THE unexpected coaching choice led Letran to unexpected places in the recently concluded NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
And while he believed the Knights could have gone all the way, Caloy Garcia, who was actually behind Larry Albano in the pecking order of the choices to replace muli-titled mentor Louie Alas this season, is pleased with his team’s runner-up finish in Season 89.
“I felt that we could have won it, but breaks of the game lang talaga. Nasayangan lang kami sa opportunity,” Garcia said, referring to the Knights 56-60 loss to San Beda in the deciding game of the Finals last Saturday.
“Pero we’re satisfied. Like I said, nobody expected us to be here.”
Coaches hardly mentioned Letran as a contender this season during the press launch of the tournament last June.
And even the Inramuros-based school’s Dominican fathers, led by school president Fr. Tamerlane Lana, O.P., had meager expectations when they hired the 38-year-old Rain or Shine assistant.
“Hindi talaga ako yung first option … At sila (fathers) na mismo nagsabi we’re not expecting anything, not even to make it to the Final Four. All they wanted was to see the players work hard.”
The Dominican priests initially offered a one-year contract to Garcia, who countered and proposed a three-year deal, before both parties compromised to a two-year agreement.
“I felt hindi maganda (yung one-year offer). Ayaw ko naman maging scapegoat at that time. So I asked them for a longer contract.”
Once the deal was sealed, it didn’t take long for Garcia and the rest of his coaching staff to blend with the team that had been reeling from the departure of star guard Kevin Alas.
As evidence, the Knights won their first seven games of the season via small margins as they turned to the veteran trio of Raymond Almazan, Mark Cruz, and Kevin Racal, as well as drawing significant contributions from rookies Rey Nambatac, Von Jovi Tambeling, and Ford Ruaya from time to time.
“We were learning to win close games and leaning on different players. If you look at it in the long run, it worked for the team,” Garcia said.
The Knights eventually made it to the Finals for a second straight year and gave defending champion San Beda a run for its money.
“Kung titingnan mo nga ang lineup namin, ang ninipis. If you look at us against San Beda, para kaming high school team. Sila ang lalaki ng katawan. Kami ang ninipis pero pag dating sa puso, malalaki,” Garcia said.