The defending NCAA Seniors Basketball champions Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights suffered one of the most turbulent off-seasons for a reigning champion in recent memory. After two of their marquee stars graduated and embarked on a new journey into the PBA, their senior’s basketball team lost head coach Aldin Ayo after just one year holding the post.
“Sa akin naman happy ako kasi yung mga bata, like sila Rey, winelcome nila ako. Hindi ganun kabigat yung transition,” Napa reflected about his two-month stay with the Knights. “Yung system na pinagmulan nila similar din. Yung adjustment parang napakadali lang para sa kanila siguro.”
Incoming senior Rey Nambatac then shared the same sentiments of his new mentor in saying, “Nung una medyo nangangapa pa kami pero habang tumatagal naman nakuha na namin yung sistema niya. Sabi nga ni coach, halos wala namang pinagka-iba ito sa sistema namin dati.”
Last Friday, the Knights made their 2016 Filoil Flying V Premier Cup debut against neighbors Lyceum. It was a nip-and-tuck match-up that saw Letran holding on to just a three point lead, 87-84, with 47 seconds remaining. After a timeout, the ball went to Nambatac, having just gained the hot hand in the final quarter, who was able to spin to the lane for a layup to give Napa a win in his coaching debut for the Muralla Street-based squad.
Even after the win, Napa admitted that there is still a long way to go for the team especially on the defensive end. “A long way to go pa. Marami pa kami kailangan trabahuin lalo na sa defense,” he said. But he quickly pointed out that his players are willing to learn and are wiling to sacrifice for that one goal: a back-to-back crown. “Talagang very professional naman sila.”
“First day of practice pa lang, pinakita na nila na willing to learn sila, willing to adjust, willing to sacrifice.”
One of the players who needs to mature and make that adjustment as soon as possible is Nambatac himself. After a great showing last season and gaining experience in the PBA D-League with the Caida Tile Masters, he is being pegged as the guy for Letran in the upcoming NCAA Season 92 Seniors Basketball tournament.
“Sa ngayon, mga 60 to 70 percent pa lang. Nag-aadjust pa rin ako,” he shared to Tiebreaker Times. “Last three years kasi nandiyan si Mark Cruz at Kevin Racal, back-up lang nila ako. Ngayon, nag-aadjust pa rin ako pero willing ako gampanan yung bago kong role.”
Moreover, with a young core, Letran’s Smart Elite ambassador last season has taken the responsibility of being a good role model to his teammates to heart. “Ngayon, mas kelangan maging vocal ako dahil sa bago kong role,” the Letran senior added. “Siguro maging role model sa loob ng court. Lalo na yung mga nasa bench kasi ako ang tinitignan nila. So kung masama yung laro ko baka mawalan sila ng gana, ma-frufrustrate sila.”
“As much as possible, maganda dapat yung papakita ko sa loob ng court para yung mga teammates ko, pag sila na pumasok, gagayahin nila.”
Jeff Napa and the Letran Knights (B, 1-0) will next face the Mapua Cardinals (B, 0-1) on Saturday, May 14 at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.