ARELLANO UNIVERSITY CHIEFS
IF THERE IS A TEAM THAT IS AT THE CROSSROADS, THEN THE ARELLANO UNIVERSITY CHIEFS ARE IT. IF THEY RULED THE NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, THEY HAVE FOUND THE TRANSITION TO THE NCAA A ROUGH ONE. INSTEAD OF BEING THE HEAD HUNTERS, IT IS THE
Rocky Acidre and Vergel Zulueta are a perfect NCAA backcourt duo. Tough. They can stroke it from the outside and are fearless on the drive. Zulueta was last year’s revelation. This is where we can see if he can pick it up a notch. Andrian Celada and Jerald Lapuz will be at forward while Prince Caperal will man the slot.
They earlier had high hopes that Charles Mammie, a 6’8” center from Freetown, Sierra Leone would try to replicate the success of Sam Ekwe or even Joe Etame. But a falling out during the summer tournament led to his eventual banishment from the team.
And boy, does that have dire implications for the Chiefs. Not only are they inconsistent but they are also weak in the middle. Mammie may have been raw but at least he took up space and he could jump some. Now, they might as well put up a “drive through” sign.
Celada is just as crucial to AU’s fate. He has shown that he can put up big numbers. Unfortunately, that’s oft in the early rounds and hardly during crunch time where he tends to miss and fold. Maybe he’s got a lot of off-court issues but this is his chance or else he’ll be consigned to Liga Pilipinas anonymity. And there’s the matter of his shot selection. If he is able to start out strong and hit some big shots in the clutch, then he can carry this team.
In case you’ve noticed, forward Isiah Ciriacruz has not been mentioned in the Chiefs’ starting five. You won’t find him on the bench either. In the past two years, Isiah Ciriacruz has shown flashes of brilliance. Early in Season 86, he played well as he became the team’s go-to guy when they needed a bucket. But he tapered off towards the end of the season. He was injured
in the pre-season and from all indications, he’ll be out of this year’s NCAA campaign. Without him, the Chiefs will have to go with Mark Doligon who came up from the Juniors team. But he is a project make no mistake.
Kim Pagayunan is a carbon copy of the way Rocky Acidre and Vergel Zulueta play. He’s fearless and tough. And along with JK Casiño, they are okay in the guard position but everyone knows that if you cannot rebound in the NCAA then you’ve got no chance.
African Charles Okpe will see some time in the middle. But he moves around like Robocop and is not a threat to score. He’ll do the dirty work like set screens, rebound, and block shots. The Chiefs will have to like that but the lack of polished offensive skills will hurt because the defense will have an extra man to try and check their guards. Look to Ronel Del Rosario and Christian Palma to get some minutes off a
bench that isn’t as good as it once was.
Leo Isaac led the Chiefs (and the Flaming Arrows as they were previously known) to NCRAA and Fr. Martin’s Cup glory. After turning over the reigns to assistant Junjie Ablan two years ago to become the school’s athletic director, Isaac felt the itch to coach again. I thought that after he took over from Ablan (who did a masterful job in the Chiefs’ maiden NCAA season) midway through last year’s summer leagues, the team’s performance went south. Maybe it was the absence of Gio Ciriacruz who had graduated. Maybe it was the adherence to a zone and not the tough and in-your-face man-to-man defense employed by Ablan. But one thing is for sure. Isaac has been given some more tools to compete. The onus is on him to get into the Final Four as Jose Rizal University has somewhat weakened by the departure of several vital cogs while Letran cannot buy a basket even if their life depended on it. To not make it would be a huge disappointment for their management and fans.
There were matches last season when, after foes would make an early run on them, they would subsequently fold. They have some talent but do they have that neversay-die attitude that Isaac knows all too well? Furthermore, the Arellano faithful have waited two years for their African reinforcements to serve out their residency. They’ve already lost one, and it doesn’t look good at all for them to parade lemons.
Isaac’s on the hot seat here.
Three things have to happen for Arellano U to achieve its Final Four aspirations: Celada needs to play with more consistency. The bench should show up. And Caperal, del Rosario and whoever is tall enough have to play center by committee and hope the cumulative stats hold up. If all three do not come together, well… that’s strike three and you know what that means.
They can be on the outside looking in. But look for them to battle it out for a Final Four seat. A good start is important for them because if the losing continues (they had a tough time during the pre-season), then maybe it’s time for change.
C PF SF SG PG
Prince Caperal Andrian Celada Jerald Lapuz Vergel Zulueta Rocky Acidre