ITS amazing run in the recent D-League Foundation Cup easily made Centro Escolar University the favorite to win a second straight Universities and Colleges Basketball League (UCBL) crown.
The Scorpions open their title defense on September 7 as they battle the Olivarez College Sea Lions in a rematch of last year’s finals at the Olivarez Sports Center in Paranaque City.
Coach Efren ‘Yong’ Garcia confirmed 10 of his players who suited up in the D-League will be back for another tour of duty for the team led by go-to-guy Rodrigue Ebondo.
The Scorpions stunned Jeron Teng and his fancied Flying V Thunder in the semifinals of the Foundation Cup, but lost steam in the finals where they were swept by the Cignal HD Hawkeye.
Despite the loss, CEU remains the team to beat this season in the second season of the eight-team tournament.
“Sila pa din naman yung sukatan pagdating sa UCBL,” admitted Olivarez College coach Myke Saguitsit during the press launch of the league held at the H20 Hotel inside the Manila Ocean Park.
Garcia is aware all eyes are on the reigning champions owing to its intact lineup and exposure in the D-League. But he said the Scorpions are ready to take on the challenge and live up to the hype.
“Of course, the pressure is always there, but we’re coming in prepared,” he said. “I don’t believe that we're fatigued. I told the players, our hearts should never get tired of winning,”
But Saguitsit added the other teams are likewise no pushovers.
“Hindi lang CEU ang paghahandaan this season. Lahat ng teams competitive na din talaga. Nagpalakas halos lahat,” said the Olivarez College mentor.
Prior to the main game on opening day, Bulacan State University, bannered by last year’s MVP Dominick Fajardo, battles University of Batangas at 1 p.m.
Completing this year’s cast are Diliman College, Colegio de San Lorenzo, Technological Institute of the Philippines, and newcomer Lyceum of the Philippines University-Batangas.
“We want to give an opportunity to the student athletes, and of course, all participating schools in general, to have exposure. All the benefits will come in,” said UCBL president Franklin Evidente.
Champion coach Horacio Lim will be tournament director, while Bernard Yang is head of the technical committee.