NCAA: Cardinals loom as darkhorse with Oraeme at helm
ARELLANO and San Beda may be the heavy favorites in NCAA Season 92, but Mapua feels it can no longer be counted out with reigning Most Valuable Player Allwell Oraeme showing improvement from what was already a spectacular debut last season.
Cardinals coach Atoy Co said the 6-foot-8 Oraeme has bulked up and worked tirelessly to polish the weaknesses in his game and give Mapua the best possible chance of winning its first title since 1991.
“He’s definitely a better player,” said Co of the Nigerian center, who was also Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“He worked on his offense particularly his perimeter game and foul shooting. He’s also bulked up and looks stronger now.”
The Cardinals, who open their campaign against the Jose Rizal U Heavy Bombers tomorrow, fell short in the Final Four last season, losing to eventual champion Letran Knights.
But Mapua was among the best teams in the second round of last season as the Cardinals, with Oraeme on a tear, went on a stunning turnaround to gain a Final Four berth ahead of Arellano and Perpetual Help.
“We’ve been playing a lot of tune up games and I’m happy with the way my team is playing,” said Co in Filipino. “I just hope it will translate into another good NCAA season for us because we’re really looking forward to make it back to the Final Four and hopefully the finals.”
The Cardinals lost Josan Nimes to graduation and will not have fleet-footed guard JP Nieles in the lineup due to a knee injury. But Andrew Estrella and Joseph Eriobu are back in the fold to give the Cardinals more firepower along with skipper CJ Isit, Darrel Menina and sniper Exequiel Biteng.
Another Final Four team last season, JRU also managed to keep its core in Tey Teodoro, Paolo Pontejos, Jordan dela Paz, Gio Lasquety and the frontcourt pair of Abdoul Poutouochi and Abdul Razak Abdul Wahab.
The Bombers were eliminated by the San Beda Red Lions in the semifinals last year and Jose Rizal mentor Vergel Menaces was quick to downplay his team’s chances in Season 92.
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