UP head coach Bo Perasol believes that this current Fighting Maroons squad is the best that he’s had in his time with the team – and the best that the university has seen a long time.
He has good reason to say so, too. After finishing their UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball campaign on a high note with a 6-8 win-loss card – their best since 2005 – the Maroons look primed for an even better showing in the next tournament.
In a phone call with FOX Sports PH ahead of the team’s debut against De La Salle in the FilOil Flying V Tournament Preseason Premiere Cup, Perasol acknowledged that the Maroons this year are a more complete and well-rounded team.
“We have young guards who are both skilled and more experienced from last season, we have guys at the wing who can do a little bit of everything, and we have an import (Bright Akhuetie) who can shoot, defend and rebound at a high level. It’s really a better team,” he said.
UP retooled by adding Will Gozum, a blue-chip recruit from Mapua HS, and Bright Akhuetie, a highly-touted reinforcement from Perpetual Help in the NCAA.
The homecoming Gozum led Mapua HS to a finals berth last season and averaged 13.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
Akhuetie’s arrival, meanwhile will certainly give the Maroons a prolific presence down low – something that they’ve lacked for the longest time. The 2016 NCAA All Star MVP averaged 17.6 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his last season with the Atlas.
Perasol, however, tempered expectations for Bright in the preseason tourney, saying that the 6-foot-7 Nigerian still has yet to approach tip-top shape.
“Bright still isn’t at 100 percent yet. ‘Di pa siya fully-conditioned. Pero this FilOil tourney is a good chance for him to get to 100 percent in preparation for our UAAP campaign,” he explained.
The 44-year-old coach also noted that the preseason tournament will be a good opportunity for the team to further polish the improvements that the team has made.
Aside from the usual drills and skills workout, Perasol highlighted that the Maroons worked a lot on chemistry in order to perform more cohesively as a unit.
“Syempre aside from the usual improvements that we had to make, the team really had to focus on the team concept,” he said. “With new faces and new personalities around, it’s important of course that everyone is on the same page.”
When asked whether a Final Four berth is within reach after narrowly whiffing on it last season, Perasol sounded optimisitic.
“Yes, I like our chances. A Final Four appearance is definitely one of our goals for this season since we feel that we’re already a better team from last season,” he bared.
The Fighting Maroons will kick off the FilOil Preseason Cup against the Green Archers today, 4:30 p.m.