FAR Eastern University is confident the Baby Tamaraws have what it takes to return to the UAAP Final Four with the improved play of last year’s finals Most Valuable Player Ljhay Gonzales.
The Baby Tamaraws open their title retention bid on Saturday against De La Salle-Zobel at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
FEU coach Allan Albano said Gonzales has immensely improved following his stint in an offseason camp featuring players from different countries in Asia, where he earned Most Outstanding Player honors.
“Maganda ’yung napunta siya doon kasi tumaas ‘yung morale niya, ’yung kumpiyansa niya, skills-wise nadagdagan,” said Albano. “Malaking bagay ’yung nakarating siya sa ganung tournament.”
Seven players remain from last year’s champion squad including Gonzales, leading scorer Xyrus Torres, RJ Abarrientos. Among the graduating players are Jack Gloria, Kenji Roman, and Eric Jabel.
“Tingin ko kaya naman namin mag-Final Four,” said Albano.
The Baby Tamaraws reached the finals of the Got Skills offseason tournament, settling for second place against National University, which Albano sees as one of the teams to beat aside from Ateneo.
Ateneo still has an intact line-up led by SJ Belangel and Kai Sotto, while NU the team the Baby Tamaraws faced in the finals last season in the UAAP, is still a formidable team despite a coaching change that saw Jeff Napa replaced by Goldwin Monteverde.
“Ateneo is intact ’yung first five nila. ’Yung NU, sa program ni coach Jeff, nandiyan pa rin kahit iba’t iba ‘yung coach, pero program nila, tuluy-tuloy pa rin,” said Albano.