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UST continues rebuild with recruitment of Kean Baclaan, other prospects

Recruitment for the rebuilding UST Growling Tigers is in full swing, with interim head coach Jinino Manansala assuring more recruits are on their way.

"There's more to come. We're still working on it," shared the son of former PBA player Jimmy Manansala with ESPN5 on Wednesday.

Among the newest recruits for the 18-time UAAP men's basketball champions is a promising prospect out of De La Salle Zobel in Kean Baclaan. In his lone season for the Jr. Archers, the scoring guard put up a team-high 16.4 points to go along with 8.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

"I just want to help rekindle the fire that UST seemingly lost," explained Baclaan in Filipino.

The 5-foot-8 playmaker joins a retooled backcourt that features fellow incoming rookies Jordi Gomez de Liaño from UPIS and Rom Junsay from Arellano as well as talented transferee Joshua Fontanilla, who had previously starred for St. Clare.

"Any help we can get would be much welcome for our team. Their commitment to our team shows there is much faith in our basketball program," explained Manansala. "We are working hard to complete a solid team that can compete well. May take some time but we are slowly moving towards it."

Also committing to UST are former CESAFI Jrs. MVP LA Casinillo and Fil-Australian Royce Mantua from FEU-Diliman.

Casinillo, a 6'1 guard currently overseas, was supposed to have a one-and-done year for the Tiger Cubs before crossing over to the seniors squad. The former Sacred Heart-Ateneo standout said he still could not believe he was joining a team that he used to cheer for on TV.

"I'll give my best to make the UST community proud and to help UST make it again to the Final Four," added the Cebuano.

Still reeling from the departures of Rhenz Abando, CJ Cansino, Mark Nonoy, Brent Paraiso, and Ira Bataller as well as the indefinite suspension of erstwhile head coach Aldin Ayo in 2020, UST has kept true to the recruitment strategy that sent it to the Finals in UAAP Season 82 - going for under the radar names who fit extremely well with its key pieces.

The most important piece of all, reigning and defending MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo, is set to play out his final year of eligibility, giving the Growling Tigers a versatile presence, whether it be inside or outside and offense or defense, who will anchor their guard-heavy lineup.

"Good recruits strengthen the whole team. They will ease the burden for Chabi Yo and our holdovers," said Manansala.

Meanwhile, former Ayo deputy Mcjour Luib has officially been named head coach for the Tiger Cubs, succeeding Manansala who had replaced Bonnie Garcia last year.

Luib played under Ayo in Letran, where the two won the NCAA Season 91 seniors basketball title. He followed his college coach as an assistant with the La Salle and then UST.