UP MBT reloads, bares nine new Maroons for UAAP 86

Despite the early departure of Carl Tamayo and James Spencer, a bright future still awaits the redemption-seeking Maroons as they secured the commitment of up-and-coming hoopers. 

In total, nine standouts will be joining the UP Men’s Basketball Team (UP MBT), as UAAP Season 86 opens on September 30.

Francis Lopez with a thunderous jam in UP’s 2023 PinoyLiga Collegiate Cup win vs the Perpetual Altas. Photo by UP Men’s Basketball Team

Francis Lopez

Nicknamed after the NBA’s arguably “greatest of all time,” the 20-year-old former Ateneo high school standout Francis “Lebron” Lopez has started to carve his own name in the local basketball scene. 

Hailing from the other side of Katipunan, Lopez is considered one of today’s brightest prospects due to his athleticism and wide range of basketball skills.

The 6-foot-6 winger averaged 14.1 points on 31% shooting from the arc at the 2023 PinoyLiga Collegiate Cup. On top of this, he also notched 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

The Filipino-Angolan also took part in State U’s preseason championship run at the 2023 BallOut Sports Intercollegiate Champions Challenge and 16th FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup.

Lopez also has international experience with the Gilas squad that won silver in the 2021 Southeast Asian Games, making him a strong contender for the Rookie of the Year honors this season.

A wounded Chicco Briones firing a corner shot during the 2023 FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup. Photo by UP Men’s Basketball Team

Chicco Briones

The Fighting Maroons have also secured the commitment of Filipino-American Lowell “Chicco” Briones Jr. — the son of former PBA player Lowell Briones Sr. 

All the way from Caroll College in Montana, the 6-foot-6 guard brought his talents back to his homeland as he registered eight points and 4.6 rebounds per game during the 2023 PinoyLiga Collegiate Cup.

The 20-year-old also starred in UP’s final elimination game in the Strong Group BallOut tournament, producing 17 points and eight rebounds to earn player of the game honors.

La Salle Green Hills products Luis Pablo (left) and Seven Gagate (right) lacing up for UP during their 2023 preseason campaign. Photo by the UP Men’s Basketball Team

LSGH twin towers: Luis Pablo and Seven Gagate

La Salle Green Hills (LSGH) big men Luis Pablo and Seven Gagate will also be in the frontlines of the UP MBT next season, with both standing at 6-foot-8 to fill in the missing services of Tamayo and Henry Galinato.

During his MVP run in the NCAA, Pablo averaged 17.6 points, 13.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per match. 

Gagate also tallied remarkable numbers in the same stint with 15.6 markers, 12.9 boards, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 rejections per game. 

The twin towers were part of the preseason squad that won championship titles at the BallOut Sports Intercollegiate Champions Challenge and 16th FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup.

Former NU Bulldogs Janjan Felicilda (left) and Reyland Torres (right) representing the State U pack during their 2023 preseason run. Photo by UP Men’s Basketball Team

Former Bulldogs duad: Janjan Felicilda and Reyland Torres

After sitting out of UAAP Season 85 to complete a year of residency, former NU Bulldogs Janjan Felicilda and Reyland Torres will finally suit up for the Diliman crew. 

Both guards stamped solid performances during their rookie seasons back in Season 84, where Felicilda normed seven points and 4.5 rebounds, while Torres tallied 7.9 points and 2.4 boards per outing.

Despite having a heavy guard rotation in the current roster, Felicilda and Torres was able to prove at the Maroon’s preseason campaign that they can still contribute to coach Goldwin Monteverde’s tactics.

Sean Alter canning a pair of free-throws during the 2023 FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup. Photo by UP Men’s Basketball Team

Sean Alter

Head coach Monteverde and basketball director Dolreich “Bo” Perasol took their recruitment spree abroad once again as they secured the services of Filipino-American and two-time state champion Sean Alter from Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

With a 6-foot-8 frame and a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Alter is expected to boost UP’s towering defense anchored by the graduating Malick Diouf, who was hailed as last season’s MVP. 

During his stint with FilNation Select-USA at the 2023 Smart-NBTC National Finals, Alter recorded 5.7 points and three rebounds per game.

When he debuted as a Maroon at the PinoyLiga Collegiate Cup last June, Alter immediately made his presence felt as he dropped 12 points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.

Mark Belmonte with a dagger during UP’s championship run at the 2023 FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup. Photo by UP Men’s Basketball Team

Mark Belmonte

Six-foot-six Mark Gil Belmonte from St. John the Baptist Catholic School is also one of UP’s newest additions to its growing young core.

The 19-year-old averaged 6.9 markers and 2.4 rebounds in just 12 minutes a game at the 16th FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup.

Moreover, Belmonte also received the Finals MVP award after spearheading State U en route to its first FilOil championship against the unbeaten De La Salle Green Archers squad, with a team-high record of 18 points and five rebounds.

LA Andres seeing action at the 2023 BallOut Intercollegiate Champions Challenge. Photo by UP Men’s Basketball Team

LA Andres

The 19-year-old LA Andres from St. Mary of the Woods School Makati may be the last one to commit to the team for UAAP Season 86, but he definitely isn’t the least. 

Standing at 6-foot-7, the versatile forward was part of the Philippines’ roster for the 2022 FIBA U-18 Asian championship. He also averaged 13.7 markers and 10.3 rebounds during the 2023 Smart NBTC National Finals.

Andres first donned the maroon and white jersey at the 2023 BallOut Champions Challenge together with Gilas teammates Pablo and Gagate.

Apart from these nine standouts, the UP MBT has also secured promising recruits for UAAP Season 87, including no.1 high schooler Jared Bahay, Dikachi Ududo and Denzil Walker.

Program director and former UP coach Perasol explained in an ABS-CBN News interview that State U’s recruitments are processed “to make sure Coach Gold has the right personnel.”

“Lahat ng ‘yan ay being prepared for that ultimate goal of fighting for that championship ring again,” he said.

The UP Fighting Maroons will see its first UAAP 86 action against the Adamson Soaring Falcons on October 1, 2023 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Editor’s Note: LA Andres is not included in final roster released September 30 by the Men’s Basketball Team