Defending champion Letran playing the part of underdog again

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Jun 24, 2016 07:19 PM
Defending champion Letran playing the part of underdog again
UNDER THE RADAR. Just like last season, a season when they won it all, no one is paying any attention to Letran's chances of repeating.

HOW’D THEY DO LAST SEASON? 13-5, champion

YES, THEY’RE STILL HERE: Mcjour Luib, Rey Nambatac, Jom Sollano

WELCOME TO THE FAMILY: Jeff Napa, Jed Ambohot, Marco Sario

GOOD LUCK ON FUTURE ENDEAVORS: Aldin Ayo, Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal

For half a year, Colegio de San Juan de Letran has been preparing for a title defense without the man who turned them into a championship team in the first place.

Jeff Napa, who replaced the now-departed Aldin Ayo, has been calling the shots in Intramuros for even shorter of a timeframe – four months to be exact.

As such, the Knights themselves acknowledged that they are yet to hit 100 percent as a squad with the 92nd Season of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament about to commence. As team captain Mcjour Luib put it, “Nasa mga 80 to 85 percent pa lang kami. Medyo paangat pa lang.”

He then continued, “Naka-adjust na kami sa system ni coach, pero kelangan pa talaga ng repetition.”

The good news is that Luib and his teammates, as well as Napa, have long expressed that their new system isn’t that new after all – they will remain to be a pressure-packing unit that gets right in the face of their opponents from end to end. “Wala namang pinagkaiba sa sistema dati kasi defensive-minded si coach Jeff and ang Letran naman, talagang defensive-minded,” presumed top gun Rey Nambatac expressed.

Along with the departure of one-time NCAA champion coach Ayo, however, the Knights will also have to figure a way to make up for the around 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists they lost with the graduation of Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal. First up to take the challenge head-on is Nambatac who is out to prove that the scoring dynamo he was back in the Juniors division is still there, and even better.

The new King Knight definitely won’t be alone as Luib, well-known to be “Mr. Intangibles,” is also ready and raring to help out more in the scoring column. Anchoring the middle will again be Jom Sollano who is as sturdy as they come on both offense or defense.

Also there are third-year forward Bong Quinto and sophomore swingman Jerrick Balanza whose time has finally come. Nothing but excited about their development, Nambatac said of them, “Malaking bagay na nag-improve si Quinto at Balanza.”

Indeed, it will take the entire round table for Letran to have a chance in their battle to remain on the throne. Luckily for them, they got for themselves a mentor who uses a long rotation and has a strong history of developing  players – just ask Hubert Cani, just ask Philip Manalang, just ask Justine Baltazar, just ask John Lloyd Clemente.

Re-emphasizing what he told ABS-CBN Sports during the 2016 Filoil Flying V Preseason Tournament, that everybody should expect a “no-superstar” Knights attack, he said, “Sakin naman, ‘di naman talaga ako nagre-rely sa isang tao. Nagre-rely ako sa 15 players – it’s just a matter of giving them confidence.” 

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

 

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