Letran Knights’ Coach Jeff Napa: Expect a faster, no superstar team
Ceej Tantengco on May 23, 2016 04:05 PM
“Paalala ko sa kanila, take it as a challenge. Lahat ng sinasabi ng iba na negative, gawin niyong strength.” --- Jeff Napa.
Apart from having the biggest targets on their back coming into NCAA Season 92, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights also shoulder the biggest burden. Last year’s stars Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal are gone, while the team is also rebuilding with a new man in charge.
However, first year head coach Jeff Napa is ready to take on the challenge.
“Hindi mawawala ‘yung pressure, kaya ine-enjoy ko na lang,” says the UAAP juniors champion coach with a laugh. “Paalala ko sa kanila, take it as a challenge. Lahat ng sinasabi ng iba na negative, gawin niyong strength.”
Napa remains as the head coach of UAAP champions NU Bullpups.
‘No superstar team’
Case in point: It’s easy to say nobody can fill in the shoes of last year’s stars. But Napa sees it differently. “This will be a no-superstars team,” he says with pride.
Instead, they’ve focused on building the confidence of the Knights’ bench and placing an emphasis on balanced scoring.
“Hindi pwedeng sabihing may iisang player na papalit sa kanila. Pero as a team, pupunuin namin ‘yung nawala.”
Team vets Rey Nambatac and McJour Luib; and last year’s new blood Jom Sollano, JP Calvo, Jerrick Balanza, and Bong Quinto have been sharing the scoring effort in the FilOil Flying V Premier Cup.
Beefing up Letran’s rotation are several rookies, including Marco Sario from the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers—one of the main gunners against Napa’s Bullpups in the UAAP Season 78 finals.
However, Letran’s rookies have yet to have a breakout game in the preseason tournament.
As such, team communication becomes even more important. Assisting Napa in this is Luib, the oldest of the Knights and the man their former coach called “the closer.” In addition to making crucial plays last season, Luib was also vocal in the team’s huddles, keeping their morale up during the three-game final series.
“Sabi sa akin ni coach, kailangan niya ako para mag-set ng tempo at maging tulay niya sa team,” says Luib, who says he gave his full commitment to Napa during their first teambuilding last April. “Kinausap ko rin sina Mark [Cruz] at K-Racs, ‘yun din sabi nila.”
Since then, he’s embraced his role as the team’s kuya. “Ako yung nangunguna sa pag-regroup kapag kailangan, kapag masyado nang magulo ‘yung team. Kinukuha ko rin yung opinion ng team at pinaparating kay coach,” Luib shares.
Harder, better, faster, stronger
Letran’s one-two-punch of a full court press and run-and-gun offense allowed the undersized team to defeat taller rivals last year. We called it “40 minutes of hell” and “mayhem”—and you can expect more of that this season.
“’Yung extreme pressure nila last year, ipagpapatuloy natin,” says Napa. “Kinausap ko talaga sila kasi baka akalain nila dahil bagong coach, iibahin ‘yung buong sistema. Pero ang totoo, hindi nalalayo sa ginagawa nila last year yung gusto kong gawin ngayon.”
“Takbo pa!” laughs Luib, who recalls the strenuous sprinting drills they went through last season. (“Ano ‘yun, mayhem times three?” I joke, and he laughs even more: “Oo, dapat mas mabilis pa.”)
With one month left before a fresh season, Napa is pleased with the Knights’ growth. “Sa sistema, nasa mga 70% na sila sa pag-adapt. Nasa transitional period pa rin kami pero nakikita ko sa kanila ‘yung willingness to commit,” he says.
“[Kumpara sa isang high school team], mas mature yung mga players kaya mas madali mag-communicate,” adds Napa, who smiles as he says coaching Letran has been an enjoyable experience. “Syempre, masaya rin bilang coach yung ikaw ‘yung in charge sa buong sistema.”
Ready for battle
The Knights’ remaining time before NCAA Season 92 will be spent solidifying team chemistry. “Magkakaroon kami ng team building sa Laguna this month,” shares Napa. “Pero sa totoo lang, ‘team bonding’ ang mas tamang tawag sa gagawin namin. Para makapag-relax din ‘yung team.”
At the back of their minds is a simmering excitement for opening day, where the Knights will face off against their historic rivals, the San Beda Red Lions—a squad extra hungry for vengeance against the Knights, who broke their five-year championship streak.
“Laban!” says Luib, who played a crucial role in the deciding third game of last season’s finals. He claps his hands in anticipation. “Iba talaga kapag San Beda kalaban namin. Dogfight ‘yan. Pukpukan talaga.”
Napa himself can’t help but smile. “Excited ako dahil first game ko sa NCAA, [kontra] San Beda agad. Kilala nating lahat ‘yung winning tradition nila kaya ‘yun ang nagmo-motivate sa akin para galingan pa at magsikap pa para lalong palakasin ‘yung team namin.”