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Ricci set to shine

By Jerome Lagunzad

With the departure of ace wingman Jeron Teng who has already maximized his five-year playing eligibility, vastly-improving Ricci Rivero is expected to play a bigger—and vital—role in La Salle’s title-retention bid in the UAAP Season 80 men’s basketball tournament.

After serving primarily as a reliever to the 6-foot-2 Teng during his rookie season last year when he could only come up with 5.5 points and 1.0 rebound in less than 10 minutes of play, the highly-athletic Rivero is being groomed as one of the Green Archers’ new primary options.

“Since early this year, binibigyan na namin ng kumpiyansa ‘yang si Ricci,” said La Salle assistant coach Miggy Solitaria in a phone interview yesterday upon arriving at La Salle’s training facility in Taft Avenue, Manila.

“Siya kasi ‘yung ka-posisyon ni JT (Teng) last year. Kaya nararapat lang na mabigyan siya ng more opportunities ngayon. Kahit na masama ‘yung nilalaro niya, talagang binababad pa rin namin siya. And we’re glad he’s accepting the challenge.”

The former La Salle-Greenhills standout gave a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing when he emerged as one of the tournament’s top players in the Green Archers’ five-game sweep of the Buddha Light International Association (BLIA) Cup in Taiwan at the expense of European and Asian collegiate counterparts last month.

La Salle is also set to see action in the four-day Kadayawan Festival invitational tourney in Davao City next week, with the Green Archers going up against UAAP rivals Far Eastern University, University of Santo Tomas and Davao All-Stars, a collection of the province’s top collegiate players.

“It’s more of fine-tuning for us,” said Solitaria, a former Ateneo stalwart who will turn 31 on August 26. “More than beating our rivals, our main purpose is for the players to master our plays better and get themselves familiar with each other more.

“Basketball-wise, wala naman na kaming halos problema. But the challenge for us right now is how we will help these young players mature at the soonest possible time.”

Reigning UAAP league MVP Ben Mbala is expected to be the focal point anew while key returnees Kib Montalbo, Justine Baltazar, Aljun Melecio, Prince Rivero and Andrei Caracut are tipped to provide ample support.

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