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Rising Star Zain Mahmood boosts UST’s basketball ambitions

The UST Growling Tigers’ road back to UAAP men’s basketball contender status hit another milestone with their successful recruitment of Filipino-Pakistani Zain Mahmood.

The impressive talent grew up in Canada before moving to the United States to pursue a future in basketball. Mahmood recently finished his senior campaign for Maranatha HS in Pasadena, California, with averages of 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists a contest as the team captain. His squad made it to the state playoffs, bowing out in the first round against a top-ranked team.

The 6-foot-7 forward weighs just a little over 200 pounds. He’s nimble and agile for his size. He can score both inside the paint and on the perimeter. He can rebound well, particularly against smaller opposition. He knows how to penetrate to the rim by finding small gaps between defenders to attack, which could lead to and-one opportunities. He’s able to finish with both hands in the paint, utilizing solid footwork to be in the best position to score. Occasionally, he knocks down an outside jumper.

Mahmood familiarized himself with Filipino basketball fans first as part of the Gilas national team that finished sixth in the 2022 FIBA Asia U-18 tournament, where he averaged 11.3 points and 5.8 boards a contest. He was then one of Fil-Am Nation’s all-star standouts in the 2023 NBTC playoffs held in Manila.

Zain caught the eyes of potential suitors. He expressed a desire to join Tab Baldwin’s Ateneo Blue Eagles, but the UAAP powerhouse didn’t recruit him. National University and University of the East had interest, but ultimately, he felt that joining University of Sto. Tomas’s rebuild was the best fit.

“On top of minutes and things like that, I just want to be part of a rebuilding [program]… I feel like being a part of the shift in dynamic of what’s going on is just as good and probably even better, because then it feels like you were there to help build it brick by brick, stone by stone. I feel like if I can contribute to a winning season for us at UST next year, and seeing some success – whether it’s a championship, whether it’s getting a lot more wins, or pulling out some upsets that people might say – I’m just looking forward to getting in there and playing my part,” Mahmood said.

“I’ve spoken to the coaches, I’ve spoken to some of the players, and I think the culture shift over there is coming. I think UST’s going to be a name that’s in the headlines all year next year.”

Mahmood isn’t wrong. His presence will help the Growling Tigers in areas of improvement based on their performance last season: rebounding and interior scoring. Furthermore, the UST team we will see from Season 87 and beyond is a far cry from the uncompetitive squads lined up in recent UAAP tournaments.

Season 85 MVP runner-up Forthsky Padrigao has joined the lair along with former UE spitfire guard Kyle Paranada. Ashon Andrews, Geremy Robinson Jr., Ice Danting, and Leland Estacio have displayed impressive stints in offseason games. Nic Cabañero and Christian Manaytay should be back to provide scoring at the wings. Following the major absence of foreign student-athlete Adama Faye last season, the arrival of Peter Osang will be a welcome addition.

Together, Osang and Mahmood can formulate a devastating one-two punch up front.

There is an opening for UST to make the Final Four. After defending champion La Salle and runner-up University of the Philippines, the remaining playoff positions are up for grabs.

Ateneo, National University, and Adamson figure as contenders in making it past the elimination round. University of the East has an outside shot. Far Eastern University is in a rebuild. None of these teams, from a talent standpoint, are deeper than what the Growling Tigers have put together. That’s reinforced by the arrival of Mahmood, one of the contenders to win Rookie of the Year.

“I think on top of all the great things that the team has, I think that I bring a strong inside presence, but I also believe I’m able to stretch the floor really well, and dominate inside-out. I think I have a pretty complete game and I want to be able to demonstrate that full game.

It’s no secret that a competitive and contending UST team is great for the UAAP. They have 18 men’s basketball titles, tied with UE for second-most. Their last championship was all the way back in 2006. They’ve made the finals four times since, losing in each occurrence. Breaking that spree won’t come easy, let alone right away, but by attaining Mahmood, it could be a step towards that direction.

Zain says he hasn’t learned the famous “Go USTe!” chant yet, although it’s in the works along with other major goals.

“I promise UST fans I’ll familiarize myself with the culture when the time comes closer. I’m looking forward to being a part of something big.”

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