[Editor's note: Here's the fourth installment of our 10-part preview on the NCAA basketball season]
Last Season: 8th Place (4-14)
Key Holdovers: Unique Naboa, Clement Leutcheu, Kendrix Belgica, Edward Dixon
Departures: Gerard Castor, Eric Pili
Returnees: Yankie Haruna, Jimboy Pasturan
Newcomers: Justin Gutang
Head Coach: TY Tang (2nd season)
FOR the first time in a long time, optimism surrounds the walls of College of St. Benilde heading into the upcoming basketball season of the NCAA.
With a youthful coaching staff led by incoming sophomore head coach TY Tang, the Blazers have turned themselves from being whipping boys of the league to legitimate Final Four contenders and they have the whole preseason to prove that claim.
Over the past summer, the Blazers made the Final Four in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup while also competing well in the PBA D-League with their partner team, Go for Gold.
More than the results, what makes Tang happy is the experience that they’ve gotten in those leagues.
“Yung mga ligang sinalihan namin, malaking bagay siya when it comes to getting to know ourselves as a team. Para malaman namin kung saan kami mag-take advantage. Mas maganda nagkaintindihan sila sa isa’t isa habang naglalaro. Yung roles and responsibility nila ngayon, mas alam nila at mas tanggap nila,” said Tang.
Personnel-wise, Benilde isn’t about to be pushed around. High-flying wingman Yankie Haruna is coming into the season healthy. Clement Leutcheu is continuing to improve while guys like Unique Naboa and Edward Dixon showed flashes of brilliance last season for the Blazers.
Joining the mainstays will be highly touted rookie Justin Gutang who has ‘superstar’ written all over him with his all-around game and his ability to play multiple positions.
With the manpower now to implement Tang and his staff’s philosophy, the Blazers are now dreaming big.
“Last year our identity was to be scrappy. We want to be all over the place - with the ball, without the ball. This year it’s the same but with a lot more conviction. At the same time, aside from being scrappy, we put in our identity to also be an intellectual team,” Tang said.
"We want to be a very smart and a very much thinking team in a way. I think we’ve gotten a lot of convincing with that, in terms of how we played. The outcome, we’ve been averaging about 20 assists a game in the D-League and in the Filoil. It says a lot about how we want to share the ball,” he added.
But despite the heightened expectations, expect the Blazers to come in loose – just enjoying the ride as they look to continue to turn heads into the season.
They’ve been a fun team to watch heading into the season and Tang intends it to stay that way.
“I don’t think we’re pressured. For one di naman kami umabot dun ever since. For the longest time, we’ve been on the bottom of our standings. I can feel us enjoying our ride. I can feel it from the players and coaches,” Tang continued.
“At the team building, you don’t feel them pressured. You feel them embracing the environment. Loving the environment right now. That kind of positivity has helped them a lot in changing the environment.