[Fifth of a series]
2013 finish: fourth (11-7 win-loss); lost to San Beda in Final Four
Key losses: Nicholas Omorogbe, Chris Elopre
Key addition: Gabriel Dagangon, Flash Sadiwa
Key holdovers: Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda, Scottie Thompson, Justine Alano, Joel Jolangcob
LOSING a key player is already big blow. What more if he is an import?
But it doesn't seem to be the case for University of Perpetual Help, which has coped admirably with the departure of Nicholas Omorogbe.
Even without the do-it-all Nigerian forward, the Altas have been installed as one of the top contenders to San Beda’s throne in Season 90 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Omorogbe’s absence has thrust local stars Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda, Scottie Thompson, and Justine Alano to even brighter roles, and so far they have responded to the challenge.
It seems the Altas have even become better without the Nigerian.
With Omorogbe around last season, the Las Piñas-based dribblers compiled an 11-7 win-loss card, but lost their last six games, including the playoff for the third and fourth seeding in the Final Four, and the semifinal match against the Red Lions.
Without him in the offseason, the Altas continued to be a force to be reckoned with after faring remarkably in two preseason tournaments.
One was the Fr. Martin Cup, where they turned back San Beda in the semifinals on the way to capturing the crown at the expense of University of Santo Tomas
The other was in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Cup where they barely missed the quarterfinals due to an inferior quotient, after they stunned eventual champion La Salle in an elimination game where Baloria exploded for 43 points.
Baloria, a pride of Lanao del Norte, returns in his second and final year, standing at the forefront of the Altas’ attack, with fellow mythical team member Harold Arboleda, the athletic Thompson, and the hard-working Alano providing ample support.
But even with their impressive showings in the offseason, Altas coach Aric del Rosario is playing down their credentials as he aimed to just duplicate their semifinal stint last season.
“Pipilitin ko pa rin makaabot sa Final Four,” said the veteran mentor, who has infused his winning tradition into the once dormant squad. “Pag dating doon, iba na ang usapan.”
Indeed, once they get further, they will cherish the opportunity.
“Hindi bigla-bigla makukuha 'yan. Matagal na proseso bago makuha yun ng team,” admitted Del Rosario, who led UST to championships in the UAAP in the mid-1990s. “Pero once nakuha mo na, minsan tuloy-tuloy na.”