THIS week, the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons dropped multiple bombshells in the supposedly placid basketball scene right in the middle of the collegiate volleyball season.
A series of floaters teased the arrival in Diliman of a bunch of new blue chip recruits. Then came the flurry of breaking news, tweets, social media posts and finally, the formal announcements.
First, a news item that Luis Pablo, Philippine National Collegiate Athletic Association’s juniors MVP had already committed to the University of the Philippines broke the silence.
The open-ended item also asked, in so many words: if Pablo is taking his talents to Diliman, would his 6-foot-8 La Salle Green Hills (LSGH) twin tower Seven Gagate be far behind? And is there also room for the third member of their LSGH troika, Josh Coronel?
In less than 24 hours, speculation ceased. An honest to goodness news story announced that the three Greenies would be donning maroon jerseys in the coming season. Kinda like the transfer to UP in 2020 of a trio of National University Bullpups named Gerry Abadiano, Carl Tamayo and Terrence Fortea, don’t you think?
Does UP believe in the saying “it comes in threes”?
But there was one more bombshell to drop. Over the weekend, fresh news about another prized recruit—this time, a two-time state champion from Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque Mexico—committing to UP filled online and social media.
Sean Alter, who had been to the Philippines in October last year, was a much sought-after prospect, with several schools knocking on his doorstep. But the 6-foot-8 Fil-Am with a six feet and 11 inches wingspan chose UP.
Let’s not forget that in January, 6-foot-5 Francis Lebron Lopez, already presumed to be practicing his wings as an Eagle in Loyola Heights, crossed the Katipunan border to begin the procession of prized rookies to Diliman.
Why are they coming to UP?
Even as we speak, there are other young gems already in the sights of the UP periscope. Why has UP transformed from ghost town to boom town when it comes to attracting superb basketball talents?
For one, the UP Fighting Maroons have made a 180-degree turn in their basketball program, and with their overall sports program as well. Ever since that pathetic bonfire that the Maroons and the UP community held for their solitary win over Adamson University in 2014, the basketball gods lit a fire under the UP alumni and the UP leadership and inspired them to turn the Maroons’ sports program around.
Not a ningas-cogon type of thing, but a sustained, consistent and spirited endeavor through the past eight years, the UPrising, executed to the hilt by the nowheretogobutUP Foundation, had already produced their proof of the pudding: the UAAP basketball championship in Season 84 and two Finals appearances in Seasons 81 and 85. Now the UP program is being hailed by the player recruits themselves.
Then there’s the Pied Piper who has been described as a magnet of young basketball talents. Coach Goldwin Monteverde has long been a molder, teacher and nurturer of young basketball materiel.
The exodus of talents to UP has largely been due to young players wanting to grow and get better under him. In a virtual press conference held Tuesday by the Fighting Maroons, Seven Gagate and Luis Pablo both said they have always wanted to play under Coach Gold. Besides the NU Boys in UP—Tamayo, Abadiano, Fortea, Harold Alarcon, Cyril Gonzales, Janjan Felicilda, Reyland Torres—do you know that juniors standouts, University Athletic Association of the Philippines high school MVP Reinhard Jumamoy and Andrei Gemao are Golden protégés as well?
Of course, UP education still has its lure. But one key secret to UP’s success at attracting and keeping its recruits is the team’s down to earth and mindful approach.
Fighting Maroons team manager Atty. Ags Uvero says “UP has a Pinoy style of courting players. We are patient, we do the little things, we take care of what counts, not just with the players but more importantly, with their families.”
Personal ties are very important, so being recruited by friends (as Lebron Lopez was by Carl Tamayo) and being able to trust people (as team management and the community stood solid behind Tamayo in his decision to turn pro) counts a lot for the players.
“Gusto ko ring mafeel yung nafeel ni Carl (Tamayo) and ni Xavier (Lucero) when they played for UP. That kind of support,” said Seven Gagate.
I guess you’d have to factor in the UP crowd as well.