Shining Stars: The Projected MVPs of each UAAP Squad
The 79th season of the UAAP kicked off last weekend, which means the biggest local collegiate league is back in our lives again.
While the DLSU Green Archers are the favorites to win it all (and maybe even sweep the elimination round), it feels like a wide-open race for the three other Final Four spots. That makes for an exciting and unpredictable season, with what’s sure to be plenty of jockeying for prime position in the standings.
Here are eight standouts, one per team, that are projected to lead their respective squads to glory.
AdU Soaring Falcons – Jerrick Ahanmisi
You can make an argument for putting head coach Franz Pumaren here. The man who helmed the DLSU Green Archers to *five (six, if you count the one they had to give back) championships returned to the UAAP with a mission: turn Adamson around.
But if we’re not counting coaches, “the guy” has to be Jerrick Ahanmisi. Landing the younger brother of Rain or Shine Elasto Painter Maverick was a huge deal for the Falcons, because it showed they were going to be a force in recruitment. But he’s not just a figurehead. The rookie guard has handles like his bro, and an insane wingspan, which will come in handy when he’s leading the Pumaren press. While he can also distribute the ball, he’s more of a dynamite scorer, as seen during the preseason. Adamson hasn’t had a dynamic two-way player since…Alex Nuyles? So Ahanmisi really personifies the new direction Adamson is going in.
Ateneo Blue Eagles – Thirdy Ravena
If this list was being written at the start of summer, you probably would have seen former Rookie of the Year Arvin Tolentino’s name here. Or maybe blue-chip recruit Jerie Pingoy. Possibly San Sebastian transferee CJ Perez. The problem is a ton of Ateneo’s “generation next” players all transferred out due to academic problems. Coupled with the graduation of stars like Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, and there’s quite the talent drain in Katipunan.
Ironically, Thirdy Ravena himself is coming back after missing last season due to academic problems. That’s okay though, because with his older brother gone, this is truly his team now. Ravena is the closest thing to a go-to-guy for Ateneo this season, but at least it’s a role he’s familiar with. He’ll have to channel his Season 76 Juniors MVP persona again, when he basically did it all for the Blue Eaglets, scoring, rebounding and assisting. It might take a game or two for him to fully slip back into that mold, but expect him to blow his rookie season numbers (barely there averages of 1.4 points and 1.6 rebounds) out of the water.
DLSU Green Archers – Ben Mbala
Look, maybe I should put Jeron Teng here. In his fifth season, the former Rookie of the Year and Finals MVP will probably go out with a bang, putting up big numbers as he looks to leap to the pros by this time next year. But I just can’t, because the difference-maker on this team, the guy that will take a “good” DLSU team to “amazing” is not Teng, but center Ben Mbala.
The 6’7” Mbala will finally get to suit up for La Salle, after his debut was delayed due to an additional year of residency, the consequence of playing in a “ligang labas.” A monster in the paint, Mbala tore up the FilOil Preseason Cup, earning MVP and DPoY honors behind 21.9 points, 15.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.4 blocks. With him filling in the donut hole they had at center last season, this largely intact La Salle team will probably bulldoze their way to the Finals.
FEU Tamaraws – Ken Holmqvist
The defending UAAP champions are in a bit of a bind. Their top four most productive players from last season – Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Russel Escoto, and RR Pogoy – are all gone. True, many have said that it’s Coach Nash Racela’s system that makes this team go, but that’s a notion that will definitely be put to the test this season, with the exit of his stars.
While holdovers like Raymar Jose, Prince Orizu, and Monbert Arong are expected to lead the way, the most intriguing Tams prospect is 6’8” Fil-Norwegian Ken Holmqvist, who will be playing his sophomore season. Seldom-used last year, Holmqvist led FEU to co-champion (don’t ask) honors in a win against the University of San Carlos, during last December’s National Collegiate Championship. He was named MVP behind a dominant 17-point, 11-rebound effort that saw him go 8-of-11 from the field, with a made three-pointer as the kicker. Can he put up that kind of numbers in the UAAP on a consistent basis? If the answer is yes, then FEU’s title defense will be in good hands.