With a couple of key additions to their roster, there’s a lot to expect from the National University Bulldogs

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

It’s crystal clear: The National University (NU) Bulldogs did a great job recruiting new faces prior to the 81st season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament. With their exemplary effort in rejuvenating their roster, ending their three-year playoff drought this season isn’t far from happening.

Headlining the recruits is Gilas cadet Troy Rike who was initially ruled ineligible to play for the league a few weeks ago. But head coach Jamike Jarin disclosed at the UAAP press conference that the 22-year old will suit up for the Bulldogs this coming Saturday against the renewed University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers under Aldin Ayo at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Troy Rike will play this Saturday,” Jarin boldly told the media.

On Aug. 29, Rike released a statement via Twitter regarding the league’s declaration of his ineligibility to play.

“Due to factors out of my control, I will not be able to play in UAAP Season 81. The news was devastating and I feel great regret that I won’t be able to take the floor with my teammates this season,” Rike said on his post.

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Soon… 🙏🏼🇵🇭

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The 6’7 bruiser failed to secure clearance papers from the Department of Justice at the time, but the determined forward did what needed to be done in time for NU’s Sept. 5 lineup submission deadline.

With Rike completing the missing piece of the puzzle, can we expect a much better Bulldogs this season? Possibly.

With the necessary roster changes, we’re probably bound to witness these young guns put up a massive fight for a playoff berth against the formidable teams. Last season, NU settled for a 5-9, sixth spot finish.

“If this young roster plays to their full potential and quickly recognizes what each player can bring to the team, the Bulldogs could be a contender to make a deep run into the playoffs

Aside from Rike, NU will also be fielding the Ildefonso brothers, Dave and Shaun, sons of PBA legend Danny. Rookies who will also make their debuts are John Lloyd Clemente and John Galinato. Moreover, making their return are Joshua Sinclair and JV Gallego, both of whom will play alongside veteran John Wilson Yu. With this set of wing players who can play multiple positions, we can expect a lot of run-and-gun plays from the Bulldogs every time they get a chance. Besides, this type of offensive attack matches Jarin’s preference for a fast-paced game.

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Media Day ✅ #itallbeginshere

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However, despite the talents NU has, the Bulldogs still has one hitch left to address—a floor general who can direct traffic well. Since former NU captain Gelo Alolino’s departure three years ago in which he led the Bulldogs to a Final Four finish, the void he has left has yet to be filled. Alolino was part of the core who led the Bulldogs to their first title in four decades in Season 77. After his departure, J-Jay Alejandro became the lone bright spot for the Bulldogs’ offensive attack given the little help he got from Enzo Joson and Rev Diputado. This year, however, Joson and Diputado will need to make some noise to become the leaders of the next generation.

Until the season starts, we cannot truly answer the speculative questions looming over Jarin’s squad. Will the rookies and veterans make their presence felt? Can this pool of talent discount the heavy pressure on their backs? For now, one thing is certain: If this young roster plays to their full potential and quickly recognizes what each player can bring to the team, the Bulldogs could be a contender to make a deep run into the playoffs. If they do earn a spot, watch out for an upset or two.