KEVIN Alas still remembers the last time Letran won against San Beda in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“July twenty-five, two thousand and seven,” the 20-year-old guard slowly rattled off, sounding more confident each time he uttered a number shortly after the Knights conducted their morning practice on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena. “Yun yung last shot ni Rey Guevarra yung nagpanalo. Tandang-tanda ko yun.”
After that 70-69 elimination round win at The Arena in San Juan, the Knights lost three times to the Red Lions that same season, including two straight in the Finals that turned out to be Letran’s last trip to the Big Dance.
Then a member of Letran's junior team the Squires, Alas vowed to get even against their arch-rivals once he became a member of the senior team in two years.
He is still trying.
From then on, the Knights have lost to the Lions 11 more times, including two this season that extended the losing streak to 14 games in a five-year span.
“Pinaka-goal ko na matalo yung Beda nung rookie year ko. Pero buong NCAA career ko, hindi ko pa sila natatalo,” said Alas.
Now playing in his senior year, Alas gets another crack at Letran’s longtime tormentors, with no less than a championship at stake.
“This is my chance again,” he said.
Alas’ initial shot against the Lions comes Thursday when Game One of the NCAA Finals between the Knights and the two-time defending champions is played at the Mall of Asia Arena.
More than anything else, the young Alas wants to win this series for his teammates and his family.
“Hindi ko na kailangan i-prove ang sarili ko individually, kailangan ko na lang manalo ng championship para sa team,” said Alas, set to be named to the NCAA Mythical Five for the second successive season.
Achieving the feat with two of his family members in coach Louie and older brother Junjun right beside him will definitely make it more special.
“Sila talaga ang pinaka-inspirasyon ko. Siyempre masarap manalo pag kasama sila,” said Alas, who admitted being too focused on the team this season that he rarely gets to go home to their house in Las Piñas.
Winning a championship, let alone, a game against San Beda, is easier said than done.
Just two games removed from his 43-point eruption against San Sebastian in the Final Four, Alas will be up against the only team to limit him to single digits in scoring in the regular season. The Letran superstar and incoming member of the Smart Gilas cadet pool, was held to a measly six points in the Knights’ 43-65 loss to the Lions in the first round.
“Maganda talaga dinepensa ng San Beda sa akin,” Alas said, expecting Rome dela Rosa and Ryusei Koga to guard him anew in the best-of-three title series. “Good thing it happened in the early part of the season.”
Alas said he has since made the adjustments, like involving his teammates more, and improving his shot selection.
But more than usual X’s and O’s, Alas said the Knights are simply hungrier this time.
“Mas gutom kami sa kanila,” he said.