WILL the mystery work in their favor?
Whether or not the decision to skip major preseason tournaments this year augurs well for the Mapua Cardinals will be known on Monday when they open their NCAA Season 89 campaign against the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers at The Arena in San Juan.
Tipoff is at 4 p.m. with the Cardinals taking on the rookie-laden Heavy Bombers, who basically have no clue on what to expect against their opponents.
New Mapua coach Atoy Co insisted the plan was never to hide his team from scouts, saying he just didn’t want to field a “half-baked” squad in the preseason.
“It was not our intention to be a secret,” said the PBA legend and Mapua alumnus, whose team will now be led by athletic forward Kenneth Ighalo following the departure of swingman Gab Banal and the season-ending back injury suffered by playmaker Josan Nimes.
Mapua only joined one preseason event - a one-week pocket tournament in Cebu featuring Cesafi giants Southwestern University and University of Visayas, and UAAP power Far Eastern University late in the summer.
It was during the Cebu meet, where the Cardinals went winless in three games, that Co admitted he missed the services of both Banal and Nimes.
“Dun ko na-realize na we will miss them," he said.
Nevertheless, Co believes his Cardinals, with rookies making up half the roster, can pull off surprises.
“I still believe ang basketball ay limang tao naglalaro sa loob ng court at pag nagkakaisa sila at parehas ang mentality, tingin ko kaya naming maka-silat. Kaya don’t count us out,” said the former PBA MVP.
The Cardinals’ first task is to beat a JRU side that only has four holdovers from last season after the graduation of its veterans, led by Decoy Lopez and Alex Almario.
Three-time defending champion San Beda, meanwhile, has little time to rest as the Red Lions seek a second straight victory when they face Lyceum in the second game of the double-header at 6 p.m.
The Red Lions are coming off a thrilling 71-70 win over host College of St. Benilde just last Saturday in a game where Art dela Cruz bailed his team out with an alley-oop conversion down the stretch after the Lions squandered a late double-digit lead.