[First of a series]
2013 finish: second of 10 teams; lost to San Beda in finals
Key losses: Raymond Almazan, Jojo Belorio
Key additions: JP Calvo, Daryl Singontiko, Bong Quinto
Key holdovers: Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal, Rey Nambatac, Ford Ruaya, Jamil Gabawan, Von Tambeling, McJour Luib
NO one can blame Letran’s men’s basketball coach Caloy Garcia if he shook his head in disbelief after seeing the Knights stand beside their juniors’ counterparts from La Salle Greenhills during the opening ceremony of the Filoil Flying V Cup.
After all, the young Greenies seemed taller than them, enough for Garcia to concede how the Knights would measure up in terms of size to the rest of the NCAA Season 90 field.
“I think we’re the smallest team sa NC ngayon,” Garcia claimed to Spin.ph. “Mas malaki pa yung juniors sa amin.”
The departure of the league’s top local big man in Season 89 MVP Raymond Almazan has definitely left the Knights a gaping hole in the middle. As if that’s not enough, fellow veteran big man Jojo Belorio has also used up his eligibility.
Evidently, the Knights have become smaller this season, when the Intramuros-based dribblers’ gun for another overachieving season after finishing runners-up for two straight years.
“Yung teamwork na namin ang magdadala,” Garcia said. “Compared sa team namin last year, ibang-iba ang tatakubuhin namin this year.”
“Since wala talaga kaming big man, ang treatment ko sa team, lahat kami wings,” Garcia continued. “We’ll be running a lot more, passing the ball a lot more. Hindi na kami yung straight sa post.”
What they lack in height, the Knights are going to make up for in heart.
“Nawala na si Almazan, pero nandyan pa rin ang wall of Intramuros,” Knights assistant coach Ronjay Enrile beamed.
Undersized slotmen Ford Ruaya, Jamil Gabawan, and rookie Bong Quinto are expected to put up a team effort along with the team’s only legitimate-sized big man in Rey Publico in rebounding to fill the void left by Almazan.
But the Knights now rely more on their guards and wingmen led by Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal, and Rey Nambatac, as well as bench sparkplugs Von Tambeling and McJour Luib.
Freshmen guards JP Calvo and Daryl Singontinko also appear poised to make major contributions right away for the Knights, who missed the quarterfinals of Filoil as they finished with an even 3-3 win-loss card, although they won three of their last four games in the preseason tournament.
Their preseason record has left the Knights out of the contenders list once again, but that’s what Garcia seems to like, content with the Knights silently performing throughout the season before exceeding expectations anew.
“Ayaw ko pine-pressure yung mga players. We’ll just play one game at a time tapos tingnan namin kung hanggang saan kami,” said the second-year mentor, whose squad begins its season against San Sebastian, a team he feels the Knights match up against well.