Bulldogs in unfamiliar territory as defending champions

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Sep 04, 2015 08:25 PM
Bulldogs in unfamiliar territory as defending champions
NEW. The defending champion NU Bulldogs will have to get used to being one of the favorites in the UAAP.

A season ago, National University ended a six decade-long championship drought courtesy of a well-balanced lineup with versatility at every position.

Now in the 78th Season of the UAAP Men's Basketball Tournament, the Bulldogs will have to defend their crown without two players who best exemplified their balance and versatility: Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin.

With his all-around skills, Rosario was selected second overall in the 2015 PBA Draft and NU coach Eric Altamirano knows he will not be able to replace his do-it-all big man just like that. “Mahirap talagang punan yung 6’7” na may ganung maturity,” he said.

He then continued, “We’ll have some guys to fill up the spot, but I don’t think we have guys who will be able to fill his shoes.”

Meanwhile, Khobuntin is also bound for the pros after getting picked 10th overall. While not as prominent as Rosario, Khobuntin was another end-to-end contributor who served as the consummate glue guy in doing whatever his team needed: knocking down jumpers from kickouts, cleaning up the glass, or defending the other team’s top perimeter threat.

However, more than the loss of the players who, more often than not, proved to be their difference-makers, it’s the Bulldogs being in uncharted waters that Altamirano is worried about. As he explained, “Last year, we were in a very ideal situation since nobody expected us to be there. This year, the target is on our backs.”

This is the exact reason why the veteran coach shared that his foremost reminder to his wards is to forget they won it all last year. “I keep reminding the boys that we cannot come into the season knowing that we are the champions. We have to have the same approach as last year: we were hungry and we were driven,” he said.

The good news for NU is that although they no longer have Rosario and Khobuntin, Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga are still in Sampaloc. “The way I look at it, all teams, nagkaroon ng changes, same with us. We’re just hoping our veterans will be able to lead the team because we're still going to rely on Gelo and Alfred,” the Bulldogs’ mentor said.

According to Altamirano, while Alolino’s production is already a given, it’s development from Aroga that he’s excited about as he said, “Maturity-wise, he’ll be better. He’ll need it because this year, he has to do it alone, especially sa loob.”

Along with his lead guard and center, the NU coach is also counting on a returnee to ease some of the burden left behind by Rosario and Khobuntin at the forward position. “Jeff (Javillonar) will really help sa four position. Hopefully, with his seniority, he'll be able to help us,” he said.

Among the youngsters, Altamirano shared he expects much from J-Jay Alejandro and Paolo Javelona. As he put it, “J-Jay, we're giving more responsibility to him and Paolo, he’ll be trusted to do more things.”

The Bulldogs may be in unfamiliar territory, but Altamirano assured their school community that they are more than ready to defend their crown. “We just have to embrace that tag, being the favorites,” he said.


Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.


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