Shining Stars: The Projected MVPs of each UAAP Squad
The 79th season of the UAAP kicked off last weekend, which means the biggest local collegiate league is back in our lives again.
While the DLSU Green Archers are the favorites to win it all (and maybe even sweep the elimination round), it feels like a wide-open race for the three other Final Four spots. That makes for an exciting and unpredictable season, with what’s sure to be plenty of jockeying for prime position in the standings.
Here are eight standouts, one per team, that are projected to lead their respective squads to glory.
AdU Soaring Falcons – Jerrick Ahanmisi
You can make an argument for putting head coach Franz Pumaren here. The man who helmed the DLSU Green Archers to *five (six, if you count the one they had to give back) championships returned to the UAAP with a mission: turn Adamson around.
But if we’re not counting coaches, “the guy” has to be Jerrick Ahanmisi. Landing the younger brother of Rain or Shine Elasto Painter Maverick was a huge deal for the Falcons, because it showed they were going to be a force in recruitment. But he’s not just a figurehead. The rookie guard has handles like his bro, and an insane wingspan, which will come in handy when he’s leading the Pumaren press. While he can also distribute the ball, he’s more of a dynamite scorer, as seen during the preseason. Adamson hasn’t had a dynamic two-way player since…Alex Nuyles? So Ahanmisi really personifies the new direction Adamson is going in.
Ateneo Blue Eagles – Thirdy Ravena
If this list was being written at the start of summer, you probably would have seen former Rookie of the Year Arvin Tolentino’s name here. Or maybe blue-chip recruit Jerie Pingoy. Possibly San Sebastian transferee CJ Perez. The problem is a ton of Ateneo’s “generation next” players all transferred out due to academic problems. Coupled with the graduation of stars like Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, and there’s quite the talent drain in Katipunan.
Ironically, Thirdy Ravena himself is coming back after missing last season due to academic problems. That’s okay though, because with his older brother gone, this is truly his team now. Ravena is the closest thing to a go-to-guy for Ateneo this season, but at least it’s a role he’s familiar with. He’ll have to channel his Season 76 Juniors MVP persona again, when he basically did it all for the Blue Eaglets, scoring, rebounding and assisting. It might take a game or two for him to fully slip back into that mold, but expect him to blow his rookie season numbers (barely there averages of 1.4 points and 1.6 rebounds) out of the water.
DLSU Green Archers – Ben Mbala
Look, maybe I should put Jeron Teng here. In his fifth season, the former Rookie of the Year and Finals MVP will probably go out with a bang, putting up big numbers as he looks to leap to the pros by this time next year. But I just can’t, because the difference-maker on this team, the guy that will take a “good” DLSU team to “amazing” is not Teng, but center Ben Mbala.
The 6’7” Mbala will finally get to suit up for La Salle, after his debut was delayed due to an additional year of residency, the consequence of playing in a “ligang labas.” A monster in the paint, Mbala tore up the FilOil Preseason Cup, earning MVP and DPoY honors behind 21.9 points, 15.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.4 blocks. With him filling in the donut hole they had at center last season, this largely intact La Salle team will probably bulldoze their way to the Finals.
FEU Tamaraws – Ken Holmqvist
The defending UAAP champions are in a bit of a bind. Their top four most productive players from last season – Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Russel Escoto, and RR Pogoy – are all gone. True, many have said that it’s Coach Nash Racela’s system that makes this team go, but that’s a notion that will definitely be put to the test this season, with the exit of his stars.
While holdovers like Raymar Jose, Prince Orizu, and Monbert Arong are expected to lead the way, the most intriguing Tams prospect is 6’8” Fil-Norwegian Ken Holmqvist, who will be playing his sophomore season. Seldom-used last year, Holmqvist led FEU to co-champion (don’t ask) honors in a win against the University of San Carlos, during last December’s National Collegiate Championship. He was named MVP behind a dominant 17-point, 11-rebound effort that saw him go 8-of-11 from the field, with a made three-pointer as the kicker. Can he put up that kind of numbers in the UAAP on a consistent basis? If the answer is yes, then FEU’s title defense will be in good hands.
NU Bulldogs – Alfred Aroga
The normally defensive-minded NU Bulldogs will reportedly put more of a premium on offense this season. And why not? The team is set to bring in several big name transfers (Matt Aquino, Michael Pate, Matt Salem), plus a pair of Batang Gilas standouts (JV Gallego, Josh Sinclair). A more up-tempo game should give more opportunities for these guys to shine.
However, Alfred Aroga, the squad’s defensive stalwart, will likely be the barometer of this team’s success. National U’s man in the middle was #2 in rebounds (13.0 a game, 0.4 behind the #1 guy), and #1 in shot-blocks (1.7 a game) in Season 78. His new status as team captain means he’ll likely be a lot more vocal on D. Sure, NU will likely score more, but having Aroga there means they won’t stray too far from their shutdown-ethos.
UE Red Warriors – Bonbon Batiller
Bonbon Batiller is certainly an interesting player. He exploded onto the UAAP scene last season by averaging 20 big points in his first five games. Combined with his playmaking skills and penchant for thievery (3.4 steals a game), he was a sexy dark-horse MVP candidate, and UE was looked at as a possible Final Four squad. Unfortunately, things went downhill for him after that. Over the remaining nine matches, he only scored more than 10 points once, and his field goal percentage plummeted from 47.4 percent in that hot start, to 21.7 percent. You could say teams figured him out, and shut him down.
Heading into Season 79, Batiller won’t be a surprise anymore. He’s a known quantity now, and teams will try to play him like they did in the latter part of Season 78. But if Batiller spent the offseason refining his game and adding new moves, he makes UE so much better, giving them a go-to-guy who can take over when their press isn’t working. Otherwise, it could be a long season for the Red Warriors.
UP Fighting Maroons – Jett Manuel
The UP Fighting Maroons were on top of the world a year ago. Not only were they the host school, they opened on top of the standings with a 2-0 record. The euphoria didn’t last long though, and UP went on to win just one more game, finishing tied for last place in the standings.
Once again, UP enters the season with a new head coach, with Bo Perasol, himself a former Maroon team captain, taking on the job. Perasol, from his time in the PBA and his recently-concluded stint with Ateneo, is known to be an offensive whiz, and he’ll look to improve UP’s schemes, as the Maroons finished dead last in all of the shooting categories. The player who stands to gain the most from the change? Veteran Jett Manuel, who has shown in stretches that he can catch fire. If Perasol can get the former Most Improved Player more open looks, then maybe UP can avoid going winless in another election year.
UST Growling Tigers – Louie Vigil
Three times in the past four seasons, UST has finished as the runner-up in the basketball tournament. While in the past, they usually managed to hang on to enough pieces to still be competitive the next season, that doesn’t appear to be the case for this year’s hosts. With the exits of Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, and Karim Abdul, UST doesn’t have a ton of pieces to make a realistic run back to the Finals.
That said, they do have former NCAA Jrs. MVP Louie Vigil. Entering college, he was projected to be a tremendous scorer, but more often than not, he was relegated to a reserve role, save for a wild stretch in Season 77. In Season 79, Vigil can go back to his high school days, as he’ll have the green-light to launch shot after shot. The Tigers might struggle in the wins column, but they’ll be competitive in the actual games thanks to Vigil’s scoring prowess.
Did we leave anyone out? Tell us your Top Picks for MVP this season in the comments section below!