In Season 73 of the UAAP, the University of the East (UE) Red Warriors had 2 players in the Mythical 5: do-it-all guard Paul Lee and big man Ken Acibar. Despite the prodigious production of those two players, the Red Warriors missed the Final 4 one year after making the Finals.
Fast forward to Season 74, and the Red Warriors have a new coach and will play sans Lee and perhaps even without Acibar.
The Warriors already have many issues to deal with, and the season has yet to start.
“There’s not much to rave about in UE these days,” says ABS-CBN sports analyst and Inboundpass.com columnist/manager Chris Soler. “But that could be its main weapon.”
Soler said that the Warriors are playing without any pressure, as no one expects them to be successful.
“Having no fear and playing without pressure can be huge, but not that huge to produce tons of wins,” he said.
Sports analyst and blogger Favian Pua says that UE is back in rebuilding mode and will have to rely on its rookies, especially Chris Javier. [all-timefave.blogspot.com]
But he does not believe that the Red Warriors can make any sort of noise in the post season.
“Another year outside the Final 4,” Pua says, is the realistic expectation for UE.
The task of rebuilding the Warriors falls to their new coach, Jerry Codiñera, who acknowledges that the road ahead will be difficult.
“There are so many faces in the team, around 6 to 7 rookies,” Codiñera said in an interview with ANC’s Hardball.
Adding to Codiñera’s woes is the departure of Lee and Acibar. The only two players who made consistent contributions to the Warriors are gone, and the new coach will have to find ways to squeeze points out of his team.
Lee will be turning professional, while some sources believe that Acibar may also join the PBA Draft, as he has been playing in the PBA Developmental League.
“The exodus of Lee and Acibar throws head coach Codiñera out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Pua said.
Soler said that the Warriors will now have to grope for an identity now that Lee and Acibar are gone.
“The Red Warriors’ biggest weakness is their lack of identity.... Someone needs to take charge of this team, both in the locker room and on the floor.”
Stepping out of Lee’s shadow is the team’s new captain, Paul Zamar, who can potentially provide the leadership that the young UE team desperately needs.
“The challenges this year are very tough,” Zamar said, while citing that they have a lot of rookies.
“We really need to guide them, through actions... Kailangan talaga maging vocal ka sa court,” he added.
But Soler said that the leadership role may be an unfamiliar one for Zamar and the other players.
“The likes of Paul Zamar, JM Noble and rookies Roi Sumang and BJ Zosa have been thrust into very unfamiliar roles. Can they handle it?” Soler asks.
Indeed, even Zamar is acknowledging the tough task that has been placed on him.
“Mahirap maging team captain,” he said.
Tough season ahead
With no clear scoring option, team leader, or identity, the UE Red Warriors are in for a tough Season 74.
Under the defense-minded Codiñera, the Warriors will need to compete for every ball possession. They also need to be aggressive on the defensive end of the floor. Most of the forwards on the roster are willing and able to slug it out defensively, which is a positive for the team.
But they will have to bleed for points every game. Without Lee orchestrating the offense and drawing defenders, other UE players will struggle to score.