With the NCAA Season 99 Seniors Basketball Tournament scheduled to tip off in three days, the head coaches of each school shared their thoughts on which squads they believe are the favorites to win it all during the tip-off press conference on Thursday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Among the ten participating schools, the teams mentioned most frequently were last year’s top two teams: Colegio De San Juan de Letran and De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde. Five different coaches identified the Knights as one of the season’s favorites, while four listed the Blazers as their top picks.
Interestingly, the University of Perpetual Help Systems DALTA also emerged as a dark horse candidate for Season 99, with three other schools considering them potential contenders.
Despite losing many key veterans from their Season 98 championship run, such as Fran Yu, Brent Paraiso, King Caralipio and Louie Sangalang, and with the departure of head coach Bonnie Tan, the three-time defending NCAA champions still have a target on their backs as opposing coaches aim to dethrone their reign over the league.
With new coach Rensy Bajar at the helm and star guard Kurt Reyson leading on the court, rival coaches know better than to let their guard down against Letran.
For Blazers coach Charles Tiu, the Blazers still have a long way to go before they can replicate their finals run in Season 98, despite other coaches considering them contenders.
“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 able to focus on the season,” Tiu said.
Tiu also believes that all the teams have improved since the last NCAA season.
“We’ve been monitoring all the NCAA teams. Everybody has improved, most of the core of all teams have been together for some time now, at least three to four years. So I think with all the coaches it’s gonna be competitive,” Tiu explained.
“You really can’t take days off when you play [against] whoever NCAA team during the season. Talaga like the other coaches said, any team could beat you on any given day, so if you’re not prepared… yun for me yung excitement ng NCAA, how level the playing field is,” said Escueta, who is in his second year as Red Lions head coach.
Most other coaches echoed Escueta’s belief in an even playing field entering the 99th season. Coaches Bajar, Louie Gonzalez (Jose Rizal University), Gilbert Malabanan (Lyceum of the Philippines University), Myk Saguiguit (University of Perpetual Help System DALTA), and Randy Alcantara (Mapua University) all stated that any of the other nine opposing schools could be considered championship favorites.
NCAA Season 99 is set to commence with its opening ceremonies this Sunday at 2:00 PM in the SM Mall of Asia Arena.