MANILA, Philippines—Arellano University (AU) Chiefs coach Koy Banal hopes his team’s solid performance in the preseason would carry over to the NCAA Season 89.
The Chiefs emerged as one of this year’s teams to watch out for after turning heads in the recently concluded Filoil Flying V Premier Cup tournament. But one thing’s for sure, the competition stiffens come NCAA.
“We keep on reminding them that it’s one thing to achieve a quarterfinals appearance in the preseason but the other thing is it’s an entirely different story in the NCAA,” Banal told INQUIRER.net
Arellano finished just eighth out of the 10-team field last season but after an impressive preseason showing—highlighted by a morale-boosting win over three-time NCAA champion San Beda—the Chiefs proved they’re no longer pushovers this time around.
Banal had said that his team’s rise will pave the way for other squads to be at their best against them.
And true enough, the Chiefs have gained their rivals’ respect.
“If you look at this way, I think every team in the NCAA have improved from the no.10 to the no.1. If you look at the Filoil situation, AU (Arellano) finished better than us in the eliminations so I think AU is good,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, who thinks that Arellano will be a big threat to the Red Lions’ ‘four-peat’ bid.
The main reason for Arellano’s sudden resurgence has been the prodigious play of its point guard John Pinto.
Pinto, whose array of moves and knack in hitting big shots make him a tough cover, is widely considered as one of the best guards in the league today.
“He is our go-to guy and our leader,” Banal said in a brief but precise description of his 22-year-old playmaker.
But it’s not just a one-man show for Arellano with Fil-Canadian James Forrester and undersized center Prince Caperal, who can also pose problems for opposing teams.
Pinto, Forrester, who is still nursing a knee injury, and Caperal, whom Banal referred to as his own version of a ‘Big Three’, provide the Chiefs ample firepower to win games but Banal is fully aware that banking on three players alone can only take a team so far.
“I keep reminding my players that we cannot rely on just one player. The system we’re running involves all the players, hindi lang Pinto, Caperal and Forrester. Anytime, your number will be called. Hopefully our bench will be able to contribute,” concerned Banal, who expects his team to be in the Final Four this season after a disappointing 6-12 record in its previous stint.
Another worry for Banal is his team’s lack of size upfront to matchup with big teams such as San Beda, which boasts a pair of six-foot-four forwards in the Semerad twins Anthony and David, a six-foot-six in Kyle Pascual and a six-foot-eight Nigerian Ola Adeogun.
“We don’t really have a legit big guy. We’re desperately in need of a big man in the preseason but we’re not able to land one,” said Banal. “But we will just have to live up with what he have and try to be ready for whoever. With regards to San Beda, they still have Ola and Pascual, legit big guys, kami wala kaming ganung luxury.”
The Chiefs did beat the Red Lions, 67-66, in the Filoil but Banal said his team failed to make a statement with just a one-point win and instead attributed the victory to luck.
Whether it’s luck or not, it still sent a clear message. “Arellano is a team to beat,” said Fernandez.