WHILE the rest of the basketball-loving Filipinos were glued to their seats watching the decisive Game Seven of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, four teams were busy practicing and sweating out in their respective school gyms in anticipation of the opening of the NCAA Season 89.
Defending champion San Beda, Letran, San Sebastian, and host College of St. Benilde all take centercourt on Saturday as the country’s oldest collegiate league unwraps its new season at the Mall of the Asia Arena.
All four teams are aware of the significance of their opening games that they refused to trade their preparations for anything, even for a second to watch the Heat beat the Spurs, 95-88, to win a second successive NBA title.
“Just trying to get into that win column is important as early as possible. Hopefully it’s gonna jumpstart our new campaign,” said Stags coach Topex Robinson, whose team faces last year’s losing finalist in the Knights at 6 p.m.
Now without their so-called “Pinatubo Trio” in Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, and Ronald Pascual, the Stags will have to lean on remnants Jovit dela Cruz and Jon Rebollos along with highly-touted rookies CJ Perez and Leo de Vera.
“We’re a bunch of no-namers,” Robinson, the returning mentor, said. “Gone are the days that we have to depend on three guys to carry the load for us. This time, it’s a totally different ballgame and for us to win games, it’s gonna be a collective effort.”
The Knights, who also have significant players’ losses in Kevin Alas and Jam Cortes, also know the importance of starting the season on the right foot. But coach Caloy Garcia doesn’t want his boys to think too much about the matchup.
“I just want my players to enjoy the first game and ease the pressure,” said Garcia, who took over after Louie Alas resigned. “As long as they believe in the system and in one another, I think we have a good chance of beating San Sebastian.”
The Knights, though, remain a solid group with playmaker Mark Cruz, slotmen Raymond Almazan and Jonathan Belorio, and rookie sensation Rey Nambatac in the fold.
The Red Lions start their own bid for a fourth straight title by squaring off against the Blazers earlier at 4 p.m.
The Blazers, now without prolific guard Carlo Lastimosa, will try to atone for their two losses to the Lions in separate preseason tournaments.
“We’re all excited, but it’s the defending champion we’re facing,” new coach Gabby Velasco said. “We’re just hoping we have learned from those previous encounters we had with them.”
The Lions’ preseason campaign was notable as they reached the finals of the Fr. Martin Cup and barely missed the finals of the Filoil Flying V Cup.
“I respect the Benilde team, but we’re looking to start our season right by winning,” said Lions coach Boyet Fernandez, who will have an almost intact roster led by Davaoeno playmaker Baser Amer, Nigerian big man Ola Adeogun, and skipper Rome dela Rosa.
A visual opening treat with a "Big Bang Theory" theme, according to Management Committee chairman Dax Castellano of CSB, precedes the games.