The head coaches of the different UAAP schools pose for a photograph during the press conference for Season 76 at the Mall of Asia Arena on Tuesday. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines - The National University (NU) Bulldogs and the University of the East Red (UE) Warriors, finalists in the recently concluded FilOil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, are among the favorites to win the men's basketball crown in Season 76 of the UAAP.
In a press conference held at the Mall of Asia Arena Tuesday, nearly all the UAAP coaches agreed that the Red Warriors and the Bulldogs should be considered as top title contenders.
"Before, the No. 1 contender was NU, but UE emerged as the No. 1 team in the summer league," said Coach Leo Austria of the host school Adamson.
Bo Perasol, the new head coach of five-time defending champions of Ateneo, also tabbed NU and UE as "two of the strongest" teams in the league.
"I share the sentiment of all our coaches... I see NU and UE as the top contenders. Nakita naman natin ang performance nila sa FilOil," added Far Eastern University (FEU) Coach Nash Racela.
Boycie Zamar, who coached the Red Warriors to an upset of the Bulldogs in the FilOil championship game, said they were "flattered" to be considered a contender.
"But the bottom line is, in reality, pang seventh place lang 'yung UE (last season). You have to go back to reality, and that is the UAAP," Zamar said.
Coach Eric Altamarino, for his part, said the Bulldogs are "humbled and grateful" to receive the favorites tag but, at the same time, are ready to embrace the challenge.
"I think if there's a year that we can do it, this is the year," he said, but emphasized that they still have to prove themselves come game time.
The UAAP coaches also agreed that while UE and NU emerged as favorites in the pre-season, the playing field in the league is now more level especially with the graduation of some of the key players of defending champions Ateneo.
"This season will be exciting, and any team can beat any team," said Austria. "I am so excited and nervous -- excited because I have a chance to win a championship, but nervous because anybody can beat our team."
"You cannot discount Ateneo," Austria warned. "They are very dangerous, even without the big guy (Greg Slaughter). A lot of teams also have experience, like FEU and UST."
"I really think everybody is going to be strong enough to contend for a championship," Perasol acknowledged. "I hope we will be able to stand our ground against these teams."
Altamirano also threw the UST Growling Tigers into the ring of potential title contenders.
"Personally, I really believe that UST is the team to beat. They have experienced players, they played in the Finals, and they won the Champions League. They have a very good coach, a very humble coach," Altamirano said.
"First time lang nangyari sa akin na nabanggit ako, na No. 1 team kami," said UST Coach Pido Jarencio. "Yehey."
"Basta ako, sigurado, box office kami this coming UAAP season. UST: Una Sa Takilya," he added.
The UAAP Season 76 men's basketball tournament kicks off this Saturday, June 29, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.