Tuesday, 23 February 2010 5,571 Views / 76 Comments
ONE of the biggest headline grabbers in NCAA Season 85 was that post-match, near all-out melee between San Beda College and Colegio de San Juan de Letran. After Kevin Alas and Sudan Daniel introduced themselves to each other in a not-so-friendly manner, alumni from both schools, as well as fans who filled up the San Juan Arena, got it on, throwing coins, bottles and even arnis sticks. Oh, and who could forget Letran spitfire Jaypee Belencion going up the stands to release all that tension?
When the dust cleared, so did the entire crowd. Nope, it wasn’t because the Red Lions and Knights figured in the main game; in fact, they faced off in the curtain-raiser. Just what exactly transpired after that juggernaut of a game?
It just so happened that the main game featured two of the worst teams this past decade. Entering the 2009 season, the College of St. Benilde Blazers, who sported a 39-75 total win-loss record since winning the title in 2000, went up against the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta Altas, at 41-75 also in the same time period. Not surprisingly, the coliseum, which had been a madhouse just a few minutes before, turned into an almost-empty prayer room. CSB won that particular game by one, 64-63, and was arguably more exciting than the Letran-San Beda game. Not surprisingly, no one seemed to care.
Such is life for the Altas and the Blazers. They have been the league’s biggest losers, and the smallest crowd-drawers. Their geographical isolation from the other NCAA member-schools is as glaring as the way they’ve separated themselves from the whole notion of winning. Will Season 86 be any different?
Toward the end of 2008, the management of Perpetual Help tapped the services of Boris Aldeguer, the man credited for resuscitating the walking disappointment of the UAAP juniors division – De La Salle Zobel – and turning it into a championship five. From the get-go, though, the Altas struggled and found it difficult to grasp Aldeguer’s scheme, which includes a few triangle offensive sets.
“That wasn’t my team. They were not my recruits, so it was difficult,” Aldeguer said. In fact, the Altas were so awful last season that they were the only permanent NCAA member-school the more awful Angeles University Foundation Great Danes managed to defeat.
In the middle of the freak show cum horror story that was Season 85, however, the rookie tactician still had his eyes on the longer run. “Next year will be different, we’ll be more competitive,” he said in the waning moments of the 2K9 campaign.
True enough, Aldeguer has assembled an almost brand new team for NCAA Season 86. “As of the moment, I’ve retained only three players from last year’s team [Chris Elopre, Robin Roño and Raffy Ynion] that went 3-15, and brought up my players from Team B. That’s how bad last year’s team was. Also, the guys in Team B are my recruits,” he remarked.
The Altas, who are now taking their Vicki Belo-like facelift on their first road show at the Fr. Martin Cup Open Division, have so far been competitive, defeating Jose Rizal University and Arellano-A in the tournament. Aldeguer remains cautious, though. “I like what I see but the NCAA is different from the preseason. Teams are tougher when the season begins. But we still have goals. We want to be better than last year.”
This season, Perpetual Help will have experienced newbies at its disposal. Leading the charge are five ex-Philippine Christian University stalwarts in George Allen, Jaycee Asuncion, Marlon Gomez, Harold Sumera and Jett Vidal. So far, Gomez, who averaged seven points and six boards for PCU in Season 84, has impressed the most. Complementing them is Paul Nuilan, a power forward who tried out for Far Eastern University last season, and Neil dela Cruz, an athletic specimen who was ruled out of Season 85 due to an ACL tear. Former Las Piñas College Blue Lions playmaker Jonas Kintanar and ex-STI Olympian Arnold Danganan, according to Aldeguer, both have only a year of eligibility left yet round out his nucleus. “Perpetual Help wasn’t even these guys’ first choice. It’s really difficult to compete [in recruiting] against the likes of San Beda and FEU. But I always tell them that this is their shot. If you have the talent, you’re welcome here. If not, sorry,” the DLSU alum said.
Aldeguer, who’s had a coaching stint in the pro ranks, is modest yet optimistic. “If being more competitive will take us to the Final Four, so be it. If not, it’s okay. The goal is to compete.”
After starting 2-0 for the second straight season, the CSB Blazers looked as if they were about to turn the corner. Sadly, hoops along the dark green side of Taft Avenue has been a marriage between Groundhog Day and a living nightmare, and any glimmer of hope flickers in the end thanks to some attitude problem, or internal matter. The script never changes, and 2009 was no different.
“We had a lot of problems last season. We dealt with a lot of issues and it became very difficult. I am not one to make excuses, but  was really tough,” Blazers mentor Richard del Rosario said. Even before the season started, St. Benilde had to bring back veteran forward Ilie Johnston to the fold despite being suspended from the team for “disciplinary reasons,” as del Rosario mentioned in a conversation with him last April, 2009. Unfortunately for the Blazers, it proved to be a sign of things to come.
Unlike past coaches who have been content watching the Blazers sputter to records as dismal as 1-11 (2007), del Rosario is at least barking at the right tree. Now in his second year, the ex-La Salle Green Archer is emphasizing two basic things: character and pride. “While I’m waiting for the entrance exam results of my recruits, I’m using tournaments like the Fr. Martin Cup to build character and discipline. We didn’t have that last season. And since veterans like [Jeff] Morial and [Jacob] Manlapaz are no longer around, that’s even more important. My guys have to have that discipline.”
To prove his point, del Rosario suspended one of his starting guards from a pick-up game with National University for missing practice. “It doesn’t matter who you are anymore. I told the guys that after last year. All of them have to fight for their slots, regardless if they were stars [in 2009],” he reiterated. Coupled with that is his desire to instill a sense of commitment to the school. “A handful of players who tried out last season but left have asked me if they could come back. I turned all of them down. They had their chance here and I won’t let them recycle the school.”
Right now, del Rosario is busy keeping his entire pool of players in competitive condition, and is more concerned with the intangibles. The exciting Carlo Lastimosa will finally be making his debut for CSB, along with former PCU big man Tim McCoy. “As for my other recruits, I’ll wait and see. But what matters now is the attitude of all the players in the pool. We want none of what happened last season,” he declared.
With Johnston, Manlapaz, Morial and Aaron Umlas playing out their eligibility, an air of excitement looms over CSB because of the youthfulness of the holdovers. For the Benilde community’s sake, it hopefully is a different air, one that skews from the typical, eerie, “Benilde-is-always-second-to-DLSU” posture.
Two second-year coaches. Two similar scenarios. One goal. For Perpetual Help and St. Benilde, it’s about transforming that culture of losing and not trying hard enough. Only then will Aldeguer and del Rosario succeed in restoring that bit of excitement and attention their institutions sorely need.