Every year, 8 teams from 8 different universities battle head to head in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Tournament with the primary goal of bringing pride to their respective institutions. The competition just gets crazier year after year; and the recently concluded UAAP season proved just that. With heart racing buzzer-beaters, thrilling match-ups, and exhilarating overtime games, it goes to show how the players today are more competitive than ever.
Among these players were 4 Chinoys who delivered for their teams and brought honor to their schools. Get to know who they are as they share their experiences last season and their stories of how they reached where they are today.
1) Isaac Go of Ateneo de Manila University
Ateneo Blue Eagle George Isaac Go is a three-time UAAP Champion; however, that’s not all. Just last year, he became an MVP twiceㄧ first, in the PCCL Championship and then, in the PBA D-League. Afterwhich, he even became the top pick in last year’s special PBA Draft.
Known for being the man you can always count on when it comes to clutch shots, he is arguably one of the fan-favorites. However, a huge challenge also came in the way for Go during Season 82. He narrated, “[I had to] perform better than my previous year. Ange [Kouame] came in last season to the team and immediately made a huge impact, despite being very raw. I ended up focusing on being a mentor in his learning, which led to my lack of production and playing time. So coming into Season 82, there was a more conscious effort to focus on myself especially since I was one of the graduating players.”
Evidently, he overcame this dilemma as he helped the Blue Eagles dominate the season with a clean sweep. Being a key player of this champion team, he recounted his last game saying “when the final buzzer sounded, a mixture of emotions both of sadness and joy came over me. It is honestly a feeling that I’ll never forget.”
Having spent 5 amazing years in the UAAP, he advises all aspiring UAAP players with the biggest lesson he gained during his college career. He said, “accept your role. I understand it is very difficult to do this especially if you’re given a minor or supporting role. I had my times where I had to take a back seat and it is not the best feeling in the world, but you do this for the success of the team. You have to trust your coach that he is doing what’s best for the team, but the counter side of that is don’t stop working. Don’t be satisfied with the role you’re given. Understand that the team is still built by players. I know it sounds contradictory, but it just means don’t stop getting better. Continue to build yourself into the best basketball player you can be. Get better at your craft. Learn from the pros. There is a time where you have to sacrifice for the team, but there is also a time to get selfish and focus on your growth.”
2) Tyler Tio of Ateneo de Manila University
Another champion from the Katipunan-based squad is point guard Christian Tyler Tio. Before winning consecutive UAAP titles, he was one of the high school stand-outs that various universities tried to grab to play for their teams. And after three years playing in the collegiate league, he continuously proved why he was a highly touted recruit.
When asked about his experience during his rookie year, the 5’11 blue eagle shared “it [felt] amazing. It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the UAAP at the collegiate level. In terms of competition, it’s definitely a lot harder because everyone is bigger, smarter and just plain better, but that’s part of the challenge.”
Since then, we have seen significant growth from this former Xavier Stallion. From being the talk of the town to proving that he truly deserves where he is today, Tio is now enjoying a 3-peat title among his other achievements. He recalled, “winning that 3rd straight [championship] was definitely surreal because there were a lot of expectations on us during the off-season and we were able to deliver because of all the hard work we put in as a group.”
When asked what else we can expect from him and the team next season, he said “to still work hard everyday and hopefully the results will show during games.”
3) Zachary Huang of University of Santo Tomas
Last season was definitely a testament as to how exciting and competitive UAAP can get; and a big contributor to this spectacle is the UST Growling Tigers. With their fearlessness and determination, they were able to land in the championship arena once more. One player that helped the team in this journey is Chinoy athlete, Zachary Huang.
Although they had a great run ending the season with a podium finish, the team also had to undergo some difficulties. For Huang, he personally had a hard time after their game with UP in Game 2 during the playoffs. He shared, “I was physically and mentally drained. Coming into the finals, I had to muster up some kind of motivation. I was talking to myself saying I still have to perform and this is not an excuse. Leave everything on the floor and be selfless, not thinking of myself but for the betterment of the team.”
On the flip side, when asked what was his most memorable game during Season 82, he answered “playing against UE in the second round [when] I was the player of the game.” During this game, he truly stepped up as he dropped a career-high statistics of 22 points along with 5 boards.
At the end of his 5-year UAAP career, Huang definitely grew as an athlete and as a person. Throughout his journey, he said he learned 4 valuable lessons, “[first is] discipline; the right thing sometimes is not the most convenient thing but we should always do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. [Second is] character; when you’re mentally and physically tired, this is where your true character really shows. Sharing the ball because you can’t do it all yourself; you still need your teammates at the end of the day. [Third is] focus; juggling your time with training and classes and friends, you have to set clear priorities to be productive on self-growth. [Lastly], be resourceful; be aware of the things that you don’t really need, buying branded clothes and shoes are in my opinion just insecurities.”
4) Joaqui Manuel of De La Salle University
Joaquin Enrico Manuel is no stranger to the UAAP. Being one of the key players that helped the 2018 batch of Ateneo Blue Eaglets win its first championship after three years, Manuel has been seen on different headlines since then. Later that year, however, he decided to bring his talents to Taft. Thereafter, he has been helping the Green Archers thrive in the basketball arena.
While the 6-foot-3 Lasallian has been playing in the UAAP since his high school days, he said “[college basketball is still] a different experience. The level of all the players in college is on a higher standard because most, if not everyone in each team is a recruit. All these players were handpicked by the coaches because they offered a skill that most do not have. I had to learn how to adapt quickly with the pace of the game and the increased physical strength and skill of each player. Most of all, the large amount of supporters that show up to each and every game is a huge change for me. UAAP is definitely the dream stage of every ball player in the country.”
And after capping off his second playing year, he shared that he still had to undergo the challenges of being a student-athlete. He narrated “my biggest challenge was not on the court. In fact, it was in the classroom. Season 82 was different because of the hectic schedule of games that all UAAP players had to adjust to. The UAAP board decided to schedule all the games into a two month period and this required three games to be played each week by all the teams. As a student-athlete and an Economics major in DLSU, I had to find a way to constantly talk with my teachers regarding the requirements I was missing because of these games. Fortunately, they were willing to give me consultations outside of normal class time just to teach me the lessons I missed. With their help, I passed that term with flying colors.”
Being in his position though is still quite a rewarding experience. As he recalled his most memorable moment from Season 82, he said “as I exited the arena after our final game, I could not hear a single thing. Lo and behold, the fans and the ANIMO squad were cheering us on one last time. It was a heartwarming experience that I will never forget, knowing that they are still proud of us even if we did not achieve our goals. At the same time it motivated me to do better in my last couple of years.” Thus, when asked what else we could expect from him and the archers next season, Manuel said “a bigger and stronger me. With my nutrition on check now, I will be able to be the best version of myself for the next couple of seasons in the UAAP. As for the team, DLSU will be back in our winning ways with coach Derick Pumaren as our head coach.”
These Chinoy players were once in high school, only dreaming of playing in the UAAP. With the right amount of hard work, grit, and determination, they turned this dream into reality. So don’t give up and always work hard; maybe one day you’ll be the next UAAP star.