[Second of a series]
2013 finish: 8-6 (Finished fourth in the eliminations, lost to De La Salle in the UAAP finals)
Key losses: Jeric Teng, Clark Bautista, Pido Jarencio
Additions: Louie Vigil (returnee), Renzo Subido
Key holdovers: Karim Abdul, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, Ed Daquioag
UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas lost its top scorer and its charismatic coach in the offseason, but the Tigers remain very much a title contender for Season 77 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
Pido Jarencio, the last coach to steer the Espana-based school to the championship in 2006 behind his 3 Ps of ‘puso, pride, palaban,' has made the jump to the PBA to accept an offer from GlobalPort.
Meantime, Jeric Teng, the Tigers’ acknowledged leader the two previous seasons, has played his final game with Santo Tomas in an emotional overtime defeat to De La Salle in Game Three of the Finals last season.
But despite key losses to the team that included three-point shooter Clark Bautista, newly-installed head coach Segundo ‘Bong’ Dela Cruz still sees the Tigers challenging the UAAP’s best this season.
Dela Cruz however, admitted Teng’s absence and Jarencio’s ascent to the pro league will be a blow to the Tigers’ campaign this season.
“Si Jeric, halos siya ‘yung scorer talaga namin. ‘Yung mga veterans, kailangan mag-contribute. Everybody should contribute dun sa naiwan ni Jeric.”
Even Dela Cruz has something to prove as he’s suddenly been thrust into the limelight after Jarencio’s resignation.
“’Yung iniwan ni coach Pido, hindi madaling i-fill ‘yung shoes. Napakalaking responsibilidad ‘yun. Pero siyempre, nandito na tayo, kailangang pag-handaan na i-prepare ko ‘yung team para manalo,” said Dela Cruz.
But looking at the bright side, the Tigers still have the core of the team that reached the Finals the last two seasons.
One-time league MVP candidate Karim Abdul is still a threat down low while Kevin Ferrer has gained valuable experience with Sinag Pilipinas and Blackwater Sports in the PBA D-League.
Aljon Mariano is aching to bounce back from the nightmare of the 2013 Finals when he committed a costly turnover that ended hopes of a UST championship.
The Tigers will get reinforcements, too.
Louie Vigil returned to the team after nearly transferring to a different school. Highly-touted point guard Renzo Subido has been inserted in the lineup after his move from De La Salle-Zobel, while Kim Lo and Jamil Sheriff remain dependable for UST.
“Competitive pa rin ‘yung team,” said Dela Cruz. “Sana maging healthy this season. Siyempre one game at a time lang muna. Target namin is the Final Four.”