[Last of eight-part series]
Season 77 review: 9-5 win-loss record in elimination (Won the title in three games vs. Far Eastern University)
Key losses: Troy Rosario, Glenn Khobuntin, Henri Betayene, Tristan Perez
Key holdovers: Gelo Alolino, Alfred Aroga, Jjay Alejandro, Jeff Javillonar, Pao Javelona
Newcomers: Nico Abatayo, Reggie Morido, Kevin De Castro, Ronnel Jay Lastimosa, Tsaddy Rangel
NATIONAL University ended a 60-year title drought last season in grand fashion, winning the UAAP Season 77 crown in three gruelling games against Far Eastern University.
This year, the Bulldogs are looking forward to booking a second straight title without some of the top players from last season’s title run.
Spin.ph takes a look at the five burning questions about the Bulldogs’ title retention campaign in Season 78.
1. How can NU compensate the absence of Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin?
The Bulldogs will go for their second straight title without two key players in Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin, both of whom were drafted in the PBA recently. Also no longer around are Henri Betayene and Tristan Perez.
Coach Eric Altamirano said the absence of Rosario, Khobuntin, Betayene, and Perez have altered the style of play the Bulldogs intend to adopt this season as they focus more on a quick-paced brand of play.
“Last year, ang strength namin was our size - the 3, 4, and 5 positions. Ngayon, talagang we don’t have the size. We have to rely on our quickness,” said Altamirano.
“Definitely, we will not be as imposing as last year kasi wala na kaming size,” he added.
2. How crucial will Alfred Aroga be for this year’s campaign?
With a lot of key bigs already gone, focus will now be on Alfred Aroga to carry the Bulldogs to another championship. Aroga had a memorable championship run against Far Eastern University as he was named Finals MVP in Season 77.
NU expects Aroga to have an expanded role for the team this season with Rosario no longer around.
“Alfred is the type of player that always defers to the team,” Altamirano said. “His focus last year was on defense. But with what we have, he has to expand his game. He has to try to be assertive sa offense and balance it with involving his teammates.”
3. Is this now Gelo Alolino’s team?
The role of leader for NU in Season 78 now rests on the shoulders of Gelo Alolino, who will be playing in his fifth and final year with the Bulldogs.
A key member of last year’s championship run, Alolino admitted he needs to step up for this season.
“I have to do more sa court this season, but at the same time, I have to stick with the system,” he said.
On a team that has 10 rookies and second-year players, Altamirano emphasized the importance of Alolino’s role along with fellow veterans Jeff Javillonar, Jjay Alejandro, Paolo Javelona, Reden Celda, and Kyle Neypes to the team.
“They have to show the new players what it takes to win a championship. ‘Yung leadership nila, ‘yung experience nila, hopefully, by their example, they’ll be composed during the crucial part of the season,” said Altamirano.
4. Will Jjay Alejandro have a breakout season?
Alejandro is due for a big year in Season 78 after showing moments of brilliance during the Bulldogs’ playoff run last year. Alejandro is expected to be a source of offense for NU just as he did during the preseason when the third-year guard emerged the second leading scorer for the Bulldogs with an average of 10.8 points per game.
“It’s an opportunity for the others like Jjay this year. We lose players, reliable players every year. This year, it’s their time to step up,” said Alolino.
5. Can NU repeat?
The Bulldogs are seen by observers as Final Four contenders despite the departure of several key players led by Rosario.
But as far as repeating as champions, Altamirano said it will be a difficult task as all the teams are capable of winning the crown.
“Everybody is a team to look out for. Mahirap sabihin,” Altamirano said.
“Again, it’s the team that can jell well at kung sino ‘yung team that will be composed, confident, and be able to get through those tough times, ‘yun ang magiging successful. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular team,” he said.