul, Kevin Ferrer and Aljon Mariano–norming in double figures and two more–Clark Bautista and a revelation in Ed Dacquioag–somewhere in that vicinity. The impending return of Teng should make the Tigers a cinch to making the Final Four and eventually a possible return trip to the finals. But first, Teng will need to find a protector against the bullies of the league and protect his shoulders. Perhaps the Charles Oakley to a Michael Jordan. Why is everyone pointing at Paolo Pe?
Admit it, all of us are guilty of underrating the Tams. Who would have thought FEU could sweep the first round? You see, most of the self-professed collegiate basketball gurus rated FEU disrespectfully low merely on the basis of a disappointing pre-season performance? Not us at Sportsmaryosep because we knew from the start that this Nash Racela-mentored bunch is GOOD. Our only sin was that we didn’t expect FEU to be this GREAT. The main reason why the Tams have exceeded expectations is because of Romeo, who has zoomed to the top of the MVP race with eye-popping numbers of 22.6 points, 6.3 boards, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals. Romeo is also shooting the ball well from inside the arc (46.1%) and outside it (33.3%) and especially at the free throw area (90.3%). Interestingly, RR Garcia has taken the back seat to give way for his younger, fast-rising teammate. Mike Tolomia is turning into a player that we foresaw him to be–a slasher cum shooter cum solid wing defender–to emerge as the Tams’ third banana. What is scarier is that anyone not named Anthony Hargrove and Christian Sentcheu can shoot from long range. Its like coach Nash giving the Tams license to kill. Name it, Mark Belo, Roger Pogoy, Carl Cruz and Gryann Mendoza, all role players fittingly playing their roles to the hilt. And speaking of Hargrove, he seemed initially uncomfortable with Racela’s small ball, anyone-can-shoot style of system. If he does, the Tams will be more dangerous. Sentcheu, for his part, has quietly become a serviceable center who has transformed into an elite shotblocker that will also be useful in the long haul for this small but quick FEU squad. But has FEU peaked early? Will the long break quashed the momentum that it has built in the first round? That is the question that is worrying us. But I hope to the basketball gods that they could keep it together until the end because the law of averages is fast catching up on the Tams.
Madam Auring fearless forecast: We summon our favorite fortune-teller’s crystal ball again for us to see how the second round will end. In making forecasts, I have to warn you that there is a strong chance we’ll end up wrong and a stronger chance that we wind up right on the money. You will love us or hate us, but this is how we see it.
Call me crazy, but I have a feeling either FEU and UST finishes in the top two and UE and NU at No. 3 or No. 4. I will not be surprised if La Salle, Ateneo and Adamson put up a serious challenge and crash into the party. That is not far-fetched considering the parity of the league right now.
To be straight but totally out of the box, I call it a UST-UE finale and then all bets are off. For now, I will prepare my ululating dogs and release the cracken. Because the hate mails are coming.
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(Photos courtesy of Filoil Flying V)