If there is one team that is ready to give their all out in the playing field despite carrying handicaps, it’s the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights that certainly fits the bill.
Entering the NCAA Season with little to no expectations, the Knights are quickly turning doubters into believers as they handed the seemingly unbeatable San Beda Red Lions, the league’s five-time defending champion, a destructive 93-80 loss last Thursday at the Filoil Flying V Arena. Their recent win also gives them an unblemished 3-0 record with their two other wins coming for the likes of the Mapua Cardinals and the JRU Heavy Bombers.
It was the usual suspects for the Knights as seniors Kevin Racal led the way with 20 hard-earned points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists while Mark Cruz was all over the place with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.
Given the fancy stat lines, highlight reel drives and all, everyone knew that Letran won this game by thanks to the scrappy defense and “buwis buhay” basketball showcased by its two unsung players: Felix Apreku and McJour Luib.
In their win against San Beda, both players didn’t score that much but they made their presence felt through their constant crashing of the glass and and disruptive lockdown defense. Apreku chipped in 9 points and 7 rebounds while Luib had 6 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.
“Parang championship ito kasi rival naman iyong team na iyan [San Beda]. Pinaghandaan namin ito ng matagal. Hindi kami nag-break,” Apreku told Tiebreaker Times when asked about his thoughts on the game. “Sa umpisa pa lang sabi ni Coach [Aldin Ayo] sa akin na malaki ang responsibilidad ng team na ito sa depensa. Parang magkakapatid kami kaya kapag tatakbo ang isa, tatakbo din lahat.”
Apreku’s defense was a big factor in bothering the Red Lions’ frontcourt tandem of Ola Adeogun and Art Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz may have had another huge double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, but it was hardly felt on the court as San Beda was forced to play catch-up for the whole game. Meanwhile, Adeogun had 20 points and 7 rebounds before fouling out of the game late in the fourth quarter.
“Sabi sa akin ni coach pahirapan ko at pagurin ko [si Dela Cruz]. Dapat siya ang mauna pagod kaysa sa akin,” added Apreku.
On the other hand, Luib complemented Apreku’s defensive efforts by holding his own against San Beda’s talented backcourt. Luib’s pesky play was definitely felt by a lot of the San Beda guards as he held Ryusei Koga to 7 points on 25 percent shooting (2/8 from the field) and force him to have 7 turnovers. He also made the likes of Radge Tongco and Ice Reyes in becoming non-factors for the San Beda offense as the two guards finished the game with a combined stat line of 7 points on 18 percent shooting and 4 turnovers.
“Buti na lang [I had] less turnovers talaga at na-deliver namin ng maayos ang bola against sa trap nila,” Luib remarked. “Kinausap lang ako ni Coach Glenn Capacio at sinabihan niya ako na wag daw akong matakot [sa possibility na] magcommit ng turnovers kasi kapag natakot ako doon ako magkakaroon ng turnover. Inisip ko lang din na gawin ko lang ang pinapagawa ng mga coaches sa akin.”
“Siguro kasi lagi na lang kaming natatalo sa kanila. Tapos kapag natatalo nila kami minsan sobrang tambak kasi underdog kami. Malalaki sila [San Beda] at may imports sila kaya malaki sa amin ang panalo na ito. Sa start ng season 3-0 kami pero hindi pa dito nagtatapos.”
Showcasing this brand of chaotic yet stellar defensive effort since the NCAA season was officially opened, expect Letran to remain the defensive pest that they made themselves into. Their next game will be this coming Tuesday against the San Sebastian Golden Stags, 4:00 pm, at the Filoil Flying V Arena.