CEBU CITY – Despite failing to take home the Recoletos de Cebu Cup title, University of Santo Tomas head coach Boy Sablan remained confident of the Growling Tigers' chances of contending for the UAAP basketball crown.
UST crumbled in the endgame and fell to University of San Jose-Recoletos Jaguars, 86-89, in the championship game of the tournament that ended on Sunday evening.
“Sabi ko sa kanila, ‘Papasok tayo ng Final Four.’ I am very positive that we will be able to do that,” said Sablan, who officially assumed the position just last month, taking over for Bong dela Cruz.
Sablan, an assistant with the Blackwater Elite in the PBA, also considered their stint in the Recoletos de Cebu Cup a big success even if they didn't win the crown, as the team got to test its wares against elite and battle-tested squads outside of Manila.
“Going out of town is a big plus for the team. Going up against different teams is a big factor for us, considering that we are only preparing for three months. It’s going to be a good preparation for us,” Sablan added.
Aside from USJ-R, UST also competed against the reigning Cesafi champions University of San Carlos and the Team B of the University of the Visayas. The Tigers even swept the elimination round before getting upset in the title game.
Despite of the loss, Sablan shared that there are plenty of positives to dwell on, especially on the team’s improving chemistry that was rocked by controversies in the wake of their finals loss to Far Eastern University last season.
“We only have three months to prepare. Ang iksi ng oras natin to gel, to know mga ugali ng players and I cannot do that in a week or a month. That’s what I’ve been doing the past month. Nahihirapan pa talaga ako,” admitted Sablan, who was with the team back in 2012 under then-head coach Pido Jarencio.
"Ngayon natutuwa nga sila kasi iba ang samahan nila ngayon. Last year kasi daw, iba yung mga treatment sa mga superstar. Ngayon wala eh. Sabi ko nga nung nag-assume ako, walang superstar dito. I will treat you fairly. Ayoko ng mga superstar. Maganda ang patakbo ng mga veterans ko lalo na sila (Louie) Vigil at (Kent) Lao,” he added.
Vigil, who returned to the team earlier this month after playing for Tanduay in the PBA D-League, agreed with his coach.
“As captain, there is the responsibility na mag-gel ang team and we’re in the process of doing that. Our chemistry is improving. May mga bago na dumating at saka may mga bumalik. Process talaga eh. Pinagtatrabuhan din talaga namin,” said the veteran guard, who led the team in scoring during the Recoletos Cup.
“Walang masyadong ego ang team na ito. We’re willing to help each other out. I’m here to share my knowledge. I’m here to guide them. Kung may conflict din naman, we try to solve them as soon as possible. Yung nga sinasabi ko sa kanila eh. As a leader, kung may sentimento man kayo, sabihin ninyo para masabi ko kay Coach Boy kasi si coach willing din naman makinig eh,” Vigil added.
Sablan bared he wants the Tigers to play just two ways: fast and faster.
“Sabi ko sa kanila, if you cannot run, you will sit. In fact, may mga players na hindi makasunod so they had to sit. Even if you can score, if you can’t run and play defense, you will sit,” said Sablan.