Tamayo invite sparks Lopez transfer

Last month, he texted me on Viber, saying: Dito ka na sa UP

Francis ‘LeBron’ Lopez is set to bring his Gilas Pilipinas experience to the UP Fighting Maroons. Photo courtesy of FIBA

A simple Viber message triggered what would be the biggest transfer in the country’s collegiate arena.

Francis “LeBron” Lopez revealed that he got an invitation from Gilas Pilipinas teammate Carl Tamayo, asking him to transfer to University of the Philippines for Season 86 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.

Lopez has what it takes to tilt the balance of UAAP power back to the Fighting Maroons.

Gifted with athleticism, shooting ability and international experience for being part of the Gilas squad that campaigned in the previous windows of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, Lopez is tipped to banner UP back to the UP throne following the departure of Zav Lucero, Henry Galinato and, most recently, Tamayo.

His eligibility, however, remains unclear as he signed a contract with Overtime Elite – a professional team based in Atlanta – in July 2021.

Although he didn’t play a single game, UAAP rules have it that those who will decide to turn pro will effectively forgo their eligibility in the country’s most prestigious collegiate league.

Daily Tribune tried but UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde and program director Bo Perasol couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lopez said Tamayo recruited him – via a Viber message – last month, or before he packed his bags to join the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the Japanese B. League.

“Last month, he texted me on Viber, saying: Dito ka na sa UP. Then, I suddenly decided that I wanna go to UP and here am I. I’m now here in UP,” said the 18-year-old swingman, who was also part of the Gilas side that settled for the silver medal in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi last year.

Lopez, who was at the Ateneo bench when the Blue Eagles lifted the UAAP title over Tamayo and the Fighting Maroons, added that it wasn’t an easy decision as he had “a series of heart-to-heart talks” with his family and friends before finalizing his decision.

“My basketball path has been unpredictable the past two years as I finish my high school education. Life has thrown curveballs and a few distractions that has made me a stronger and better person,” Lopez said in a statement.

“UP is a great institution with a very good basketball program and management group. I know deep in my heart that the UP Nowhere to Go But UP Foundation will take care of me as a student and as an athlete.”

If plans do not miscarry, Lopez will be joining a rock-solid UP squad that can knock the crown off Ateneo’s head in the next UAAP season.

JD Cagulangan will be back as well as Gerry Abadiano, Terrence Fortea, CJ Cansino and last season’s Finals Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf.

Still, Lopez mentioned Tamayo as the biggest reason behind his transfer.

“Let me take this opportunity to thank my Gilas Pilipinas teammate Carl Tamayo for the guidance and great stories that made me realize that I want to pursue my college education in UP,” he said.

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