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    NCAA PREVIEW: Velasco hoping a year of seasoning will go long way for Blazers

    Jun 27, 2014

    [Fifth of a series]

    2013 finish: ninth (5-13 win-loss)

    Key loss: none

    Key addition: none

    Key holdovers: Mark Romero, Paolo Taha, Jonathan Grey, Roberto Bartolo, JR Ongteco, Luis Sinco, Romeo Nayve, Fons Saavedra, RJ Argamino

    THERE are neither blue-chip rookies nor notable losses.

    But the experience and cohesion have changed for the better for College of St. Benilde.

    Fielding virtually the same lineup, the Blazers target a steady climb in their second year under coach Gabby Velasco in Season 90 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

    The Blazers wound up second to last in the 10-team standings last season, where they won just five of their 18 assignments.

    “But I must say there was progress from last year,” Velasco beamed. “Hopefully yung improvement namin at samahan for a year, we can make use of this.”

    “There’s still room for improvement,” Velasco was quick to add. “But this time, medyo naintindihan na nila responsibilities nila.”

    The deflating 70-71 loss to San Beda in the opener of Season 89 seemed to have defined the Blazers' campaign as they absorbed four successive defeats that were decided by two points or less that earned them the unenviable label as the league’s Heartbreak Kids.

    But Velasco always looks at the bright side.

    “Instead of close losses, we think of them as near wins,” the former St. Francis of Assisi mentor said.

    The Blazers actually rode on a midseason surge, putting up 5-1 win-loss card after starting the season with five straight losses to stay alive in the playoff race, before they lost their last seven games to eventually bomb out.

    Continue reading below ↓

    With an intact squad bannered by the triple threat of wingmen Mark Romero, Paolo Taha, and Jonathan Grey, and a fourth guard-forward in vastly improved Romeo Nayve, as well as solid big men Roberto Bartolo and JR Ongetco, the Blazers have the capability to eclipse their dismal record.

    CSB actually has three new faces, two from Team B and one fresh high school graduate, but none of them are expected to contribute heavily right away.

    “Still, I expect there’s a better understanding of my system, better understanding of one another, and yung chemistry, malaking improvement.”

    Is the Final Four in the horizon? It’s up to the Blazers’ veterans.

    “We’re always aiming high. If high would mean Final Four, why not? We came from ninth place, so of course, hindi lang eighth ang tinitingnan namin,” Velasco said. “The farther we can go, the better. Basta ang motto namin, we always play to win.”

    One thing’s for sure: there’s no way to go but up.

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