With Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero now in the mix, the UP Fighting Maroons are more stacked and talented than ever

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

It’s a great time to be a UP Fighting Maroons fan. For the first time in years, the Maroons are entering the UAAP as a contender rather than an underdog. It’s an unfamiliar sight, but it’s something the team and its fanbase have waited for since they last won the championship in 1986.

Last year, the Maroons had one of the most surprising runs in the history of college basketball. Led by captain Paul Desiderio, nobody expected the squad to make it past the final four—except maybe the Maroons themselves. Now, they’re tagged as one of the few teams that can put up a fight against title-favorites Ateneo. It also helps that new faces are joining UP’s roster this season.

After sitting out a year for residency purposes, Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero are finally going to see action this year. Both are going to be the talk of the league especially Paras who will be making his UAAP debut. This is the season that will determine whether or not Paras can live up to the hype that has surrounded his name for so long; finally, he’s getting a real shot at playing college basketball.

“I’m excited. I haven’t been part of a big tournament in a while,” Paras says.”I’m just glad that God basically gave me a third chance in life and in basketball,” added the 21-year-old La Salle Greenhills alumni.

Paras will be in good company as he joins a stacked squad that consists of reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie, superstar Juan Gomez de Liano, fellow forward Javi Gomez de Liano, Rivero, and Jun Manzo. Paras believes however, that UP is more than just their super six. And true enough,  given the rest of the Maroons’ talent, UP’s current roster is enough reason to claim that the team is arguably at its strongest.

I’m just glad that God basically gave me a third chance in life and in basketball, says Paras

 

That said, it’s going to be fascinating to watch how this team is going to play together on court. Right now, it looks as if they have an endless stock of weapons they can depend on throughout the game. There’s Juan’s ability to score from outside, Akhuetie’s presence in the paint, Rivero’s ability to create his own shots, and of course Paras’ international experience and versatility. The list just goes on, but it’s also going to be up to how head coach Bo Perasol brings all of this together to create a strong and cohesive on-court strategy.

Coach Bo has More to Prove

In the four years Perasol has coached UP, he’s established that he’s an effective mentor that brings out the best in his team. However, there are still some uncertainty surronding his coaching style and his ability to create the a strategy that could work for all his players. UP’s Cinderella finish last year was great experience for Perasol and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can lead this team to another finals appearance especially with the new superstars on board.

Paras has mentioned that he’s earned Perasol’s trust and looks forward to learn and grow as a player under the former Blue Eagles’ coach. As for Perasol, there are a couple challenges he must overcome: First, he has to  figure out how he’s going to combine last season’s best bits with the new talents coming in this year. If the ball operated around Desiderio last year, who’s going to lead UP’s offense this year? If UP’s offense works around Gomez de Liano this year, the system must still benefit Paras, Rivero, and of course Akhuetie in the post.

The pressure has never been greater for Perasol. This season is going to be the year where he proves that he’s good enough to coach a championship-caliber team. Because, really, the only expectation for UP this year is to win a championship.

The Fighting Maroons will take on the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

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