The new UAAP season is upon us and with it comes the excitement and thrill of watching some of the best amateur players in the country.
This season, all eight teams have revamped and retooled for the collegiate wars ahead. Fans will get to watch some familiar names strut their stuff as well as some new faces that will take the league by storm.
These are some of the players you might want to keep a close eye on:
Thirdy Ravena (Ateneo Blue Eagles)
Looking back, it's hard to fathom that Thirdy Ravena produced measly numbers during his rookie year. In the same way, his one year absence from competitive play seemed light years ago. Through hard work and under the watchful eye of coach Tab Baldwin, the second-generation star has morphed into one of the best two-way players in the league and all of amateur basketball.
The thing with Ravena is that his contribution is hardly about numbers. Although he did a tremendous job across the board with his averages of 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks, he isn't the type of player to produce a 25-point game. For one, Ateneo's system is predicated on sharing the ball and making sure the offense runs smoothly as a unit. Also, his value to the team isn't primarily based on what the numbers say.
Ravena's impact is the way he can dictate the game on both ends of the floor. He is an integral part of the Blue Eagles' offense, using his athleticism to get to spots and open lanes to free up his teammates. On defense, he has the build and the brains to match up the opponent's best offensive player. On top of that, he makes highlight plays that can shift the momentum towards Ateneo's favor. A huge dunk or an in-your-face block can quickly change the flow of a game.
Jerrick Ahanmisi (Adamson Soaring Falcons)
After failing to reach last season's finals in heartbreaking fashion, you can be sure that the Adamson Falcons are raring to come back stronger. Leading the charge for them is none other than Jerrick Ahanmisi. In his way to being named part of the Mythical Five in Season 81, the gunslinger put up 18 points per game on 44.1 percent field goal shooting. He also shot 41.7 percent from deep, a testament of his marksmanship.
It's safe to say that he needs to produce those same type of numbers to help the Falcons but his continuous improvement of game should also be taken notice. Now entering his fourth year in the UAAP, he is a savvy veteran who has a knack of making an array of shots from all over the floor. In the Falcons' quest to win the title, Ahanmisi will definitely be one of the focal points.
Ricci Rivero (UP Fighting Maroons)
Ricci Rivero side-stepped his way to stardom during his two years with De La Salle Green Archers. His dazzling moves and spectacular drives did only make him a fan favorite but also made him a unique offensive weapon. It wasn't all flash for the young standout, however, as he was included in the Mythical Five in Season 80. After serving residency last year, he will now make his debut in Season 82 for the UP Fighting Maroons.
His highlight plays aren't the only ones to watch out for as he has a sound offensive game that UP will seek to unleash. It'll be interesting and exciting to see how he will work alongside fellow newcomer Kobe Paras as well as Juan Gomez De Liaño's playmaking ability. Rivero needed the ball in his hands when he was with the Green Archers, but if he has shown improvement and be as effective off the ball, he'll be even more lethal for opposing defenders.
Kobe Paras (UP Fighting Maroons)
There is certainly a ton of hype and anticipation for Kobe Paras' debut with the Fighting Maroons. Not only is he set to debut with Rivero as well as UP's established stars in Juan Gomez De Liaño and Bright Akhuetie, but Season 82 will mark his first full season playing collegiate basketball.
Paras has had a rocky college career to say the least. After initially intending to go to UCLA, he ended up as a Creighton Bluejay where he played one uneventful season. He then went to Cal State Northridge where things didn't go as planned as well. He announced his intention to turn pro soon after but ultimately ended up back home in the Philippines and decided to suit up for the Fighting Maroons.
In the past couple of years, fans have only seen glimpses of the athleticism and talent of the young star whether as a Gilas cadet or more recently as Fighting Maroon playing in offseason tournaments. Come Season 82, which will last two and a half months, Paras will finally get the playing time he feels he deserves and more importantly, play the game he loves. It will be a season long of highlight dunks, pull-up jumpers, and high-leaping blocks. Fans will get to see and experience the full Kobe Paras show which has been limited in the United States.
CJ Cansino (UST Growling Tigers)
The UST Growling Tigers have a new team captain in second-year swingman CJ Cansino. Despite being just a sophomore, coach Aldin Ayo has entrusted him the keys to hopefully lead the Tigers back to into playoff contention. UST still has other reliable leaders such as Renzo Subido, Enrique Caunan, and co-captain Zach Huang, but Cansino's production this season will be a barometer of the team's success.
Cansino posted 12.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in his rookie year and became an instant sensation with his on-court brilliance. He does a little bit of everything for his squad as highlighted by his triple-double last year. Impressively, he even averaged double-digit rebounding amidst the big men of the league. His freshmen year was unfortunately cut short by an injury but he's reportedly back at full strength for Season 82. Hopefully, he's had the time to fine-tune his game or even add more moves to his already vast offensive arsenal.
The rising star will have a tall task of leading the Tigers, but if his rookie year is any indication of how well he will fare this coming season, the league should be on notice.
Aside from the five players mentioned, there are still plenty of players to keep tabs on. The De La Salle Green Archers have a number of big names that can make headlines this year. Graduating guard Andrei Caracut will surely try to make his presence felt in his last year and Aljun Melecio's scoring spree is something to watch out for. Big man Justine Baltazar, who was selected into the Mythical Team last season, will likewise be a force for the Green Archers. Last but not least, new recruit combo guard Keyshawn Evans out of Illinois State might turn a lot of heads this year. Among all the new additions by La Salle, Evans has the potential to stand out.
Of course, you can't leave out UP's top guns Bright Akhuetie and Juan Gomez De Liaño. One is a league MVP and the other might have an MVP type year this season.