Calling Colegio de San Juan de Letran’s NCAA Season 99 Seniors Basketball Tournament run a disappointment would be a severe understatement.
Coming off three straight championships in the NCAA, the Knights not only had the worst record of a squad coming off a title, but they also had the worst season in Letran’s long history in the NCAA.
After a 68-77 loss at the hands of rivals San Beda University, the Knights ended the season with a 2-16 record, languishing at the bottom of the standings, far from the final four they had been accustomed to for so long.
Head coach Rensy Bajar was the first to lament his squad’s shortcomings, acknowledging the high expectations despite having a drastically different squad.
The first-year Knights head coach, who won a UCBL crown in Diliman College a few years back, attributed the team’s disappointing season to various factors, including injuries, leadership failures, and the inexperience of a squad that saw their championship core already graduating.
“Ano lang eh, more on tinamaan kami ng mga injuries, then yung supposedly na mga leader namin na si Kurt Reyson at si Paolo Javillonar, na dapat mag-step up as leaders, kaya lang medyo nagkaroon lang ng pressure din sila to perform. Lahat kami sa lineup namin, in transition eh. Rebuilding yung mga players, halos walo o sampu sa kanila rookies, kaya talagang napakahirap. Last year, yung anim na main guys namin, nawala lahat iyon,” explained Bajar.
The rebuilding nature of Letran’s roster became apparent throughout the season in games that went down to the wire, comprising most of their matchups.
“Lahat ng mga laro namin nandoon kami, minsan lamang kami papasok sa fourth quarter, then pagdating ng mga crucial moment bumibigay dahil sa point guard position namin nawala si Fran Yu, Paraiso, ang pumalit puro rookie. Yan nagsha-share halos recruit lang namin na rookie, iyon yung nagtatapos ng game. Isa iyon sa mga naging problema namin. Pangalawa yung injuries kaya talagang medyo nagsuffer din yung rotation,” continued Bajar.
“Ang ibig kong sabihin, kumbaga yung ano lang talaga kailangan mag-gel pa towards the tournament. Iyon yung medyo napaka crucial for us dahil ang chemistry rin halos namin naguumpisa pa lang… Nung later part nandoon na rin yung chemistry nila eh nainjure lang. Sabi nga nila medyo nagtulungan sila nung nawala nang husto si Kurt. Lumabas yung laro ni (Deo) Cuajao, lumabas laro ni Kobe Monje, plus yung iba namin nagtulong-tulong. Pero siyempre at the end of the day kailangan mo pa rin yung mga veteran players mo,” he shared.
Part of Bajar’s regrets is his inability to get their seniors like Kurt Reyson and Paolo Javillonar to emulate the leadership roles of those who came before them, sharing that, though they did their parts in taking charge for the team, it wasn’t the leadership style Bajar expected of them.
“Sa akin lang siguro, nandoon iyon pinapakita talaga nila leadership nila outside and inside the court. Siguro yung ano lang, kagaya ng mga past players namin dati na yun yung hinahanap namin, alam mo yung kailangan mas lalo nilang mainvolve yung teammates nila rather than themselves. Yun lang naman yung ano ko sa team na ito eh it’s not all about you, it’s about the team. Yun yung gusto namin hanapin. Sila naman napupunuan naman iyon, pero siguro mas makakatulong pa kung mas lalo silang magsakripisyo rin, mas lalong pumasok doon sa team,” vented Bajar.
“Iyon yung parang hirap na hirap kami towards the preseason, how we manage that. Kasi sila lang yung nakaranas ng three-peat eh. Paano bumaba yung pride, paano bumaba yung ego nila, kasi itong mga kasama nila ngayon mga bata. How they lead ito yung pinaka importante. Sa tingin ko na lang, hindi sa nakukulangan, but i think more, kumbaga hindi nagampanan nang husto na para mas magbunga rin yung team.”
He shared that the Knights’ new recruits like Jonas Napalang, Nathan Montecillo, James Jumao-as, and Shad Chang, along with their plans of joining preseason tournaments, should help them reload for a revenge year in Season 100.
Moreover, Bajar hopes that Squires Jonathan Manalili and George Diamante remain in Intramuros as well.
“Sa ngayon siyempre may nakalatag na kaming program. Siguro mga preseason tournament talagang malaking bagay to aksi yung mga bago naming recruit players naka-standby doon sa team. Talagang maitutulong sa amin for next season kasi nakakuha kami ng mga veteran players from other schools and other tournaments na i think magbibigay ng spark sa amin or makakatulong doon sa bawat position na kailangan namin, especially sa point guard position,” he shared.
As the Knights end the year on the outside looking in while the contenders they’ve gotten so used to conquering continue on with the postseason, the one bright side for Letran is that there’s nowhere else to go but up.
With another year of experience under their belt, look for the Knights to come back with a vengeance in NCAA Season 100 as they try to retake the crown they’ve worn for the past three years.