MANILA, Philippines — One team won the championship. The second one is currently languishing in the basement of the UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Could these University of Santo Tomas teams be any more different?
But tell this to someone who was a part of both teams: The Tigers of 2023 are more similar to the Tigers of 17 years ago.
“Honestly, at first I thought I saw similarities because we didn’t have many great players apart from Jervy (Cruz). We had some big players, but we were undersized and unknown before we won the championship,” UST assistant coach Japs Cuan said after Wednesday’s 86-61 loss to the University of the Philippines at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“No one knew us, everyone took us for granted, so I was excited for this season because that’s what I saw here. We were weaker.”
Cuan talked about the 2006 UST team that at one point fell to the bottom of the rankings before rising to win the UAAP men’s basketball crown this year against the heavily favored Ateneo team.
Cuan, a backup playmaker who had many memorable moments during this series of games, sees a bit of himself in current Tigers playmaker Ivanne Calum.
“I was hoping Ivanne Calum would play my role earlier because I was a nobody back then. I saw that in him this offseason as well.
“Unfortunately, I think he burned out because Paul (Manalang) got injured in the off-season and I think he ran out of strength [of gas] entering the season.”
On Wednesday, Calum showed his burnout, recording pedestrian stats with four points, an assist, a rebound and a steal.
The 2023 team knows the 2006 squad very well. In fact, Migs Pangilinan was quick to point out that Cuan was his favorite player in this lineup.
Cuan made those key free throws in the deciding Game 3 that helped UST calm down an Ateneo team that featured college stars like JC Intal and Doug Kramer.
Pangilinan also knows that something of that championship team can be found – in traces – in the current team.
“Whoever we’re up against, we really don’t care. We just stick to what we’re doing and hopefully we’ll get the win after the referee’s buzzer,” Pangilinan said after the loss to UP with 13 points and six rebounds.
That same fortitude led UST to an improbable championship title 17 years ago.
The current team believes that this same spirit will become the seed of the Tigers’ eventual development.
“It will take time to develop our biggest ones. This is what is missing, because without import it is difficult. But we don’t make excuses. We will work with what we have and with the undersized aspect, we don’t think about it. We just do what we do and take it as a challenge,” Pangilinan said.
WAITING FOR SOMETHING
It’s too late for the same miraculous turnaround that will propel UST to glory this season.
Cuan, however, said that despite sharing DNA, this batch of Tigers does not have to follow the same path to gold that he and his teammates have taken in the past.
“When you look back at history, you tend to compare. If something like this happened before and with us, it should happen to them too. But I say no, we can turn the situation around [differently] …we can’t wait for season 87.”
“Maybe the recruits that coach Pido has signed will be able to play, so we really need to involve them [in the system] after Saturday’s match. We are excited about the upcoming season, but first we need to finish this season.