THERE'S no Kevin Alas and Jam Cortes for Letran nor Jake Pascual and Anjo Caram for San Beda in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball Finals.
But one constant will remain as far as Red Lions holdover Ola Adeogun is concerned: another title for the Mendiola-based squad.
A year after the Lions and the Knights met in the championship series, the archrivals face off anew in the biggest stage of collegiate basketball, starting with Game One on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Nigerian center acknowledged the road to a fourth straight championship will be tougher with the rejigged Knights standing in their way.
Even without Alas and Cortes, the Knights have seen the emergence of mainstays Raymond Almazan, Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal, and rookie Rey Nambatac, along with their bench mob led by enforcers Jojo Belorio and Ford Ruaya, and guard Jon Tambelling.
“I think this year they’re playing more as a team; you can’t focus on one person,” said Adeogun, admitting his team had an easier time last year focusing mainly on Alas on defense. “So I think it’s harder this year.”
“But we’ve been here before, so we’ll be ready,” the 6-foot-8 import was quick to add after his team clinched an eighth straight Finals stint following a 70-51 rout of University of Perpetual Help in the semifinals.
After all, the Lions have a bunch of experienced players in their fold, namely; Baser Amer, Art dela Cruz, Rome dela Rosa, and Kyle Pascual, as well as shock troopers Roldan Sara and Yvan Ludovice.
Adeogun, who will also be counted upon to reprise his role as a steady presence in the paint, played down his individual matchup with Almazan, the newly minted MVP.
“I don’t look at the matchup. We play as a team, so I just focus on the team and let everything else take care of itself.”
One thing going against the three-time defending champions is the deferred “larong labas” case involving guard Ryusei Koga that hangs over the Lions heads until a decision is finally made.
Lions coach Boyet Fernandez, however, assured his team will continue to play its best in a series that should not be missed.
“It will be a classic matchup, the best way to finish the season,” Fernandez said.