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Spotlight on U.A.A.P. Season 78 rookies

THE new season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) will unfold on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, and the spotlight is not directed solely on the veterans—but also on the rookies.

The league’s resident stars—Ateneo de Manila’s Kiefer Ravena, De La Salle’s Jeron Teng, University of Santo Tomas’s (UST) Kevin Ferrer and Far Eastern University’s (FEU) Mac Belo—are the guaranteed draw, but the influx of potent rookies added excitement to Season 78.

Joshua Andrei Caracut stands out as a neophyte who will give De La Salle camp extra depth in the backcourt.

“Caracut will be one,” said De La Salle Head Coach Juno Sauler, who has nine rookies on his team. “He can play [positions] 1 and 2. He can really help us this season.”

The 19-year-old Caracut is a recruit from San Beda College and is known as a deadly shooter. He was solid during the Green Archers’ stints in summer leagues and is willing to take clutch baskets.

Defending champion National University (NU) is also parading a promising rookie in Nico Abatayo, also a product of the Red Cubs program. Abatayo is a solid guard, but he has to fight for his minutes with Gelo Alolino, JJ Alejandro and Rev Diputado.

The Blue Eagles tabbed the Nieto twins—Mike and Matt—but most of the coaches feel that Mike will give Head Coach Bo Perasol quality minutes this coming season.

The 6-foot-1 Nieto, the UAAP juniors Most Valuable Player (MVP), is a mainstay of the Batang Gilas program and is a workhorse inside the shaded lane.

“Although he could be too small as a forward for the seniors division, his [Mike] energy and hustle will be a big plus for Ateneo,” Perasol said.

Season 78 host University of the Philippines also has a rookie-laden roster, but Fighting Maroons Coach Rensy Bajar, also a first-timer, picked Felixberto Jaboneta, Noah Webb and Dominic Longa as his rookies who could make an impact.

Jaboneta, junior MVP of the Cebu Schools Athletic Federation Inc., and Longa are recruits from Ateneo de Cebu, while Webb, younger brother of former Green Archer Joshua, is a hard-working forward from La Salle-Zobel.

But of the three, the 6-foot Jaboneta is expected to give Bajar solid minutes because of his playmaking skills. He is also an instant contributor on offense, especially for a team that is in need of a go-to-guy.

University of the East Head Coach Derrick Pumaren is also parading nine rookies this season with Fran Yu, a 5-foot-8 scoring guard out of Chiang Kai Shek College, expected to shine in his first year.

FEU is one of the few teams that have an intact roster this season, but one rookie to watch at the Tamaraws camp is Wendelino Comboy III. Comboy plays like senior Tamaraw Michael Tolomia, but is more athletic, although his decision-making as a guard is a suspect.

Zachary Huang is said to be a prize find by UST from Ateneo de Cebu. Huang is a 6-foot-2 forward who could take the spot Aljon Mariano, who turned pro this year, left.

Adamson University has 6-foot-2 Frederick James Tungcab, who almost landed at NU but decided to stay with the Soaring Falcons. A former Baby Falcon, Tungcab is a tall guard.

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