New faces to strengthen NU Bulldogs in 2016

REINFORCEMENTS. Eric Altamirano expects some talented players to join the Bulldogs next season. File photo by Rappler

REINFORCEMENTS. Eric Altamirano expects some talented players to join the Bulldogs next season.

File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – As far as UAAP title defenses go, National University’s wasn’t impressive in Season 78.

A year after an unforgettable run to the UAAP men’s basketball championship as the number 4 seed - and winning the school’s first title in 60 years - the Bulldogs finished the 2015 elimination round with a 7-7 record, which included some mind-boggling losses to less-talented teams.

Their record was still good enough to make the Final Four again as number 4. NU, however, didn’t re-create the same magic, as it was quickly eliminated by UST.

The losses of Glenn Khobuntin and Troy Rosario clearly affected the team’s offensive depth,  leaving too much of a scoring burden on Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino. Alolino played his last year of eligibility in 2015. Bulldogs head coach Eric Altamirano is now tasked with relying on firepower elsewhere.

Fortunately for him and the National University community, there is help on the way.

“To name a few, of course, J-Jay Alejandro, [Rev] Diputado, [Mohammad] Salim, Dave Yu, [Alfred] Aroga,” Altamirano enumerated his returning players in the upcoming UAAP season to the media on Thursday, March 3.

“We just feel this could be the last year of Alfred,” he added about the team’s foreign student-athlete, who was the Finals MVP in 2014.

NU will also attain the services of two transferee players who served their residency last season: a former DLSU Green Archer and Adamson Falcon.

“Yes, yes, yeah,” Altamirano responded, when asked if stretch big man Matt Salem will see action in Season 79. “He’ll be playing for us this season together with Matt Aquino and Tzaddy Rangel.”

Salem played limited minutes in his two years with La Salle from 2013-2014, but showed an ability to hit 3-pointers by converting on 10-of-33 attempts. He’s shed weight since and has played with the school’s Team B.

Aquino is 6-foot-7 and the son of PBA great Marlou Aquino, both of whom were together with Adamson two years ago as a player and assistant coach, respectively. 

The raw and lanky Aquino averaged just 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds a game during his rookie season, but his height gives him the kind of potential college teams seek for.

Speaking of potential, another future Bulldog with that is JV Gallego of Chiang Kai Shek College. The 17-year-old shooting guard actually committed to National University before last UAAP season, but was not included in its UAAP seniors roster.

“We felt that last year we were really stacked up in his position. We didn’t want to waste his playing years (5)," said Altamirano.

“We wanted to maximize it by sitting him out one year and then bringing him to the United States to help him develop more his game and be ready for UAAP.”

Altamirano says Gallego went to an “academy in Florida where we bring players,” working on his “conditioning and skills.”

Gallego, who’s 5-foot-10, drew comparisons to two-time UAAP MVP Kiefer Ravena when he was in high school thanks to his shooting ability and impressive footwork for a recruit.

Altamirano is someone qualified to make the comparison, since he coached Ravena in the past for the RP Youth team. 

“There are some parts of the game where they’re the same, but it’s hard to compare,” he said about the topic. “I think JV will come into his own, be able to have his own identity. Kiefer is Kiefer.”

The future NU Bulldog told Rappler last year that he actually emulates the playing style of the Blue Eagle superstar.

“Idol ko si Kiefer,” he said at that time, “so gusto ko yung laro niya, maging laro ko rin. Gusto ko yung mga pull-up jumper niya - yung mga one-dribble, two-dribble pull-up.”

(Kiefer’s my idol, so I want my game to be like his. I like his pull-up jumpers.)

Gallego’s track record should also make NU fans giddy. During the 2013 National Basketball Training Center finals, he scored 32 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter alone, to lead Chiang Kai Shek past Hubert Cani’s NU Bullpups.

Gallego was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. –