Eased restrictions amid the ongoing pandemic had given teams sufficient time to prepare for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s basketball tournament.
Coaches of participating teams all agreed that they are now better prepared than last season when the prestigious cage wars begin on Saturday.
“I think we took advantage of the short break before playing in Season 85. I think we’re more prepared this time, not like the bubble tournament where we only had less than a month to get ready,” De La Salle University mentor Derick Pumaren said.
As part of their buildup, the Green Archers joined and won the Philippine Basketball Association D-League Aspirants’ Cup title while finishing third in the FilOil pre-season tournament.
“We took advantage of that, we joined preseason leagues and we wrapped up our preseason with a trip to Japan,” Pumaren said.
The Taft-based squad opens its campaign on Saturday against repeat-seeking University of the Philippines.
The Fighting Maroons are also equipped with international exposure following their title conquest that ended the Diliman-based squad’s 36-year wait for the title.
“We prepared well for this season. Although we started August, we made a trip to Korea just to get the team together and for better preparation. So far, we’re good with our preparations,” UP coach Goldwin Monteverde said.
Aside from their Korean trip, the Fighting Maroons also joined the FilOil EcoOil Pre-season tournament where they reached the quarterfinals.
National University head coach Jeff Napa, on the other hand, wanted to temper expectations despite the Bulldogs ruling the FilOil pre-season tourney.
“First of all, winning the pre-season tournament is not really a big deal. It’s a matter of gaining experience for the players, and even us coaches, to prepare us for this season,” he said.
“At least our players are well-prepared as they march into battle.”
Far Eastern University coach Olsen Racela also took advantage of the chance to equip his team with experience during the break.
“It’s going pretty well. We took advantage of the preseason tournaments which we did not have last season,” Racela said.
“It helped the team, especially the players.”
The Tamaraws finished runner-up to NU in the FilOil pre-season competition.
Season 84 runner-up Ateneo de Manila University missed out on joining local leagues during the offseason but was able to gain experience playing abroad.
The Blue Eagles made a trip to Japan where they won for the country the World University Basketball Series crown and played against club teams in Israel.
“Obviously, the opportunity to travel overseas to Japan, to play in the World University Games, and to go to Israel and get both a basketball and cultural experience for our players was really good,” Baldwin said.
University of Santo Tomas, host Adamson University and University of the East have also participated in pre-season tournaments to sharpen their respective squads.
“No international exposure for us, like the other schools. More provincial trips for us, we went to Surigao and Davao to play in local tournaments,” Adamson coach Nash Racela said.
“We were able to play a number of tune-up games, some pocket tournaments that were really helpful to our preparation.”
Red Warriors assistant coach Don Allado said that they spent their offseason preps working on their offense and defense.
“Right now, we’ve been working on trying to put in the system, both on offense and defense,” he said. “It’s more on character building, how to approach certain situations in the games, and how to deal with those things.”
Growling Tigers assistant coach Rodney Santos, on the other hand, said that he and newly-appointed head coach Bal David hope that their preparations would be enough to improve UST’s seventh place finish last season.
“As much as possible, we tried to squeeze in everything, from offense and defense. We tried to be better from last season. No promises, but we’ll try our best,” the former PBA star said.