(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. — UE vs. UST
4 p.m. — Ateneo vs NU
Defending champion Ateneo de Manila University faces an early test in its title-retention bid in a showdown against a dangerous National University side in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 86 men’s basketball tournament opening day today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A new era dawns for the Blue Eagles as they march into battle sans graduate players Ange Kouame, BJ Andrade and Dave Ildefonso and the departure of grizzled guard Forthsky Padrigao.
This makes Ateneo’s 4 p.m. clash against last season’s third-placed team extra-challenging for the Tab Baldwin-mentored squad.
“This is a team that will probably be characterized more by growth than by experience,” Baldwin said.
The Kiwi-American tactician will rely on holdovers Kai Ballungay and co-captains Sean Quitevis and Chris Koon to sustain the success.
The Blue Eagles are also parading new faces in 6-foot-10 Joseph Obasa, who takes over at the middle spot for Kouame, and Gilas Pilipinas pool standout Mason Amos.
“They’re a team that I hope is a high-quality basketball team by the second round and is able to for the higher levels of the league,” Baldwin said.
“We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to develop. We’ve got a lot of young players and that’s a really exciting thing for the players and the alumni but not so much for the coaches.”
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are virtually intact with only veteran John Lloyd Clemente, who was picked in the Philippine Basketball Association draft, leaving the squad.
“Just like always, we will come out strong, competitive and we’ll see what will happen next,” NU coach Jeff Napa said.
NU remains as one of the top contenders with Kean Baclaan, Steve Nash Enriquez and last season’s high school Most Valuable Player Reinhard Jumamoy taking care of the team’s offense. Big man Omar John is also back to man the shaded lane.
Meanwhile, University of Santo Tomas and University of the East clash in the 2 p.m. curtain-raiser following 12 p.m. opening ceremonies.
The Tigers welcome the return of head coach Pido Jarencio, who steered the Espana-based squad to the throne back in 2006.
UST is upbeat on turning around last year’s 1-13 season behind holdovers Nic Cabañero and Adama Faye and freshmen SJ Moore and Mark Llemit.
Without last season’s Mythical Five member Luis Villegas, the host team Red Warriors will have to find ways to dig deep to improve their sixth place finish last season with Rey Remogat leading the way.
This season’s theme is “Fueling the Future.”
“UAAP Season 86’s opening ceremony will be a testament to the beauty of simplicity, proving that even in the absence of grandeur, our shared passion and unity will make this day truly memorable,” league president Rod Roque said.