[Editor's note: Here's the fifth installment of our 10-part preview on the NCAA basketball season]
Last Season: 5th place (9-9)
Key Holdovers: Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, Jeo Ambohot, Jerrick Balanza
Departures: Rey Nambatac
Newcomers: Christian Fajarito, Larry Muyang, Bonbon Batiller
Head Coach: Jeff Napa (3rd season)
FOR this season in the NCAA, Letran is going big, literally.
Long known as one of the smallest teams in the league, the Knights will be coming into the 94th season of the tournament with a presence that is as towering as their aspirations.
Having a solid core in Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, Jeo Ambohot and Jerrick Balanza is one good thing for the Knights – adding the 6-foot-7 inch Larry Muyang and the 6’5 Christian Fajarito into the mix might bring them to another level.
“Very confident ako ngayon kasi last year, kulang talaga kami sa tao. Ngayon naman, naging maganda na yung composition ng team. That’s why medyo talagang magiging maganda ang performance namin ngayong taon,” said Letran head coach Jeff Napa.
Aside from being one of the tallest squads this season, the Knights also added depth with former University of the East gunner Bonbon Batiller and Batang Gilas stalwart Fran Yu.
Now it’s all about familiarity for the Knights and that’s something that Napa made sure to work on over the summer.
“Yun ang purpose namin. Almost kalahati ng team, nga bago at holdovers. May naiwan pero almost seven lang yata. Yun ang purpose kaya kami sumali sa different leagues. Nag-out of town kami para at least yung familiarity talaga, makuha namin,” Napa continued.
It was an up and down preseason for the Knights as they looked like world-beaters in one game, while struggling to grasp for form the next.
But for the three-time UAAP Juniors champion coach, that’s just part of the growing pains that they had to endure – and it’s better to experience it now than later.
“Yung mga growing pains na talo kami one point, yun ang kailangan naming pagdaanan para masubukan ang character ng team, kung paano namin ihahandle. Like sa Filoil, sa UAAP teams na competitive teams na malalakas, we lost by three points, yun yung mga manageable games na kaya naming ipanalo,” Napa explained.
“Yun ang inaadjust namin talaga para coming to season, maganda na ang pag-handle namin sa mga ganoong situation,” he added.
With such an imposing line-up, balanced with reliable big men and dangerous guys on the perimeter, expectations are certainly high for the Knights.
Napa understands the card that he’s dealt with right now and he knows the kind of pressure that is on them.
He also knows how to deal with it.
“Yung pressure kasi, nandyan naman eh. Yung expectations, nandyan din. Di naman nawawala yan. Thats why basketball is very competitive. Kung paano lang namin ihahandle yung ganoong situation, kumbaga, talagang naghahanda kami ng todo-todo,” Napa said.
“As for me, as a coach, talagang sinasabi ko na di kami pwedeng mag-relax kasi ito na yung magandang team namin. Kailangan mas more na maganda pa ang performance namin para maganda ang resulta talaga.”