<
>

On the rise: The breakout candidates for UAAP Season 85

RC Calimag is the top candidate to fill a pivotal role for the UP Fighting Maroons following the losses of Ricci Rivero and CJ Cansino to graduation and injury respectively. UAAP Media Bureau

The big stage. The bright lights. The great games. The UAAP is back with Season 85!

And at the same time the stars are expected to keep shining, new gems are also hoped to be discovered by contenders UP Fighting Maroons, Ateneo Blue Eagles, La Salle Green Archers, Adamson Soaring Falcons, and NU Bulldogs.

Even rebuilding FEU Tamaraws, UST Growling Tigers, and UE Red Warriors are hoping to uncover -- and unleash -- hidden treasure for them to pull off surprises here and there.

Here, we go through just some of the young talents we see big things coming for.

ADAMSON SOARING FALCONS: Cedrick Manzano, big

UAAP Season 84 averages: 6.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup averages: 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks

The Soaring Falcons are all set in the back-court with Jerom Lastimosa and Joem Sabandal showing the way, flanked by Joaquin Jaymalin, Matty Erolon, and Ray Allen Torres. Their wings are also all set to improve with the return of AP Manlapaz and continued development of Wawa Yerro and Didat Hanapi.

That leaves the bigs, and for Adamson to take the next step into legitimate contention, so will Cedrick Manzano have to take the next step of standing alongside the best local bigs. He did just that in Filoil and produced numbers at the level of UP's Carl Tamayo and La Salle's Kevin Quiambao.

The UAAP itself doesn't seem it'd be any different as the 6-foot-4 forward is entrenched as the blue and white's starting and closing four. Expect big things from San Marcelino's next big thing.

ATENEO BLUE EAGLES: Kai Ballungay, wing

The Blue Eagles lost the most key cogs from last season, and are now handing over the reins to the most number of unproven young talents. From Forthsky Padrigao at the point to Josh Lazaro at the four, their next man up culture is set to face its toughest test in the coming season.

It'd be fair to give Ateneo the benefit of the doubt, however, especially with Tab Baldwin still calling the shots -- and especially with incoming first-year player Kai Ballungay already proving worthy of great expectations by starring in their World University Basketball Series title run.

Make no mistake, the blue and white will still be scary, and even scarier because guys like the 6-6 high-flyer will be relative unknowns, but nonetheless have much upside.

FEU TAMARAWS: Chiolo Añonuevo, wing

Only game in UAAP Season 84: four points, two rebounds, one assist, 9 minutes
Only game in 2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup: three points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, 12 minutes

We could've put either Bryan Sajonia or Patrick Sleat, the two guards expected to step into the shoes of Korea-bound RJ Abarrientos, and we wouldn't be wrong. We're not worrying much about the Tamaraws' back-court, however, as it has long been the school's strength. And well, L-Jay Gonzales is still there.

Instead, we're seeing a major leap from Añonuevo, the 6-4 wing whose rookie year lasted just one half due to injury.

That assumed determination to bounce back, coupled with his athletic ability and versatile play puts him in position to provide FEU with the do-it-all forward it hasn't had since Mac Belo was wearing green and gold.

LA SALLE GREEN ARCHERS: CJ Austria, guard

UAAP Season 84 averages: 4.3 points, 1.8 rebounds
2022 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup averages: 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals
2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup averages: 7.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists

The Green Archers are big in the front-court with Mike Phillips, Bright Nwankwo, and Kevin Quiambao, and are steady at the back-court with Evan Nelle, Schonny Winston, and Mark Nonoy. Then at the wing, they have a lethal weapon just waiting to be unholstered and fired.

CJ Austria's confidence level is at an all-time high, and when given the chance to take charge, he has proven to have the capability to be a go-to guy. The 6-3 incoming second-year swingman dropped 26 points in the D-League semis.

There's a reason veteran Joaqui Manuel has seen his playing time dwindle -- and that's because Austria deserves more and more minutes.

NU BULLDOGS: Kean Baclaan, guard

2022 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup averages: 16.2 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals (with UST)
2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup averages: 14.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.2 steals (with UST)

Kean Baclaan scored 35 in a quarterfinals game in the PBA D-League -- for the Growling Tigers. With that, UST thought it had its next great guard. Only, the 5-8 spark-plug scorer reneged on his earlier commitment and transferred to nearby Jhocson Street. The Growling Tigers' big loss, is the Bulldogs' big gain.

In Baclaan, National U has the perfect partner for new lead guard Steve Nash Enriquez, whether it be Baclaan subbing in for Enriquez or Baclaan playing together with Enriquez.

Baclaan's scoring prowess, evident since his days torching the nets with San Sebastian College-Recoletos and De La Salle Zobel in high school, is a much-welcome addition for a blue and gold side that consistently keeps contests close, but more often than not, is lacking a closer to seal the deal.

UP FIGHTING MAROONS: RC Calimag, guard

UAAP Season 84 averages: 3.2 points
2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup averages: 7.0 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists

The defending champion Fighting Maroons remained mostly intact, only losing former key cogs Ricci Rivero to graduation and CJ Cansino to injury. That created an opening for starting and/or closing guard -- and RC Calimag is a top candidate to get the job.

A big back-court player who stands at 6-2, the former national youth team stalwart can score from anywhere and everywhere. For the longest time, the knock on him was his inability to involve his teammates.

With JD Cagulangan, Brix Ramos, and Gerry Abadiano running the show, however, all he'd need to do is to get to his spots and make good on his shots. Losing Rivero and Cansino would've been a big problem for any other team, but maybe, just maybe, not UP, with Calimag in tow.

UST GROWLING TIGERS: Nic Cabañero, wing

UAAP Season 84 averages: 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals
2022 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup averages: 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.1 steals
2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup averages: 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals

Another rebuild is underway in Espana, as the Growling Tigers will no longer have Sherwin Concepcion, Bryan Santos, and Joshua Fontanilla, who have all used up their years of eligibility. All of a sudden, the face of the franchise has become Nic Cabañero, who already gave quite a number of glimpses of brilliance last season.

The 6-2 swingman will need to be more consistent with those this time around, as he'll now be the first-and-foremost focal point for UST.

A versatile wing who has the shooting touch, post-up moves, and finishing strength, it's fair to assume he'd be up to the task. In that light, big numbers are coming for Cabañero -- whether or not wins and losses will be coming as well for the black and gold.