As the confetti rained on the hardcourt of the SM Mall of Asia Arena last Tuesday, Fran Yu and Bonbon Batiller looked for each other. And once they did, they shared a tight hug.
After all, it has been a long four years for the two Letran stars.
Back in 2015, the 5-foot-11 Batiller was recruited by University of the East after a standout campaign with Holy Trinity College during the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup. The Red Warriors then paired him up with Fran Yu, who was the ace of the Chiang Kai Shek basketball program.
The tandem, however, could not lead UE to the Final Four.
After one year, Yu left UE after being limited to just 10.7 minutes per game, starting just three.
Then in 2017, Batiller departed UE as well.
In their darkest hour, one person became their shining light — then-Letran head coach Jeff Napa.
“Tinanggal ako sa UE noong 2017, basura na ako. Pinulot ako ni coach Jeff, pinaliguan, inalagaan,” recalled Batiller.
But Napa knew that Batiller needed a runningmate. That is why he asked the native of General Santos to call Yu as well, who was then playing in Thailand.
“Tinanong ako ni coach Jeff, ‘Saan si Fran?’ Nasa Thailand. Sabi niya kontaktin mo kung gusto niya mag-Letran,” continued Batiller.
“Kinontact ko si Fran. Sabi ko, ‘Bata, gusto mo ba mag-Letran? Nandito ako.’ Sabi niya, ‘Sige, uwi ako diyan. Diyan tayo maglaro sa Letran.'”
The NCAA Season 94 tournament only brought heartbreak to the two, however. Once JP Calvo went down with an injury during the Final Four against Lyceum, the duo could not carry the cudgels for Letran, resulting in their elimination.
They needed to regroup and refocus.
“Isa lang ang sinabi ko kay Fran. Sabi ko ‘Fran, kailangan natin ipakita dito, patunayan sa mga nag-doubt sa atin, mga hindi naniwala sa atin’,” said Batiller.
“Importante kasi sabi nga niya, wala na nga kaming dalawa, wala na kaming career,” added Yu.
With the two steering Letran’s wheel, the Knights slew giant after giant, knocking off San Sebastian in the first phase of the stepladder before taking down Lyceum in the semis.
Once in the Finals, they were not to be denied.
Batiller posted norms of 14.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.33 assists. Meanwhile, Yu added 13.7 points, 6.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.0 steals. The two carried Letran to its epic three-game triumph over San Beda to win the NCAA Season 95 crown.
In the end, the two never forgot the person who got them there, thanking Napa for giving them a second lease on life.
“Pinulot lang kami ni Coach Jeff. Minotivate niya kami hanggang umabot kami sa point na ito. Hanggang ngayon tumutulong siya sa amin,” expressed Yu.
“Ayun, nakuha namin ni Fran ‘yung championship. Ang laking pasasalamat ko kay coach Jeff,” continued Batiller.
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