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UP shrugs off ‘champion’ tag

University of the Philippines head coach Goldwyn Monteverde does not want his team to come into the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s basketball burdened by the tag of defending champions.

What the Fighting Maroons achieved four months ago when they ended a 36-year title drought, the mentor said, was a historic feat.

The erstwhile struggling squad trying to keep up with the other schools’ basketball program slayed a giant in then fancied four-peat-seeking Ateneo de Manila University in a finals series that went the distance.

JD Cagulangan immortalized the Maroons victorious conquest with a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to conclude Season 84 — a Cinderella finish for UP.

But Monteverde does not dwell on the past.

“Yes we were champions last season but that’s in the past already. There’s no champion yet in Season 85 so that’s up for grabs,” Monteverde said.

Monteverde made it clear that the time for celebrating their Season 84 victory had long passed, setting their sights on winning another one is now the priority.

“Whatever we achieved last season, that is already in the past. This is a new season. I always tell my players nothing is permanent in this world. We just have to face the challenges coming in Season 85,” he said.

The Fighting Maroons are up for an early litmus test when they take on De La Salle University in the season opener on 1 October at the Mall of Asia Arena.

UP defeated the Green Archers in the Final Four of the previous season.

Monteverde pointed out that staying hungry will be the key if UP wants to remain on the throne.

“I always remind my team that ‘we have to be hungry. All other teams are. If we don’t have that hunger, we will not achieve our goal.’ We must not lose our motivation, hunger, grit and perseverance,” Monteverde said.

The Diliman-based squad is bringing back virtually the same core of its championship team led by Cagulangan, Finals Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf, forward Zavier Lucero, and Gilas Pilipinas member and last season’s Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo.

Filipino-American forward Henry Galinato Jr., meanwhile, is the latest addition to the Fighting Maroons.

Key losses for UP are veteran guard Ricci Rivero, who has exhausted all of his playing years and is now set to make his pro debut in Taiwan, and CJ Cansino, who was forced to sit out the tournament due to a knee injury.

As preparation, the Fighting Maroons joined local pre-season tournaments and even made a short stint in Korea where they played against leading club teams.

Aside from Cansino, Monteverde bared that some of his players are also nursing injuries.

“We have two seasons in one year so we didn’t have enough time to recover. But they are recovering positively. Hopefully by the start of the season, everyone will be 100 percent healthy,” Monteverde said.

Monteverde also assured the UP faithful that the same fire and burning desire of the Fighting Maroons in Season 84 will continue to fuel their drive for a repeat.

“We’ll be the same team as last season,” he said.

“We’ll fight for every game and while fighting, we’ll improve every game.”

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