Two things served as the Growling Tigers’ meat and potatoes in last year’s tournament: run-and-gun plays and persistent rebounding. They lose no ground in the former this season; in fact they add shooting power to their roster via the returning Clark Bautista, whose three-point prowess was an old dependable for the team in Season 73 and will work well in a backcourt with Kevin Ferrer and vets Jeric Teng and Jeric Fortuna in it.
Big man Chris Camus’ departure will hurt, but the Tigers managed to lead in rebounding last season without a large frontline and his loss is somewhat soothed by the return of recovered Aljon Mariano to the lineup. Karim Abdul’s post presence, strengthened by his year of experience, should also be a big help—if he manages to stay out of foul trouble and hangs on to the ball long enough (he topped the turnovers list last season).
But what UST really has going for them is something La Salle and NU (some of their biggest rivals in the race to the playoffs) don’t: an established player-coach relationship. Pido Jarencio is on his seventh season as head Tiger and seems to have found an understanding with his veteran players. Such chemistry has been known to take less heralded teams than UST to great heights. And with the elements in their roster, the Growling Tigers may just get the explosion they’re looking for.
A team on trial
Losing to FEU when they had the twice-to-beat advantage in the Season 74 playoffs was a sore blow for Adamson University; having their vets graduate is salt to the wound. Without Lester Alvarez, Jeric Canada, Jan Colina and Austin Manyara, Coach Leo Austria’s got his work cut out for him. He has an army of shooters led by Alex Nuyles (arguably the most athletic player in the league, and among last season’s top five in points, assists, and three-point percentage) and transferee Jericho Cruz, but no natural point guard except for Ryan Monteclaro and Ar-Raouf Julkipli (can’t pronounce it either), a sophomore and rookie respectively.
The Falcons will also have a tough time competing in the size department because Rodney Brondial and Eric Camson, though versatile in the lane, are dwarfed by the likes of NU’s Mbe and ADMU’s Slaughter. This season will be a test for both Coach Leo (heralded as one of the country’s premier college coaches) and the Falcons: can he come up with an winning strategy without the pieces he so carefully groomed over the years; and can they put in the concerted effort that makes champions out of underdogs?
NEXT: Keeping their heads up