UAAP Post-2000 Series: UST Growling Tigers’ Starting 5

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The UAAP is arguably the most popular and prestigious collegiate league in the country today. Thanks to strong alumni support, strategic television deals, and committed basketball programs, the UAAP has really elevated itself above other collegiate competitions – particularly since the turn of the millennium.

To commemorate the league’s success since then, we at FOX Sports PH decided to come up with each school’s post-2000 starting five.

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For this piece, we will be looking at the best from the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.

The UST Growling Tigers basketball program is one of the most storied basketball programs in UAAP history. They are tied with the UE Red Warriors for the second-most titles with 18. However, despite being constant Final Four contenders almost every year, the Growling Tigers have only won one championship (2006) since the turn of the millennium.

Nonetheless, the UST basketball program is still one of the best in the country in producing great college players, and it is evident with the quality of players that were snubbed for this list.

Japs Cuan (PG)

Although none of UST’s point guards since 2000 were exactly what one would call as “star” players, they have mostly been solid floor generals who are more than capable of being extensions of the coach on the floor. No one personified this more for the Growling Tigers than Japs Cuan.

Cuan was a terrific playmaker who made sure that his teammates were always involved in the offense, although he could also create his own scoring opportunities (despite an inconsistent jumpshot) from time to time. Even if he didn’t win any individual accolades and was hurt by injuries in his last couple of seasons, Cuan was the lead point guard for the 2006 UST championship squad that upset the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles. During their Cinderella run, Cuan, together with head coach Pido Jarencio, displayed incredible heart and leadership for a team that was full of talent, but lacked a true captain to guide their ship.

Cyrus Baguio (SG)

This was a tough call between Jojo Duncil and Cyrus Baguio, but I ultimately chose the latter due to having the burden of being the main go-to option during his time, something Duncil never really had because of the presence of Jervy Cruz.

Before being a multiple-time all-star in the PBA, “Skyrus” was a high-flying hotshot for the Growling Tigers. He only played three seasons for the Growling Tigers, but they made it to the Final Four in all of those seasons and even made it to the Finals once. Baguio was part of one of the deepest Mythical Five teams in UAAP history when he was selected in 2002 together with Ateneo’s Enrico Villanueva and Rich Alvarez, La Salle’s Mike Cortez, and UE’s James Yap.

Cyrus Baguio is currently one of the veteran leaders for the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA.

Dylan Ababou (SF)

Dylan Ababou is probably one of the most underrated players that the UAAP has ever had due to his quiet demeanor on and off the court. But that is somewhat ironic given his success in the league.

Ababou was a part of the 2006 championship squad and was also named the Sixth Man of the Year for the same season. In his final year of playing in the collegiate league, Ababou was named league MVP after leading the Growling Tigers back into the Final Four with his explosive scoring and versatility on both ends of the floor. His success in the UAAP also led to his inclusion in the original Gilas national team program.

Due to numerous injuries that plagued his career, Ababou never really found the same level of success in the pros. He has never really found a team he could call home and is now considered a PBA journeyman who currently plays for Columbian Dyip.

Jervy Cruz (PF)

There were many contributors for UST’s 2006 championship squad, and Jervy Cruz is arguably the biggest of them all. The unassuming big man from Nueva Ecija is the greatest Growling Tiger in recent memory with three Mythical Five selections, an MVP award, and a championship.

The unheralded Cruz didn’t allow the bright lights of the UAAP to consume him. He simply played his game and meant business every time he was on the court. Cruz was a double-double machine who used his craftiness, hard work, and his refined offense to anchor his success in the league.

Although he didn’t develop to become a star in the PBA, Jervy Cruz is still one of the most reliable back-up big men in the pro league. He currently plays for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

Karim Abdul (C)

Karim Abdul’s road to the UAAP is one of the most unlikely stories you will hear. In a league where virtually all foreign players are recruited specifically to reinforce the schools’ respective teams and where student-athletes are rumored to be given lighter academic load, Karim Abdul was an Engineering student was got into the UST team as a walk-on applicant. And the rest, as they say, is history.

He immediately averaged a double-double in his first season in the UAAP and helped lead the Growling Tigers’ return to the Final Four. After his rookie year, Abdul was selected to three straight Mythical Five selections and led them to two Final Four and two Finals appearances, establishing himself as one of the best big men in UAAP history along the way.

As further proof of his many talent, Abdul also played as a goalkeeper for Dolphins United in the now-defunct United Football League. He is now busy playing in various “ligang labas” and conducting basketball clinics around the country.

Notable snubs: Kevin Ferrer, Jojo Duncil, Jeric Teng, Jeric Fortuna, Alwyn Espiritu

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