91st NCAA Preview

Members of the NCAA Policy Board and team representatives at the recent Season 91 media launch.

Members of the NCAA Policy Board and team representatives at the recent Season 91 media launch.

NCAA Season 91     ALL EYES will be on defending champion San Beda College and their new coach as they embark on the quest for a sixth consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Seniors Basketball title as the country’s oldest varsity sports organization opens its 91st season on June 27, 2015 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. This season’s host is the Mapua Institute of Technology with the theme “Engineered for Sports Excellence in the New Decade.”

During the league’s media launch recently, instead of being asked the question of who is favored to win, coaches and representatives of the nine other schools were asked how they could defeat San Beda. “The NCAA is not a San Beda league and any team can beat us,” humbly said San Beda rookie coach Jamike Jarin in response to his colleagues’ answers.

Doubleheaders will be held every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:00 PM while Fridays will have a tripleheader starting at 12:00 PM. All games save for the opening and playoffs will be held the San Juan Arena.

Here is a preview of the 10 participating schools:

MAPUA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (4-14 in Season 90)Dennel Aguirre, Exeqiel Biteng, Mark Brana, Buenaventura de la Rosa, CJ Isit, Raphael Layug, Darell Menina, JP Nieles, Josan Nimes, Allwell Oraeme, Stephen Que, JR Raflores, Justin Serrano, Andretti Stevens and Ronnel Villasenor. Atoy Co (Coach).

This season’s hosts hope this will be their best chance to jump out of the cellar after occupying it for the last two seasons. For one, the Cardinals can now forget the past season that saw them get involved in an ugly brawl against Emilio Aguinaldo and forfeiting two games due to lack of players suspended as a result thereof.

Still, there is no place to go but up for the wards of Coach Atoy Co. The Cardinals’ chances have been boosted by the return of veterans Josan Nimes and Andretti Stevens after two seasons of injuries and Mark Brana who sat out last year.

Actually, only five players are back from last year’s unit in CJ Isit, Exeqiel Biteng, Justin Serrano, Ronnel Villasenor and Raphael Layug. However, a lot is expected from rookie Allwell Oraeme, a 6’8” beanpole from Nigeria who is a projected rebound and shot block machine.

The other newcomers are Dennel Aguirre, Buenventura de la Rosa, JP Nieles, Darell Menina, Stephen Que and JR Raflores. Nimes is seen as their go-to guy but Isit, Que and de la Rosa can step up when called.

EMILIO AGUINALDO COLLEGE (4-14)Mario Bonleon, Dan Corilla, Jeric Diego, Edric Estacio, Jozhua General, Laminou Hamadou, Jefferson Mallari, Adoum Mbang, Fernan Mejos, Jorem Morada, Francis Munsayac, Sidney Onwubere, Raymond Pascua, Pau Pascual and Jerald Serrano. Andy de Guzman (Coach).

With a new coach in charge, a housecleaning was in order and a lot of player movements were made by the Generals in the offseason. Former assistant Andy de Guzman has retained only five players from last season where the team tied with Mapua Tech at the bottom of the table.

The five returnees are Sidney Onwubere, Jerald Serrano, Jozhua General, Fernan Mejos and Pau Pascual. Save for Onwubere and Serrano, the rest did not play major minutes last time but this could be remedied with the return of guards Jorem Morada and Francis Munsayac who were out of the lineup last year.

Aside from the two crack guards, the Generals will also parade new Cameroonian exchange students Adoun Mbang and Laminou Hamadou to battle the African giants of the other squads. Completing the team are Mario Bonleon, Raymond Pascua, Dan Corilla, Jeric Diego, Edric Estacio and Jefferson Mallari.

The Generals did not do well in the preseason games. They have to be fast learners if they are to avoid the cellar.

SAN SEBASTIAN COLLEGE-RECOLETOS (5-13) Earvin Alvarez, Genmar Bragais, Allyn Bulanadi, Mike Calisaan, AJ Capobres, Ryan Costelo, Jayson David, Jerrick Fabian, Bradwyn Guinto, Justine Mercado, Jamil Ortuoste, Spencer Pretta, Jeffrey Santos, Jess Sibal and Domenick Vera. Rodney Santos (Coach).

New coach Rodney Santos wants to rub his championship experiences as San Sebastian’s star player with the in 1990’s to this new generation Stags. While they had limited preseason games, the Stags’ veterans participated in the PBA D-League as the LiverMarin Guardians.

Guard Jamil Ortuoste and center Bradwyn Guinto are seen as the team leaders this season. Based on their D-League games, Coach Santos can also bank on incoming sophomores Mike Calisaan and Ryan Costelo.

The Stags will also see back Jerrick Fabian, Spencer Pretta, Jeffrey Santos, Earvin Alvarez and Justine Mercado for a total of nine holdovers. The new recruits are AJ Capobres, Genmar Bragais, Jayson David, Jess Sibal, Domenick Vera and Allyn Bulanadi.

With a fairly young team at hand, Coach Santos is expected to do a lot of teaching coupled with a lot of patience. The Stags starting unit can be very competitive but the questions arise once the relievers check in.

LYCEUM OF THE PHILIPPINES UNIVERSITY (7-11)Shaquille Alanes, Jesper Ayaay, Wilson Baltazar, Jebb Bulawan, Seraj Elmejrab, Joseph Gabayni, Joemari Lacastesantos, Noah Lugo, Allyn Malabanan, Edcor Marata, Guy Mbida, Jean Nguidjol, PJ Soliman, Richmon Sunga and Jeremiah Taladua. Topex Robinson (Coach).

For the first time, the Pirates will be sans longtime Coach Bonnie Tan who has since been replaced by Topex Robinson who handled San Sebastian last season. Coach Robinson has inherited a team that is on the edge of making it big.

If the Pirates want to hit it big, it will start and end with the play of center Joseph Gabayni. He will get a lot of help underneath from rookie Jean Nguidjol from Cameroon who will give the team more flexibility along with returning Guy Mbida who plays the wing.

Another thing going for the Pirates is an almost intact lineup with Jeremiah Taladua, Wilson Baltazar, Jebb Bulawan, Allyn Malabanan, Seraj Elmejrab and PJ Soliman joing Gabayni and Mbida. Joemari Lacastesantos and Shaquille Alanes have also been reinstated into the team for more veteran presence.

A surprise recruit is point guard Noah Lugo who was a factor in the runner-up finish of Malayan Science in last season’s Junior Division wars. The other rookies are Jesper Ayaay, Richmon Sunga and transferee Edcor Marata from UST.

COLEGIO DE SAN JUAN DE LETRAN (9-9)Felix Apreku, Christian Balagasay, Jerrick Balanza, Matthew Bernabe, Kevin Buenaflor, JP Calvo, Mark Cruz, Isan de la Pena, Tommy Gedaria, McJour Luib, Rey Nambatac, Rey Publico, Bong Quinto, Kevin Racal and Jomari Sollano. Aldin Ayo (Coach).

A fixture in the Final Four, the Knights suddenly saw themselves crashing out with their worst performance in years. The debacle prompted the replacement of Coach Carlos Garcia with former Letran player Aldin Ayo who was silently carving a name for himself coaching in his native province of Sorsogon.

Coach Ayo will have the luxury of having the backcourt tandem of Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac as his main weapons with the much-improved Bong Quinto providing the X-factor. A big question mark is the health of forward Kevin Racal who is still recovering from a serious knee injury but a healthy Racal will definitely bolster the Knights’ chances.

Part of last year’s woes may be attributed to the lack of ceiling and the problem is no different this year without a dominant big man. Rey Publico, Isan de la Pena and Felix Apreku will patrol the inside with help from rookies Jerrick Balanza, Christian Balagasay and Jomari Sollano in a center by committee setup.

Balanza and Sollano headline this year’s rookie cast along with Tommy Gedaria and Matthew Bernabe. McJour Luib and JP Calvo will provide quality minutes along with Kevin Buenaflor who sat out last season.

COLLEGE OF SAINT BENILDE (11-7)Gerard Castor, RJ Deles, Edward Dixon, Jay-jay Domingo, Jay-S Domingo, Christian Fajarito, Ervin Flores, Jonathan Grey, Travis Jonson, Ael Nayve, JR Ongteco, Alfonso Saavedra, Dino San Juan, Rene Sta. Maria and Carlo Young. Gabby Velasco (Coach).

The Blazers were on the verge of at least a playoff for a Final Four berth but a loss to Letran in their final game booted them out of the picture. Hoping to strike a good balance with his veterans and rookies, this is the time for third year coach Gabby Velasco to fully implement and reap the fruits of his program.

The team will be led by Jonathan Grey and Alfonso Saavedra. Overall, the team is lacking in height with JR Ongteco as the only veteran big man but Coach Velasco hopes to compensate this via other areas like shooting and speed.

Reigning NCAA Three-point King Travis Jonson will provide the long bombs while a bunch of rookies fresh out of high school will provide the speed and hustle. The other returnees are RJ Deles, Ael Nayve and Ervin Flores while the rookies are a promising bunch consisting of Christian Fajarito, brothers Jayjay and Jay-S Domingo, Dino San Juan, Edward Dixon, Gerard Castor, Rene Sta. Maria and Carlo Young.

Two years of heartbreaks and close calls are enough for the Blazers. The team this has enough material to make noise now while setting up the foundation for the coming seasons.

MVP Scottie Thompson would like no-less than a championship for the Altas.

MVP Scottie Thompson would like no-less than a championship for the Altas.

UNIVERSITY OF PERPETUAL HELP SYSTEM-DALTA (12-6) Bright Akhuetie, Nestor Bantayan, Niko Cabiltes, AJ Coronel, Gab Dagangon, Gerald Dizon, Crispin Elopre, Prince Eze, Ric Gallardo, Kevin Oliveria, Keith Pido, Flash Sadiwa, Anton Tamayo, Scottie Thompson and GJ Ylagan. Aric del Rosario (Coach).

The future looks bright literally for the Altas with the coming of center Bright Akhuetie. The hulking Nigerian slotman is teaming up with countryman Prince Eze and reigning NCAA Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson as they hope to help bring the trophy to Las Pinas City for the very first time.

Coach Aric del Rosario may have lost a slew of seniors from last season but the exchange student pair is expected to more than compensate. Their presence alone provides the Altas with the dominant centers they have longed may years for.

Thompson though remains the leader and face of Altas Basketball. He distinguished himself in the offseason with a productive tour of duty with the national team capped by a gold medal at the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.

Completing the cast is a bunch of role players which Coach del Rosario hopes to whip into a formidable force come tournament time. The Altas have the most returnees from last season with 10 consisting of Thompson, Nestor Bantayan, Gab Dagangon, Gerald Dizon, Ric Gallardo, Kevin Oliveria, Keith Pido, Flash Sadiwa, Anton Tamayo and GJ Ylagan while the other rookies are AJ Coronel, Niko Cabiltes and Crispin Elopre.

JOSE RIZAL UNIVERSITY (12-6)Razak Abdulwahab, Kris Astilla, Kim Aurin, Marco Balagtas, Mark Cruz, Richard David, Jordan de la Paz, MJ de la Virgen, Darius Estrella, Ervin Grospe, Gio Lasquety, Paulo Pontejos, Abdoul Poutouochi, Dave Sanchez and Bernabe Teodoro. Vergel Meneses (Coach).

The Jose Rizal community is always wondering when their four-decade NCAA title drought will come to an end and the prospects for that to happen this season are quite enticing. An impressive showing in the summer tournaments has installed the Heavy Bombers a strong favorite to challenge the San Beda domination of the league.

The veteran core of Bernabe Teodoro, Dave Sanchez, Marco Balagtas, Ervin Grospe, Gio Lasquety, Kris Astilla and Razak Abdulwahab has been further strengthened with the return of Paulo Pontejos and Jordan de la Paz who both missed last season. Abdulwahab will also have more help with the recruitment of burly center Abdoul Poutouochi.

The Heavy Bombers pulled off a coup by signing last year’s Juniors MVP Darius Estrella from the Light Bombers. Estrella will lead the team’s youth movement that includes Kim Aurin, Richard David, MJ de la Virgen and Mark Cruz (not the Letran guard).

Both the Heavy Bombers and Altas ended last season with winning streaks to close out the elimination round and nearly made the top two positions. A return to the Final Four is a strong possibility and the result this time could be different.

ARELLANO UNIVERSITY (13-5)Nicole Bangga, Julius Cadavis, JayR Capara, Adrian de Guzman, Allen Enriquez, Donald Gumaru, Dioncee Holts, Jiovani Jalalon, Brylle Meca, Elie Ongolo-Ongolo, David Ortega, Kent Salado, Mark Tano and Kenneth Zamora. Jerry Codinera (Coach).

The Chiefs proved to be the biggest surprise of Season 90 as they defied all the preseason predictions to make their first finals appearance under rookie coach Jerry Codinera. Unfortunately, a big chunk of the team that nearly made it to the top will not be around for a second shot but Coach Codinera is confident his team will do well now that they have known how it feels to be a winner.

National player Jiovani Jalalon is the undisputed leader of the group and he will have great support from the frontline of Dioncee Holts and Nicole Bangga. Four other players have been retained in Allen Enriquez, Donald Gumaru, David Ortega and Julius Cadavis.

The vacated slots were filled up by transfers and longtime members of the reserve pool led by center Mark Tano from San Sebastian. The other new names are Adrian de Guzman, JayR Capara, Brylle Meca, Kent Salado, Kenneth Zamora and exchange student Elie Ongolo-Ongolo from Cameroon.

Despite his vast talent and improving game, Jalalon cannot be a one-man army for the Chiefs. Coach Codinera must find a way to extract the best from the rest of the squad to complement their main man and book a return trip to the Finals.

Red Lions hope to put their paws on an unprecedented sixth straight championship.

Red Lions hope to put their paws on an unprecedented sixth straight championship.

SAN BEDA COLLEGE (13-5) Baser Amer, Ola Adeogun, Jun Bonsubre, Jeramer Cabanag, Art de la Cruz, Ryusei Koga, Jayvee Mocon, Jomari Presbitero, Ice Reyes, Dan Sara, Alfred Sedillo, AC Soberano, Mychole Sorela, Donald Tankoua and Ranbill Tongco. Jamike Jarin (Coach).

A whole generation of Bedans grew up with the trophy going to Mendiola year in and year out, eight times in the last nine years to be exact with a brief hiccup in 2009 when San Sebastian snatched it from the Red Lions. The tough task of winning a sixth straight crown falls on rookie coach Jamike Jarin who carries with him a colorful resume topped by stints handling the national youth teams.

No doubt the pressure will be great on a program not used to losing in the last decade. Definitely, the job will be a bit easier when you have the likes of seniors Ola Adeogun, Art de la Cruz, Baser Amer, Mychole Sorela and Ryusei Koga gunning for one more trophy before they graduate.

For the first time, Adeogun will have a reliever in fellow exchange student Donald Tankoua. Tankoua tops this season’s rookie crop that also boasts of Ice Reyes and shooters AC Soberano and Jomari Presbitero.

Sound recruiting and a solid high school feeder program has yielded a bench that could start for any other school. Ranbill Tongco, Jayvee Mocon, Dan Sara, Jeramer Cabanag and comebacking Jun Bonsubre are ready to assume bigger roles once the seniors bid goodbye and fuel the bid perhaps for a seventh straight championship in Season 92.

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About Anthony E. Servinio

A long-time television sportscaster, magazine writer, photographer and college professor from the Philippines finally gives blogging a try after more than a decade of on-line presence. Read on folks!
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