2013 finish: champion (15-3 win-loss); beat Letran in Finals
Key loss: Rome dela Rosa
Key additions: Ranbill Tongco, Javee Mocon
Key holdovers: Ola Adeogun, Art dela Cruz, Baser Amer, Kyle Pascual, Anthony Semerad, Ryusei Koga, Jaypee Mendoza, Dan Sara
THE contenders and pretenders have changed.
But the favorites stayed constant in Season 90 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament
San Beda, which has put up the most dominant championship run in the last two decades, has once again loomed as the team to beat in the country’s oldest collegiate league, with its championship core back for another title run.
Even with the departure of former skipper and defensive stopper Rome dela Rosa, the Red Lions have even become stronger with flashy combo guard Ranbill Tongco and wily forward Javee Mocon elevated from the Red Cubs.
Their stars toughened up by their PBA D-League stint where they saw action for multi-titled NLEX and the rest gaining valuable knowledge and exposure in their two-week training camp in Lithuania, the Lions are poised to lift a fifth straight crown and eight in the last nine years.
Ola Adeogun, Art dela Cruz, and Baser Amer form the Lions’ Big Three, but Kyle Pascual, who was convinced to return for a final tour of duty, Anthony Semerad, Ryusei Koga, and Jaypee Mendoza are all set to figure prominently.
With 18 titles to show, the Lions seek to further solidify their stature as the league’s most successful team.
“The five-peat alone, is already motivation for us to win,” said Adeogun, who seems ready to stamp his dominance even more in the league with Season 89 MVP Raymond Almazan now in the pros.
Capturing a fifth straight crown will tie San Beda with the feat achieved by San Sebastian, which also won five consecutive titles from 1993 to 1997.
But the road to a “five-peat” is not free from obstacles, with the rest of the field all shoring up their respective rosters to give the elusive Lions a worthy challenge.
“You cannot say any team is easy picking,” Lions coach Boyet Fernandez admitted. “Every team has improved. It will be a tough season.”
It seems Fernandez is just toning down expectations outside, but not within his team.
“He wants to sweep the whole season,” Dela Cruz admitted. “Ayaw niya magbigay ng pressure sa amin, pero hinahanap niya talaga yung thrice-to-beat sa finals. Sobrang confident niya sa amin, na kaya ma-sweep itong season na ‘to.”
With that mindset, it appears complacency and health issues are the Lions’ toughest opponents this season.
“Kailangan lang ma-sustain namin yung magandang nakuha namin sa Filoil, kung saan muntik na kami mag-champion,” Dela Cruz, last season’s Finals MVP, said as the Lions finished runner-up behind La Salle in the preseason tournament.
“Ewan ko kung binibigyan niya (Fernandez) lang kami ng confidence pero para sa amin, kaya rin naman naming (masunod yung kanyang expectation). Kaya lang, kailangan namin step by step,” the versatile forward said.