FOR Letran seniors Carlo Lituania, Joel Gabriel, and team captain Jam Cortes, playing their final game for the Knights will be both memorable and moving.
Memorable in the sense that they will have a chance at winning an NCAA championship for the school as the Knights battle defending champion San Beda Red Lions in a winner-take-all duel on Friday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
And moving in the sense that they will miss the camaraderie they built with the team throughout their years of stay.
No wonder, the hulking Cortes felt a tinge of sadness at the thought that he’ll be wearing Letran’s blue-and-red basketball uniform for one final time.
“Syempre malungkot kasi last year ko na tapos last game ko na (Friday). Pero masaya din kasi may chance ako na mabigyan ko ng glory ang Letran at makuha ang championship,” said the senior power forward.
Playing his final game for the Knights with no less than a championship at stake gives Cortes an added burden.
But no way will Cortes let pressure affect him in his most important game as a Knight.
“Despite sa championship na gusto namin makuha, syempre meron pressure lalo last year ko na, pero set aside na muna ‘yun. Mas importante ang game at championship,” said the Letran skipper.
The Knights finished their first round campaign in the eliminations at fifth place with a 4-5 (win-loss) record after losing reliable center Raymond Almazan middle of the season.
Who would have thought that they will make it all the to Game Three of the Finals.
For Gabriel, each bump the team encountered along the way was just part of God’s wonderful plan for the Knights.
“Lahat ng sacrifices namin nagbunga talaga,” he said. “Itong pagtira pa lang sa dorm sakripisyo na kasi malayo kami sa pamilya. ‘Yung paghihirap namin sa practice nakakatulong sa team.
“Tapos the more na nahirapan kami, natalo kami, mas naging together pa ‘yung team,” he continued. “Siguro parte ng journey namin ang paghihirap kasi hindi mo makukuha ang sarap ng tagumpay kung ‘di ka dadaan sa hirap, di ba? Mas ma-appreciate mo ‘yung panalo pag natalo ka.”
Lituania considers the 1 p.m. winner-take-all game as the game of his life.
“Highlight to ng career ko, ngayon lang ako nakatungtong sa Finals sa anim na taon ko sa NCAA,” said Lituania, a former JRU Heavy Bomber.
Despite the pressure and the controversy that hounded the team prior to Game Three, Lituania remains optimistic and keeps himself focused.
Lituania, who made 11 points including a huge three-pointer in the Knights’ 64-55 win over the Lions that forged the deciding game, vows to bring out his best in the season’s final offering.
“Finals na ‘yan, patayan na,” he said.
Gabriel, the Letran power forward, believes that a clear victory is the biggest reward for all their hard work.
“Gusto ko lang maging memorable na panalo. ‘Yung makita ko ‘yung teammates ko na enjoy sa panalo na walang daya,” he said. "Sa Friday makikita lahat ng sacrifices, lahat ng attitude, at lahat ng pinaghirapan."