MANILA, Philippines – When the UST Growling Tigers entered their dugout for their first
appearance in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Preseason Cup at the Arena in San Juan last April 18, a lanky 6-foot-4 forward was noticeably missing.
The word was, the slam-dunking, three-point shooting forward, who does every little thing for the Tigers has exhausted all of his playing years. Chris Camus, for four seasons the heart and soul of the squad, will no longer be around to carry UST on his shoulders.
“Si Camus? Graduate na,” one of the UST assistant coaches said.
The explanation is that simple. Replacing what he brings to the Growling Tigers? Not so.
“Malaking kawalan talaga si Chris [Chris is a big loss],” said forward Carmelo Afuang, one of the two seniors playing their fifth year in the team. “He helps the team with his hustle, especially in the defensive end with his blocks and rebounds.”
“His inside presence, hindi matatawaran yon [that can’t be underestimated],” added team captain Jeric Fortuna. “Si Chris is a very smart player inside the court. Matindi yung kanyang understanding ng game [He has a deep understanding of the game].”
As is his trademark, UST coach Pido Jarencio shrugged off the departure of Camus.
“Camus is just a part of the team. Kahit andito pa sya o wala [Even if he’s here or not], we have to work hard to get what we want,” said UST coach Pido Jarencio.
Despite the big blow in their rotation, the Tiger seniors remain optimistic in their upcoming UAAP campaign.
“Of course, the target now is the Final Four, then hopefully the championship,” said the 5-foot-7 Fortuna.
Afuang, though, nurses a grander dream: “Feeling namin, pang-championship na ang team. Mas solid na yung team at mas deep na yung bench namin, [We feel that the team is for the championship. The team is more solid and our bench is deeper] so we feel we have a chance.”
“We have returning players in [Aljon] Mariano and [Clark] Bautista who can give us more option on offense,” Fortuna added.
“We also acquired a big and another small player which could also bolster our chances,” said Afuang, referring to Hope Christian High School guard Janrey Garrido, who will wear the no. 12 jersey formerly worn by Camus, and center Robert Hainga, who is a transferee from the Perpetual Help Altas.
“Kailangan pa si (Hainga) na matutukan ng mas maigi [He needs to be watched closely] in both ends of the floor,” said Fortuna.
Afuang also noted the absence of two of their guards, who he says could hopefully join the team before the UAAP season.
“[Jamil] Sheriff is currently nursing an injury,” he said, “while [Ed] Daquioag has some kind of an illness in his blood, but Coach Pido (Jarencio) already allowed him to join practices last Saturday [April 21]. Hopefully, he gets cleared by the doctors so he can join the team.”
Although the captain sees problems in the preseason, he looks to it as something that could be remedied as the UAAP season comes closer, something that their coach also notices.
“Hiwalay kasi yung team sa D-League [The team from D-League is a separate one]. Hindi sabay sa practices [The practices are not the same]. Kailangan talaga ng oras para magkapaan at ng mas matinding preparation [Time is needed to get to know each other and prepare better] ,” Fortuna said.
“Sabog talaga yung team [The team isn’t focused]. Di naman nagkukulang sa training [We’re not lacking in training]. Ang problema lang, naghahati yung players [Problem is, the players are divided], may [there is] Blackwater at may [and there is] Pacific Pipes (in the D-League), while the rest rely on the veterans. Of course they’re still rookies and they rely on the veterans,” said Jarencio.
“Yun naman ang tendency ng (UST) team dahil maraming nilalaruan. Pero bigyan lang ng isang buwan na sama-sama sila, magiging ok rin yang mga yan [That is the tendency because they play in a lot of tournaments. But give them one month to be together, they will be ok],” added the 2006 UAAP Coach of the Year.
Only time will tell how the UST Growling Tigers would fare in their post-Camus era.