The Mapua backcourt tandem of Cedric Pelayo and Exe Biteng may not have reached the Final Four in the last tour of duty with the Cardinals, but for them, only great things lie ahead for the Cardinals basketball program.
The Cardinals ended the season with a disappointing 6-12 record. This was disappointing, as Mapua were seen as a surging squad because of a stellar preseason campaign.
But as a consolation, Pelayo and Biteng were able to end their collegiate careers on a high note, as they were able to cap their campaign with a dominant 91-78 victory over the Arellano Chiefs, last Tuesday.
And the two were thankful that it ended that way.
“Well, we are not where we want to be in the Final Four. At least we end it on a good note, with a win,” said Pelayo, who had a career-high 21 points to go along with six boards in the game.
“It’s really a blessing for us, it’s like a going-away present for us that we could end it with a win so we’re very happy with that.”
“Masaya, na panalo kami tapos tambak pa yung kalaban. Atsaka, siguro sa paglalaro ko ng five years, nagpapasalamat ako sa NCAA kasi kahit papaano nabigyan ako ng pagkakaton maglaro dito,” added Biteng, who logged in seven minutes that resulted in four assists and two points.
“Pangarap ko lang ‘to dati, naglalaro na ako.”
Still, Pelayo’s and Biteng’s stints with Mapua have been contrasting to say the least.
Biteng was able to make two Final Fours in his five-year stay with Mapua. Moreover, he was a pivotal piece in those runs, as his outside shooting and court awareness made him a pivotal piece during the short-lived Allwell Oraeme-era in Mapua.
On the other hand, Pelayo’s first year in Mapua during Season 93 was marred by injuries. Still, he was able to show his wares in his final season with averages of 10.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists.
“Well for me, last year, I got injured after the first meeting with my Jones fracture sa foot. Didn’t play in the first round they played the second round. So this is my first whole season in the NCAA. I believe that God has a plan for me and for us,” Pelayo reflected.
“I think He did everything to help me. Looking back, I just really thank the NCAA so I could really adjust to the game.”
But even if the last two years of the Cardinals have been painful, the two believe that the trajectory of the squad is on the up heading into the next season. Moreover, they believe that rookie Warren Bonifacio is the piece that will bring the team to the Promised Land once again.
“Warren, I think he has a bright future. Even though he’s just a rookie, he averaging a double-double in some games. He has four more years to play and I believe that the sky’s the limit for him,” said Pelayo, who is joining Mapua assistant coach Randy Alcantara with the San Juan Knights in the MPBL.
“I believe he can take the team to the Final Four. Maybe become one of the best power forwards in the league.”
“Feel ko next year, babalik sila sa Final Four,” added Biteng, who will try out for either the MPBL or the D-League.
Bonifacio – who averaged 10.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks in his rookie season – is embracing the pressure given to him by his seniors.
“Expectation ko next year, malaki ang expectations ko next year kasi this year rebuilding kami, parang bago. Sabi ni coach one week na pahinga tapos balik sa training kaagad so paghahandaan namin ang next season. Gutom na gutom kami sa Final Four at manalo. So pagbubutihin pa namin, magha-hard work pa kami para manalo kami.”
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