June 20, 2013
NCAA: Our Stars Will Shine In Season 89
(First of a two-part series)
On this gloomy day, thousands of students from this part of Intramuros gather around for the annual, customary pep rally. I hear the school hymn reverberating around the campus as well as the battle cries and war songs and the shrieking of the ladies as the senior basketball team, the Letran Knights, come out as if they’re ready to defend Mount Tartarus against the charging Hyperion army.
The war has just started.
I mean, the NCAA cage wars. It starts on Saturday at the brand new MOA Arena in Pasay City with what organizers from host St. Benilde brags as an “opening number to remember” and a pair of titanic games featuring the dynastic San Beda Lions against the host school, the Blazers, and an equally MAMMOTH showdown between the Knights and the San Sebastian Stags.
And it’s just a start.
And Sportsmaryosep, which is still in an infancy stage since we’ve only started a month and 20 days back, will try its luck on Madam Auring-ing Season 89. Or in short, we will try to make a fearless forecast out of a crystal ball. It’s going to be hit-and-miss but there’s nothing wrong in trying, right? And here it goes.
Lyceum (10th, 3-15 win-loss)
Why it would win. For one, the Pirates have long-haired Brgy. Ginebra coach Alfrancis Chua as consultant. Second, they have an equally emotional mentor in Boni Tan, who has actually been around the local circuit before the school decided to plunge into a deep ocean called the NCAA. There are some bright spots in this team particularly the guards–Shane Ko, Tirso Lesmoras and Dexter Zamora. They’ve got quality but undersized big men in John Azores, Mark Francisco and guess who?…Andrei “THE DESTROYER” Mendoza. And will you believe me if I tell you they have an African named Issah Aziz Faycal Mbomiko who tried out, not recruited? We hope for Lyceum’s sake Mbomiko, whom we haven’t really seen, could at least hold forth with the likes of San Beda’s Ola Adeogun.
Why it wouldn’t. As what we’ve said, they’re undersized and obviously the overwhelming underdogs this season. Wait till you see their high school team. It’s like watching Resident Evil where the Zombies prevail.
Madam Auring: They’ll probably improve their three-win record last year, perhaps double it. But making the Final Four will be a tall order. I agree, miracle happens once, twice and perhaps several times. But in 18 games?
St. Benilde (9th, 5-13)
Why it would win. Gone is Richard del Rosario and enter Gabby Velasco, a veteran coach who has won numerous championships with St. Francis of Assisi and been around a while now. In short, he knows how to win. Last year, I was impressed with this guard-heavy team specifically anchored on the likes of Jonathan Grey, Mark Romero, Juan Paolo Taha and Luis Sinco. They’ve recruited some pretty nice pieces who can be lethal threats from the wing. They will punish foe with a mix of run-and-gun and deliberate type of play. I have a hunch though that their Final Four hopes will rely more on how their big men could hold fort against the best of them. If they do, hello Final Four.
Why it wouldn’t. But I’m afraid their big men won’t. Not only are they undersized, they’re also inexperienced. In the NCAA, the war was always won by big men. Sadly, the Blazers fall short from this.
Madam Auring: I’m always impressed with Gabby Velasco. As a cub reporter for the Manila Times almost two decades back, which is eons ago, I’ve seen him coach. And boy he can coach. Do you know he produced players like brothers Yancy de Ocampo and Ranidel de Ocampo and this guard named Al Vergara? If he can weave the same magic, St. Benilde could probably win seven or eight games. If they could win extra, it means my admiration is well addressed.
Arellano U (8th, 6-12)
Why it would win. Koy Banal, who brings with him championship experience having won titles in the UAAP for Far Eastern U, the NCAA for San Beda and even in the defunct Phl Basketball League, is a veteran coach whose strength is basically circles around this word–motivation. Coaching is a battle of pep talks and Koy Banal packs it with him. He actually reminded me of Coach Erik Spoelstra to tell you the truth. AU also has John Pinto, who is the NCAA’s closest version to a Chris Paul. Having seen him play last year and in the pre-season, I expect him to lead the assists department at the end of the season. James Forrester will also be a key if he stays healthy. Another Fil-Canadian in Adam Jacob Serjue is another player to watch out for although you have to wait a few more weeks into the season before we could see his true mettle. Keith Agovida, who once scored 82 points in a high school game for Jose Rizal, is also with the Chiefs now. Add their young but vastly-improved battery of big men headed by Prince Caperal, and we see a really solid and complete team.
Why it wouldn’t. As I’ve said, AU is one of the most balanced and complete teams this season. The only thing that would stop the Chiefs from realizing its title dreams if it lost their drive.
Madam Auring: Barring any major injuries particularly in their starters, the Chiefs will win 10 to 12 games, which will be their ticket to the Final Four. And all bets are off from there.
Emilio Aguinaldo (7th, 8-10)
Why it would win. Gerry Esplana is still coming into his own as a coach. But man, he’s improving each year. Last season was no different as he steered the Generals to six straight wins in their last games which propelled them from the bottom to the middle of the pack. And that is where EAC will pick up. Cameroonian Noube Happi, which finished second in the MVP statistical race last year, will be the focal point of their campaign this year. And guess what? Happi will be happier this year because he will have some back up in bangers Jean Hiole Manga and Syndey Onwubere.
Why it wouldn’t. Their guards will be their downfall. Wing men like Jan Jamon, Igee King, Jose Morada, Francis Munsayac have the ability to light up the board with their explosive scoring but were just too inconsistent.
Madam Auring: I like EAC because of Happi. I just hope his teammate’s guns click for him to have some open space inside, which will be a BIG relief.
Mapua (6th, 8-10)
Why it would win. If Atoy Co, who took over from Chito Victolero last February, could translate his winning ways as the prolific player he was known for to coaching, then the Cardinals are one of the teams to watch out for. I’ve also been a fan of some of their players like Mark Brana, Joseph Eriobu, Andrew Estrella, Kenneth Ighalo and Jessie Saitanan, who by the way are remnants from last year’s team that was tipped to make it to the Final Four only to underwhelm.
Why it wouldn’t. Not all good players turn out good coaches. But we’ll give the Fortune Cookie the benefit of a doubt.
Madam Auring: I’m pretty sure Atoy Co thought these Cardinals how to shoot the way he did during his PBA prime, unlike in past seasons when they fired only duds. Now if they can do that, there is no doubt in my mind that Mapua could surprise everybody and gatecrash to the Final Four.
To be continued….
Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar