THE San Juan Knights know they have become the yardstick of Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) teams now that they emerged as Datu Cup champions.
But they are up to the challenge of defending their title when the league opens its new season come June 12.
“Lahat ng teams alam namin nagpalakas lalo, kaya ready lang kami,” said Randy Alcantara, coach of the newly-crowned champions who defeated the Davao Occidental Tigers on the road in the deciding Game 5 of their title series, 87-86.
Five days after their conquest, Alcantara and the Knights appeared in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Amelie Hotel-Manila on Tuesday where recounted how they beat the Tigers and frustrated a capacity crowd that trooped to the Rizal Memorial Colleges gym to cheer the home team on.
“Sabi nga ni coach Randy, babawi kami sa Game 5 at doon namin sila tatalunin sa homecourt nila para kung anuman yung nararamdaman naming sakit nung tinalo nila kami sa homecourt namin (Game 4), mas dobleng masakit sa kanila na natalo sila sa homecourt (nila),” said finals hero Jhonard Clarito, who scored the Knights’ last six points including the pressure-packed winner in the final eight seconds.
Clarito was joined by teammates Mike Ayonayon, veteran John Wilson, team executive Chris Conwi, team patron Jeremy Go of Go For Gold, and MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes in the session presented by San Miguel Corp., Tapa King, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Following the title conquest, cohesiveness and experience have definitely become the Knights’ biggest edge from the rest of the field, which augurs well in their bid for a back-to-back title.
“Ang advantage namin may experience na kami ng championship. Yung heart ng champion nasa kanila na,” said Alcantara, who proudly wore the MPBL championship ring reportedly worth P100,000 during the forum.
“Sa dami ng teams, yung ibang players naglipatan, more challenging para sa amin ito. Yung mga players, mga coaches matututo dito sa ganitong mga laban.”
Asked about the prospect of winning a second straight championship, Alcantara answered in a playful manner.
“Yun talaga ang plano namin, punuin namin yung daliri (namin) ng singsing,” said the San Juan coach with a smile while proudly showing off his title ring.