MANILA, Philippines – Over the course of the offseason, College of St. Benilde underwent a coaching change from Richard del Rosario to Gabby Velasco. The Blazers will also have a different player taking the lead role after their star guard Carlo Lastimosa decided to leave out his final playing year.
But that’s just part of the many changes in Benilde as the 89th Season of the NCAA opens Saturday.
“Attitude,” said Velasco. “There’s going to be a lot of changes there.”
The Blazers had the talent for the past couple of years but their ‘attitude’ as Velasco put it, was always in question.
Lastimosa’s presence especially at the offensive end with his ability to break down defenses will be missed but with key holdovers Paolo Taha, Jonathan Grey and the team’s emerging leader Mark Romero, that’s not what concerns Velasco most as his squad and this year’s hosts open up the new season with a same old powerhouse in three-time defending champion San Beda.
“Number one thing that I pride on is the discipline of the team. The system that we’re in, we’re more conscious now defensively,” added Velasco.
Benilde rode heavily on Lastimosa, a proven scorer but reckless at times, last year and Velasco said “I don’t think it’s going to be the same.”
“In terms of production, it will be spread out to everyone. Although, I must also say that one or two players will shine each game but definitely, it’s going to be a team effort.”
And that one player would be fourth-year forward Romero, who admitted that he’s still getting used to being the team’s primary option.
Romero had shown at least in the preseason tournament that he can carry much of the team’s weight on his shoulders with his versatility on offense.
“Mark (Romero) now has a new role, a bigger role, he’s the captain ball and probably he will also lead us in scoring, I hope he will step up to the challenge,” said Velasco.
The other? “We also have Paolo (Taha), who had a good year in the [PBA] D-League. Hopefully his experience there, will benefit Benilde.”
Taha and Romero are two different players. While Romero’s strength is his outside shooting, Taha, with his built, is more of a slasher able to take hits and still convert in the process.
“Expectations are really high this year, especially we’re the hosts and I’m hoping that we will be able to live up to the expectations of everyone. Like I said, what we can assure is that this is going to be a different team,” Velasco told INQUIRER.net.
“It’s a new team that really works harder each day and a team that runs a lot. We have a new team and everyone’s excited even the administration and the players. We had a lot of changes, new things in the team. Hopefully it’s going to be a good year for Benilde. Considering our standing last year, I think all the teams are a team to beat.”
The Blazers finished with just a 5-13 record in their previous stint, just two games ahead of last-place Lyceum.