It’s a given that you can’t teach height, but the same can be said with championship composure.

When you’re under the bright lights, you either take your game to the next level or wilt under pressure, and it’s in these situations where you get to know about yourself, for better or worse.

The 16th FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup was a great venue for teams to ease in their new recruits, returning players, and for new coaches to further implement their systems and the championship game between the DLSU Green Archers and the UP Fighting Maroons was a perfect example for this.

Both teams brought in a bevy of recruits over the offseason and they too have returning players from injury in CJ Cansino and Joshua David, among others. While the Fighting Maroons have had head coach Goldwin Monteverde since 2021, La Salle is still getting to know Topex Robinson’s system, which has thus far had solid early returns.

Prior to their finals matchup, DLSU and UP faced each other earlier in the FilOil EcoOil Cup, and it was a great back-and-forth affair that saw the former extend their unbeaten run with a 90-83 win. The Green Archers relied on their pressure defense and some big baskets to rally past the Fighting Maroons and make a statement with the UAAP still a few months away.

UP, though, exacted revenge over La Salle when they crossed paths again in the finals.

The Fighting Maroons never trailed after the first quarter, outpacing DLSU with their depth and hot shooting in the first half. For all of the Green Archers’ talents, UP is perhaps the only one that can outmatch La Salle in terms of personnel alone and when much of the squad is clicking on offense, the Fighting Maroons can be tough to beat.

Even though the Ateneo Blue Eagles went on to win UAAP Season 85, it seems that UP is the standard for Season 86. The Blue Eagles lost the likes of Ange Kouame, BJ Andrade, and Dave Ildefonso, among others, and they were not just statistical contributors as they also provided much-needed stability whenever Ateneo was faced with a challenge. Their preseason has thus far been a mixed bag and it seems that the long offseason will be good for them.

The Fighting Maroons also lost some vital players in Carl Tamayo, James Spencer, and Xavier Lucero, all of whom were crucial to UP’s Season 84 title run. But then, the Fighting Maroons brought in Seven Gagate, Luis Pablo, Francis Lopez, Sean Alter, Mark Belmonte, Chicco Briones, Janjan Felicilda, and Reyland Torres. Cansino is also making his return this season after missing out much of last year with an ACL injury. If we’re being honest, this list could continue to grow until October.

Their recent FilOil conquest has shown that Monteverde has found a way to integrate his new players while giving the veterans a chance to showcase their stuff. Part of this comes with having already established himself within UP, and that kind of stability has allowed them to build trust and confidence in the system. To add to that, Monteverde can also deploy a lineup that can stand tall against the UAAP, with everyone on the court having the ability to stretch the floor and bend the defense to their will. It’s a dream scenario for Monteverde and the Fighting Maroons and a nightmare for their opponents.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and October, with the rest of the UAAP playing catch up. Winning now may feel well and good, but some players may have to sit out and feel the need to transfer. That’s on the UP’s management to deal with and finding opportunities for everyone could be crucial for them if they want to achieve sustained success. Lest they want to return to the dark ages.

Current circumstances have the UP Fighting Maroons being the class of the UAAP. All signs currently point to them winning their second UAAP championship in three seasons, and with both the tangibles and intangibles they have displayed, their aspirations could easily turn into a reality so long as they don’t get complacent.