On the path of vengeful La Salle, UP keeps eye on prize
Even Nelle threw down the gauntlet during a preseason press conference, tagging his La Salle teammates as favorites for the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament and baring his emotions about an offseason that he spent going over a crushing semifinal defeat to the University of the Philippines (UP).
But even if the defending champions had gotten word of Nelle’s pronouncements, no one was biting.
“We’ve realized what it takes being a champion—the hard work we put in during the (training) bubble, the sacrifices we’ve made. We saw what exactly we needed to do,” Carl Tamayo, the rookie of the year winner last season, said.
The Maroons are all about making sure the crown stays in their tree-lined Diliman campus, looking at the big picture instead of fretting about everyone eager to get back again.
And for Tamayo, that includes turning a blind eye to the matchup everyone will be looking forward to when UP takes on La Salle on Saturday: The showdown against his former high school teammate and fellow Gilas Pilipinas program standout Kevin Quiambao.
“It’s not about Kevin or me, it’s about UP or La Salle. Whoever will be the better team [on] opening day,” said the 6-foot-7 Cebuano, who was also a member of Season 84’s mythical team. “We’re just going to compete. I am going to help my team as much as I can to win this game.”
“They should expect us to fight until the end,” Tamayo added. “Nobody is going to let up in these games.”
The opening day doubleheader at Mall of Asia Arena kicks off with Adamson battling University of Santo Tomas (UST) at 2 p.m., followed by the clash between the Maroons and the Green Archers.
And second-year Falcons coach Nash Racela is also looking at the big picture, throwing a little Zen-like quality to his team’s approach to the new season.
“[Perhaps] the pressure lies in being able to have a successful staging of the tournament. It’s not really [on] the performance of the basketball team,” said Racela. “In terms of our performance, we just want to give our best. That’s our approach every time. Hopefully, giving our best gives us wins—and maybe a seat in the Final Four.”
Adamson faces a UST squad with a new coach in former Tigers playmaker and ex-PBA star Bal David, and Racela hopes that his players start the season stronger than the last time.
“That’s something that we’ve learned—that we cannot afford a clumsy start then go strong only towards end. If we could step on the pedal early, then that’s better,” he said.
For Nelle, it was the finish to last season that burns.
“I couldn’t sleep for weeks. And then, up to now … I would still watch the game, I would still see how it hurts. It still pains me,” Nelle said of La Salle’s Final Four loss to UP last season. “That’s the one that hurts the most, how we lost. We were already up, 14 points in the last four, five minutes, and we still lost. Every time we have bad practices, every time we don’t wanna practice, coach says we were like three minutes, 30 seconds away from getting to the Finals.”
While favorites like UP and Ateneo played it coy during the preseason media day where coaches tagged both schools the favorite, Nelle had a different—and confident—take.
“I would look at my team as favorites. What will it be if I think we’re gonna lose the championship, or like, not make it to the Final 4, not make it to the championship? What would that be coming into the season?” the former NCAA mythical member with San Beda said. “I have full confidence with my guys. I really trust our system, I really trust our camaraderie now. That’s how I see it.”
But it will take more than brash statements to faze the Maroons.
“We trained hard for this season to somehow rid ourselves of pressure. We know we’ve prepared well for the battle we’re heading into,” Tamayo said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM LANCE AGCAOILI INQ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.