Knights open title defense vs powerhouse Lions
THERE’S no shortage in motivation as Letran starts its quest for back-to-back crowns against a San Beda squad determined to get back to the summit in the 92nd NCAA basketball tournament unfolding today at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Hardly generating attention that comes with their status as defending champions, the Knights hope to pick up from where they left off last season in the 2 p.m. duel against their fierce rivals, the Red Lions, the same team they beat in an epic three-game series to end a 10-year wait for a title.
“It’s only the first game of the season, but we want to start strong,” said Letran skipper Rey Nambatac, who takes on the leadership mantle following the graduation of Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal.
“We’re very motivated, just like last year when we weren’t really considered as a contender to win [the title].”
McJour Luib, Jom Sollano and Felix Apreku, who all played key roles in last year’s title run, make up the core of this year’s squad which rookie coach Jeff Napa hopes will once again defy the odds and give the Intramuros-based school an 18th title.
“The good thing about this team is that we have no superstars,” said Napa, who replaced Aldin Ayo at the helm of the Knights after the rookie coach bolted to La Salle after last season’s title run.
“It’s probably good for us also that they’re not considering us a title threat because it challenges us more,” Napa added.
The Lions remain formidable even after losing Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer and Art dela Cruz, but coach Jamike Jarin chose to downplay his team’s strength this season.
“I’m really surprised that we’re considered title favorites when we lost practically all our starters and our best defensive player in Ola (Adeogun),” said Jarin. “But we’re thankful of the early accolades we’re getting and we hope to really do better this season and live up to their expectations.”
Back to anchor the Lions’ title drive are Dan Sara, Jayvee Mocon and Nigerian center Donald Tankoua, who will split time with Cameroonian forward Arnauld Noah.
Facing off in the second game at 4 p.m. are Jose Rizal U and Mapua, two teams that kept the core of its Final Four squad last season.
Building their squad around reigning Most Valuable Player Allwell Oraeme, who took the league by storm last season by also winning the Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors, the Cardinals have emerged as contenders this season despite the departure of several veterans like Josan Nimes.
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