collegiate basketball

Three-peat-seeking Letran welcomes level playing field after Abando departure

JR Isaga
Three-peat-seeking Letran welcomes level playing field after Abando departure

PLAYMAKER. Letran guard Fran Yu looks to set a play against Lyceum’s Renzo Navarro.

NCAA/GMA Images

The NCAA braces for a more even competitive field at the Season 98 basketball tournament following league MVP Rhenz Abando's decision to leave Letran and go pro in South Korea

MANILA, Philippines – Title three-peat attempts in basketball are difficult enough as it is, but the Letran Knights are headed for an even tougher climb in NCAA Season 98 as they continue to maintain their winning culture without reigning MVP Rhenz Abando.

Abando, the key to their successful Season 97 campaign, has since gone pro in South Korea.

Despite this, head coach Bonnie Tan is taking the challenge head on as he makes do with his remaining top guns like Brent Paraiso, NCAA Season 95 Finals MVP Fran Yu, and other rising cogs like Mark Sangalang, Pao Javillonar, and Kobe Bryan Monje.

“All are contenders and I agree that all the teams here got stronger and bigger,” Tan said in Filipino during the Season 98 media launch.

Other coaches joined in on the sentiment, like veteran Arellano mentor Cholo Martin.

“It’s anybody’s ball game,” Martin said. “Based on our previous games in FilOil [pre-season], we’re all the same.

“No team is outstanding unlike Season 97, where you just knew it was Letran. Based on FilOil games, there are no favorites. You’ll be surprised.”

Another welcome development which all the coaches lauded is the longer preparation time as the collegiate sports calendar and off-season finally near resemblance to pre-pandemic times, with longer rest times, eased restrictions, and more pre-season games.

“With enough time for all teams to prepare, we’re expecting higher levels of competition,” said JRU head coach Louie Gonzalez. “Letran, San Beda, Mapua, San Sebastian are all still there near the top, but all of us have prepared well, so there will be better competition.”

“I agree with all the coaches. We think, with the long time given to us for preparation, all teams are competitive, but of course, basketball is all about adjustments,” added San Sebastian mentor Egay Macaraya.

Letran has been undefeated in official NCAA competition since winning the Season 95 title three years ago against bitter rival San Beda.

The Knights have since won 12 straight games to cruise to the Season 97 championship, but with Abando’s departure, Season 98 will definitely bring a grittier and more balanced tournament that all fans will surely welcome.

Season 98 tips off on Saturday, September 10, at the Araneta Coliseum, with the opening ceremony at 2:30 pm, and a 3:30 kickoff match between the season host EAC Generals and the Arellano Chiefs.

Perennial title contender San Beda Red Lions will then square off against the Season 97 runner-up Mapua Cardinals at the 6 pm main event

Letran’s debut has since been pushed back to September 14 due to an untimely COVID-19 outbreak, which marks the first time in recent league history that the defending champions will not grace the opening day festivities. – Rappler.com

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