‘Ito na ‘yung simula’: What’s next for the Letran Knights
Ceej Tantengco on Nov 05, 2015 11:57 AM
LOOKING FORWARD: What does the future hold for the new kings of the NCAA?
With scoring powerhouses Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal bound for the pros, defending the crown will not come easy for the Letran Knights. But in the moments after their win, Cruz expressed hope for the Knights’ future.
“I think ito na ‘yung simula para sa amin,” said the team captain and finals MVP.
The next leaders
Cruz singled out Rey Nambatac and McJour Luib as the next leaders for the Letran Knights. “Si Rey kasi, tahimik lang ‘yan but he leads by example,” Cruz said. “Sa scoring pati defense, buwis buhay maglaro.”
Nambatac played through injury after injury this season—a month of back spasms, a sprained ankle that would flare up before Finals Game 3. The 22-year-old is used to sacrificing for the sport he loves. At the age of 16, he left his home in Cagayan de Oro just P2000 in his pocket, hoping to try out for basketball teams in Manila.
Coincidentally, Nambatac and Luib played for the same high school in Cagayan De Oro. “Si McJour naman, kayang i-motivate ‘yung team gamit ang words,” says Cruz. During the first game of the Finals, it was Luib who led the battlecry in their huddles: 1-2-3-Defense!
Season 91 was Luib’s first as a starter. Doing so moved Cruz into a sixth man role, added scoring power to the bench and boosting the confidence of Luib, whom Coach Aldin Ayo calls “one of our best closers.”
“Vocal [si McJour] at magaling din gumawa ng decisions on the court,” said Cruz.
During third game, though, a turnover by Luib led to an 8-0 run by San Beda, eliminating Letran’s lead in two minutes to force overtime. He still gets teased about that during interviews, but it was also Luib who got a crucial steal and led Art Dela Cruz into the double lane violation that sealed the deal for the Knights. Cruz can laugh about it now. “Bumawi naman!” he said.
Small but terrible
“Alam kong nakikita [ng teammates ko] na nahihirapan ako, pero nag-step up sila for me. Laban lang, puso,” the 5’5” Cruz stammered. ’Yun lang naging power namin [kaya naipanalo ‘yung championship].”
The Knights’ combination of full court pressure and running offense—“40 minutes of hell” as the team likes to call it—lifted the undersized squad over their larger opponents.
You can expect to see more of that in Season 92. Cruz, as well as the rest of the team, credits the success to Coach Aldin Ayo’s system. “Naniniwala kami [kay Coach],” he said. “‘Yun yung mahalaga sa game.”
Nambatac agrees, saying their 2013 finals team had more experienced personnel, but Coach Aldin Ayo’s system was the key to success. “Mas disiplinado kami,” said Nambatac.
Before the deciding game, Ayo spoke about what surprised him most in his first year with the Knights. “Their effort, their heart, the way they surrendered themselves to the system,” he said.
A much-needed break
For now, the Knights have earned a breather. Training for Season 92 starts in January. Most of the squad will be flying out to their provinces this week. On the agenda: quality time with their families.
This includes their head coach. “Uuwi akong Sorsogon at matutulog,” said Ayo with a laugh. “I haven’t slept properly in seven months.”