Nazareth School of National University has been a mainstay in the UAAP high school boys’ basketball Finals stage for the last nine seasons.
Of those appearances, the Bullpups won five championships – three (Seasons 74, 76, 78) with head coach Jeff Napa at the helm, while two (81, 82) with bench tactician Goldwin Monteverde calling the shots.
Then all hell broke loose in Jhocson in August 2020.
Monteverde left NU, while budding superstars Carl Tamayo, Kevin Quiambao, and Gerry Abadiano committed to other schools for college.
Fast forward to last Sunday when the boys’ basketball action of Season 85 commenced, the Bullpups – the two-time defending champion who swept Season 82 – looked completely different from the players all the way to the coaches.
Kevin De Castro, a first-time head coach in his career, is tasked to lead the new-faced NSNU, which has not lost a single game in the league since December 12, 2018 when it bowed to Adamson University, 59-62.
“Talagang malaking pressure. Challenge din sa akin syempre. Kailangan kong matagos ‘yun,” said De Castro on the responsibility of handling one of the most influential high school teams in recent memory.
“Pagtatrabahuhan namin one game at a time, sana makuha namin hanggang sa huli with the help of the boys and the coaches.”
Challenging was his first game at the helm as his Bullpups needed to climb back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to outlast the Baby Falcons, 79-76, at the Filoil Ecooil Centre for a 1-0 start.
Entering the payoff period down by 12, De Castro motivated his players by issuing a challenge to the new breed of NSNU cagers.
“Ito na yung test sa atin, challenge sa atin na defending champions tayo pero hindi tayo yung gumawa noon eh. Kailangan iprove natin sa UAAP na ibang team tayo this season,” shared the bench tactician who played for the Bulldogs in Season 78.
However, making the pressure a little lighter was that on his bench was team consultant Napa, who now coaches the seniors’ squad.
“Sa first year ko syempre thankful ako kay Coach Jeff sa opportunity na binigay niya sa akin, ‘yung trust niya. Malaki ‘yung tiwala ko kay Coach Jeff and siguro malaki rin ‘yung tiwala niya sa akin,” said De Castro.
“Sa high school ranks alam naman natin si Coach Jeff very successful pagdating sa coaching so siya talaga ‘yung nilu-look up ko. Nabigyan ako ng opportunity, sana lang hindi ko masayang ‘yung binigay sa akin,” he said on Napa, an assistant to head coach Eric Altamirano when De Castro played for NU.
“Minold ako ni Coach Jeff, siya talaga ‘yung nilu-look up ko bago ko pa istart ‘yung coaching career ko.”