Coming off their first finals appearance in 20 years, the College of Saint Benilde was seen as one of the favorites to win it all entering the NCAA Season 99 Seniors Basketball Tournament.
The Blazers managed to retain most of their core from the previous season, with reigning Most Valuable Player Will Gozum, fiery scorer Miguel Oczon, workhorse Miggy Corteza, and captain Roby Nayve returning to Charles Tiu’s bench.
Before the season even started, many of the rival NCAA schools had penciled in Benilde as one of the teams to beat.
However, since the very first press conference, Tiu had been open about his disappointment in his squad as they transitioned from the offseason to the tournament.
“We haven’t been playing well. Our last preseason games, we’ve been getting killed by a lot, so our confidence isn’t that good, but hopefully, the guys are hoping to focus on this season,” said Tiu.
Tiu’s reservations about his squad came to life in their season opener on Sunday as Benilde squandered a 13-point lead in the first half against Lyceum of the Philippines University, falling 81-85.
Speaking after the game, Tiu did not hold back about his true feelings on his squad.
“I feel these guys think they’re somebody right now, but we’re not,” he said after the opening day loss at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
“I really think we’re overrated, I felt that we’re just not that good. When we take things for granted, we don’t put in the work, and we don’t respect the game or play the way we should be playing; this is what happens.”
Despite a cold start from Lyceum, where the Pirates shot 1-of-13 from downtown, poor execution and miscommunication from Benilde’s end allowed Lyceum back in the game and, in the end, handed them the victory.
“Mentally, guys are not doing what they’re supposed to do. They know what they should be doing, they can’t follow instructions, they’re still not talking on the floor, which is really disturbing.
“They lack communication, and that’s why we keep getting hurt. We had so many transition opportunities, and we can’t convert, but I really felt we played selfishly, and that’s what cost us the game,” said Tiu.