THE absence of an import has hardly been a hindrance for Letran to succeed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
And the Knights try to prove they can continue to thrive without a foreign reinforcement as they take on Emilio Aguinaldo College on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan.
Letran, whose sports program implements a no-import policy, seeks to regain a piece of the lead when it takes the court at 6 p.m. against a Generals side that has two Cameroonians in Cedric Happi and Jean Jacques Hiole Manga in its roster.
Aside from EAC, defending champion San Beda, University of Perpetual Help, and Lyceum are the teams with imports in the ongoing season.
Behind an all-Filipino cast led by top MVP candidate Raymond Almazan, Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal, and Rey Nambatac, the Knights have only lost twice in 12 games and maintained their lofty place as one of the top two teams in the league.
On the other hand, the Generals had a slow start to the season after losing five of their first six games.
But behind the recent resurgence of Happi, a Mythical Five member last season, the Generals have been slowly moving up the ranks by winning four of their last six games.
Now sharing fifth spot with Jose Rizal University, the Generals are lurking behind fourth-running San Sebastian in the hunt for their breakthrough Final Four appearance in the country’s oldest collegiate league.
“EAC’s been playing well lately especially si Happi tumataas na yung confidence niya,” Knights coach Caloy Garcia acknowledged. “Pero sa akin, I’m thinking more of the team than our opponents.”
“Iniisip ko paano mabigyan ng opportunity `yung players at the same time, what we are stressing is you play defense, you get more playing time,” he added.
It was John Von Jovi Tambeling who was given the opportunity by Garcia on Monday by getting the rare start at shooting guard against Arellano.
The seldom-used rookie guard, in turn, repaid his coach’s faith by providing the early spark and firing 15 points in just 13 minutes, with 10 of his output coming in the first quarter where the Knights broke the game wide open en route to a 70-59 win.
Meanwhile, Perpetual Help seeks to stay in step with the leaders as it faces slumping Mapua in the 4 p.m.
The Altas aim for an 11th win in 14 games against the cellar-dwelling Cardinals, who are aching to snap a 10-game skid.