Jeff Napa relishing challenge to rebuild Letran Knights after Racal, Cruz departure
Jeff Napa believes the Letran holdovers will still be a tough team to beat. Jerome Ascano

JEFF Napa will be coaching college basketball for the first time and he is unperturbed by the pressure.

Napa was quick to play down expectations, refusing to be drawn into talk about back-to-back titles for Letran, but assured he will work hard to replicate the success the Knights enjoyed last year in the NCAA.

“Gusto ko mag-trabaho. Ayokong magsalita ng tapos. Mas maganda ’yung mag-trabaho na lang muna at antayin ko na lang ’yung result. Whatever it is, at least, wala akong regret kasi tinrabaho ko,” Napa said on Tuesday.

“Big challenge ito for me na handa kong harapin,” he said.

[See Jeff Napa formally introduced as new Letran Knights coach]

The 35-year-old Napa was officially welcomed as new head coach of the Knights on Tuesday in simple ceremonies, days after leading the National University Bullpups to the Season 78 title in the UAAP juniors tournament.

Napa takes over from Aldin Ayo, who steered Letran past powerhouse San Beda in the best-of-three series to claim the Season 91 title before moving to coach De La Salle in the UAAP.

The Bullpups won three UAAP Juniors titles in the last five seasons under Napa, and he is now relishing the challenge of leading a college team.

He admitted he was surprised at first when informed he was being considered for the Letran job.

“Initial reaction ko, kala ko biro lang. Hindi pumasok sa isip ko na totoo. Tapos tumawag na sila Father (Calvo), ‘yun pala totoo na,” Napa said.

“Very challenging sa akin. Defending champion sila, gusto ko rin ma-experience ’yung competitiveness sa NCAA,” he added.

Napa, who played for NU in college in the late 1990s and early 2000s, will handle a squad that will no longer have Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal - two vital players in the Knights' run to the Season 91 championship.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

But Napa said he is used to coaching a team without superstars, adding he believes the Knights will remain a competitive team for this season.

“Hindi ko iniisip na may nawala eh. Ang alam ko lang, ’yung naiwan, kayang punan ’yung nawala. Nasanay naman ako sa no superstar na team. Siguro madadala ko rito na hindi ko iniisip kung sino ang may pangalan. Pantay pantay lang. Ang main priority ko is to gel the team,” Napa said.

“May talent naman lahat so kailangan ko rin mamaximize ’yung talent nila,” he added.

Napa said he was overwhelmed by how he was welcomed by the Letran community, with no less than Rev. Fr. Rector Clarence Marquez welcoming him during Tuesday’s ceremony.

“Thankful ako sa kanila (Letran community) kasi ako ’yung pinili nila. Nagpapasalamat din ako kasi hinintay nila ako,” said Napa.

Napa will be joined at Letran by his NU coaching staff in Chico Manabat, Leo Pujante, and Jake Agleron, and will continue to help the NU juniors basketball squad.

Manabat, sources told Spin.ph, is being groomed to become the next head coach of the Bullpups.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @reubensports