FOR a rebuilding team like Centro Escolar University, it sure does exceed everyone's expectations.
Losing key guys in Orlan Wamar and Art Aquino should hurt, and all the more the departure of Congolese big man Rod Ebondo and Cameroonian beanpole Gilles Oloume.
But somehow, the Scorpions of coach Derrick Pumaren have not only found a way to thrive but also sustain their groove, going unbeaten through six games in the Foundation Group of the 2019 PBA D-League.
For fourth-year guard Keanu Caballero, it's all a matter of CEU staying true to its tried-and-tested system, one that has allowed the squad to be one of the perennial contenders in the developmental ranks.
"Binibigyan lang namin ng kumpyansa yung mga nasa team para makagawa sila, para kahit sino yung mawala samin, tuloy-tuloy lang," he said.
The Scorpions have established themselves as one of the top defensive teams in the league, limiting opponents to just 71.3 points per game, third-best in the league, as well as grabbing 34.0 defensive rebounds per outing, also third-best.
That couldn't be any more evident than on Tuesday, when CEU took on Marinerong Pilipino as Caballero and company faced off against their seniors in Wamar and Aquino.
Not only did the Scorpions show that they're more than fine in this new era without those key cogs, but also handily beat the Skippers, 93-76.
Leading the way was Senegalese slotman Maodo Malick Diouf, who fired 22 points, 19 rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
But enough credit should also be given to the locals, from Caballero (17 points, six assists, three rebounds), Tyron Chan (15 points, seven rebounds, and six assists), and Judel Fuentes (14 points, two rebounds, and two assists).
Caballero said that the team's drive is rooted from their continuing desire to show that they belong in the big leagues, especially with some of the top collegiate teams joining the PBA D-League this season, so much so that he 23-year-old has taken the leadership mantle for his side.
"Sinasabihan ko sila na sa mga teams ng PBA D-League, tayo yung hindi kasama sa NCAA at hindi kasama sa UAAP. Pero lalaban tayo hanggang saan ang kaya natin," he said.
As CEU continues to progress -- and win -- in this new era, Caballero knows that his side still can't get too far ahead of themselves as the Scorpions take every game, as cliche as it sounds, one at a time.
"Naka-focus pa kami sa eliminations. Mas gusto naming higitan pa kung anong meron kami ngayon," he said.