CEBU CITY - With only 10 players on their roster, not many expected the University of San Jose-Recoletos Jaguars to finish second in the classification round and hold a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals of the 16th Cesafi men’s basketball tournament.
Yet, this all-Filipino crew has made believers out of doubters as they won nine out of their 12 games, highlighted by an incredible 73-67 come-from-behind victory over the University of the Visayas Green Lancers. They are set to take on the seventh-seed Cebu Institute of Technology-University in the next round starting on Tuesday.
While most basketball pundits and observers are surprised by the Jaguars’ rise, the players themselves are not.
Why would they be after an offseason where they shed blood, sweat and tears from grueling practices, exhibition matches and tune-up games. And it is from that collective effort that they have come to trust the system and even more importantly, one another, said team captain Nelvin Navarra.
“We jelled as a team and each one of us knows what kind of role we’re going to play for the good of the team,” said the wide-bodied big man, who has come into his own this season, getting chosen to play in the All Star game along with his teammates RJ Dinolan, Miguel Gastador and Jaybie Mantilla.
Cliché as it may sound, the Jaguars have adopted the next-man-up mentality after their numbers was reduced to just 10 when academic issues prevented several of their key cogs and recruits from suiting up this season.
Their diminished numbers though, have not stopped them from playing a frenetic pressure defense that more often than not, fuels their high-octane offense.
Sophomore wingman Tricky Peromingan believes in the system that makes the most of the team's strengths: speed and shooting.
“The key is just our system. Every game paulit ulit lang po namin sinusunod yung systema namin at kung ano po yung pinapagawa ng coaches namin. Yun lang talaga yung bread and butter namin,” said the spunky shooting guard from Far Eastern University, who struggled early in the season due to the passing of his father but has steadily found his rhythm and stroke back.
"We just have to convert our defense into offense. Syempre alam po naming kulang-kulang kami sa line up tsaka wala pa kaming import kaya binubuhos po talaga namin lahat every game," he added.
With the playoffs set to start next week, do the Jaguars have enough gas left in the tank to push through? Navarra said he has no doubt in his mind that they do.
“We're in a good position for the shot at the finals and I think our conditioning coaches are doing great maintaining our stamina and endurance,” the big guy said.