MANILA, Philippines – Despite being tipped as one of the favorites in the NCAA Season 97 men’s basketball tournament, the Letran Knights still have a lot of catching up to do heading to the start of their title defense campaign against the CSB Blazers at 3:30 pm on Saturday, March 26, at La Salle Greenhills.
“We’re playing catch-up since the players during preparations are still really lacking in jelling,” said Knights head coach Bonnie Tan in Filipino.
Season 95 Finals MVP Fran Yu will lead the way for Letran along with holdovers Jeo Ambohot, Allen Mina, King Caralipio, Kurt Reyson, Pao Javillionar, and Mark Sangalang.
Letran also added former UST standouts Rhenz Abando and Brent Paraiso to its roster.
Tan believes that the school’s fierce rival San Beda, which will play Lyceum in the other half of the opening day double-header at 7:05 pm, remains a major threat.
Despite not having any foreign student-athlete to dominate the middle, and after playmaker Evan Nelle’s decision to leave Mendiola, the Red Lions will bank on their championship pedigree as they have James Canlas and Franz Abuda as new leaders.
Former Red Cubs Rhayyan Amsali, Yukien Andrada, Justine Sanchez and Tony Ynot, meanwhile, will make their college debuts.
“They really have a lot of new recruits, and based on stories and posts, San Beda is here to stay,” said Tan.
The Lions have not missed the Finals since 2005.
Meanwhile, not since 2002 have the Blazers last made the Final Four, and with youthful Charles Tiu now at the helm, this could be the year that fortunes might change.
Tiu, who replaced TY Tang as CSB coach last year, knows the difficult challenges ahead to make it past the elimination round.
“All the schools will be tough. I think it will be an even playing field this season,” he said.
Will Gozum, JC Cullar and Robi Nayve will banner the Blazers, who hope to accelerate the growth of 6-foot-9 project Ladis Lepalam to become a force in the paint.
Viewers can catch the NCAA Season 97 live games airing every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday to Sunday at 12 pm on GTV with replays every Monday and Thursday at 3 pm.
The games will also be streamed on the NCAA Philippines website, NCAA Philippines Facebook page and YouTube channel, and GMA Sports’ Facebook and Twitter pages. – Rappler.com