Like most UAAP teams, the UP Fighting Maroons have opted to adapt a big-picture approach after their offseason plans were sidetracked by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The team was scheduled to have training camps in California, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, but coaches Bo Perasol and Ricky Dandan said all of that is secondary now compared to their goal of staying healthy during these trying times.
"All our offseason plans went to waste," Perasol said Wednesday during the Hoops Coaches International Webinar hosted by the Blackwater Elite. "All of those were already funded. But we can't do anything about it. In terms of our mindset going into the next season, for us, as I mentioned to our team, the important thing is to just survive, not get sick."
"I think all of us are in the same boat. It's not just us. All the teams are in the same boat right now," said Dandan.
UP's top brass has also counted out the possibility of using preseason tournaments like the Filoil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup, which often runs in the summer, given how the Philippine government has disallowed sporting events and other mass gatherings under the current modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), as well as under a more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ).
"I don't think that's going to even be allowed even if we wanted to. Second is the schedule of the schools. In my mind, it really does not make any sense to me -- if there is no vaccine, why should there be schools? It's like allowing your child to walk over a landmine. Even if we wanted to plan for that, it's really up in the air and really not a priority," said Dandan.
"It's a bit frustrating, of course, not just for us here, but for everyone because we were already beginning to show signs of cohesion when we were starting our program for this season, and then this pandemic happened. But you really can't do much about it other than to look forward or be positive."
For now, specific training programs have been crafted and given to players to keep them in shape during the pandemic.
"We talk to them (through our weekly Zoom sessions). It's better for us to have a leeway, to have an advantage because everyone has the same mindset also," Perasol said.
A letdown at the hands of twice-to-win University of Santo Tomas in the second stepladder Season 82 after a finals appearance the year before hasn't exactly dimmed the optimistic projections the Fighting Maroons have set for themselves in the future.
Even as Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano opted to sit out UP's campaign in Season 83, Perasol remains positive that the current roster, still led by holdovers Kobe Paras, Bright Akhuetie and Ricci Rivero and bolstered by high school recruits Joel Cagulangan, RC Calimag and Anton Eusebio, has enough talent and firepower to make another Final Four run.
"I really think with the roster that we have, if it's going to be complete, we have a team that's going to be in contention," he said. "Yes, we will be ready whenever the season is going to start."
But after some newfound success in the last two years, Perasol acknowledged that another Final Four ticket just won't cut it in the coming season.
"The reason why we're trying to build our team is to be in that situation wherein we can vie for the championship eventually. We're no longer the 'Win or lose, it's fine as long as we fought' stage. We're also not on the level where making the Final Four is enough. We need to go into the Final Four to get into the next level. Our ambition hasn't changed. It has to be the championship," he said.
"Everything that we're going to do, these are all geared towards our quest for the championship," Perasol added. "We're going to fight for that. I think we have what it takes to do that. But in saying that, it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be a walk in the park. But all our hearts and our minds are going for that."