LOUIE Alas wasn’t at all surprised to see his former team Letran pull off a gut-wrenching 74-69 win against a hard-fighting San Sebastian squad during Saturday’s opener of Season 89 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Afterall, he knew all along how good these Knights are when he decided to leave the team last December and pass the coaching baton to Caloy Garcia.
“Maganda ang lineup (ng Letran). May materyales yan,” he said of the team he handled for more than a decade and led to three NCAA championships and a runner-up finish in his final season in 2012.
Although the Knights lost top gunner Kevin Alas, shooting guard Carlo Lituania, and key big men Jam Cortez, Joel Gabriel,and JunJun Alas, the team kept some key pieces in the core that came a win short of upending three-time reigning champion San Beda Red Lions in last year’s Finals.
Big man Raymond Almazan, whose game is getting better by the day, now serves as the pillar of Letran’s bid to recapture the crown it last won in 2005 yet. Alas even referred to the lanky 6-foot-7 Almazan as the best center in the league today especially after an impressive showing against the Stags spiked by 15 points, 20 rebounds, and five block shots.
Then there’s deadly point guard Mark Cruz, who the former Knights mentor likened to San Beda’s Baser Amer, Kevin Racal, returnee Franz Dysam, veteran recruit Ford Ruaya, and Jonathan Belorio, who didn’t even suit up for the Knights’ game against the Stags.
But definitely the player to watch in Letran’s roster this season is former juniors MVP Rey Nambatac, who already showed he can play with the big boys by pouring in 13 points in his varsity debut.
Alas even considered the decision of his son Kevin to forego the final year of his playing eligibility with the Knights as a blessing in disguise.
“At least mabibigyan ng playing time `yung ibang players especially `yung mga rookies. I think Nambatac is a good replacement for Kevs,” said Alas, who also serves as one of Luigi Trillo’s deputies with PBA Commissioner’s Cup champion Alaska.
“Basically, it’s a good mix,” he added. “Plus you have a very good and experienced coach in Caloy.”
Although he’d rather not directly anoint the Knights as favorites for the title, Alas said it would be safe to say that Letran is a good championship contender.
So good in fact, that he claims it would be a letdown if the team fails to make the Final Four.
“Ako personally, I would be disappointed if they (Knights) will not enter the Final Four,” said the soft-spoken, multi-titled coach.