In a season where the majority of teams are in transition with new coaches taking the helm and star players moving on, one thing remains possible in NCAA Season 89: The chance of another San Beda romp come October.
With a virtually intact lineup from last season’s successful title run, the Red Lions loom large on the rest of the league when the season opens Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
San Beda kicks off its quest for a fourth straight crown against St. Benilde at 4 p.m., before Letran, last year’s losing finalist, tangles with San Sebastian.
Coaches who attended the Season 89 launch at MOA Arena yesterday agreed that the Lions are the team to beat, despite having one of the four new coaches in the league in Boyet Fernandez, who has won titles as a player and coach in both the amateur and pro ranks.
“We’re gunning for a ‘four-peat,’ so the pressure is high,” said Fernandez, who will have a strong core made up of Baser Amer, Ola Adeogun and Rome dela Rosa.
Three other teams will have new coaches with Mapua tapping PBA great Atoy Co, Letran turning to Caloy Garcia and Saint Benilde hiring Gabby Velasco. Topex Robinson, who left San Sebastian in the middle of last season, returns to the Stags’ bench.
Aside from Letran, which will not have star guard Kevin Alas in the lineup, the Stags seem to have a tough transition ahead of them following the departure of new PBA star Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual and Ian Sangalang, who actually remains eligible this season.
Robinson said Sangalang opted last week not to play for the Stags this time.
Despite his rookie-laden lineup, former King Cardinal Co warned opposing teams that Mapua can pull off a surprise.
“We can pull off upsets,” said Co in Filipino. “We have a good system being put in, which embraces the team concept.”
One team, however, that made heads turn in the preseason are the Arellano U Chiefs, who made a remarkable run to the quarterfinals of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup.
“Achieving something in the preseason and in the actual tournament are two different things,” said Arellano coach Koy Banal, whose backcourt combination of James Forrester and John Pinto looms as one of the strongest in the league.
Emilio Aguinaldo College hopes to carry the momentum of its strong finish last year, where it posted a winning record in the second round, while Perpetual Help is looking to follow up its first Final Four stint in seven years with another solid season.
St. Benilde will be out to impress in its first hosting since 2006, even as Jose Rizal U hopes its rookie-laden squad can cope with the competition.
Season 89 host St. Benilde has prepared an elaborate opening ceremony described by league president Bro. Dennis Magbanua as “very visual and physical.”