SEASON 95 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association takes further flight today with six more seniors basketball teams set to make their debut in the scheduled triple-header at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.
Playing in the opener at 12 noon are the College of Saint Benilde Blazers and Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals, to be followed by the Perpetual Help Altas against the Mapua Cardinals at 2 p.m., and San Sebastian Stags versus the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers at 4 p.m.
The best team to not make it to the Final Four last season, the Blazers are out to improve on their fifth-place finish and 10-8 record in Season 94 and go deeper in the tournament this time around.
Returning with an intact lineup, TY Tang-coached Saint Benilde hopes to continue its improvement in the country’s oldest collegiate league.
Bannering the Blazers’ bid this season are the likes of sophomore Justin Gutang, Yankie Haruna, Edward Dixon, Kendrix Belgica, Clement Leutcheu, Mark Sangco and Ladi Lepalam.
Now oh his third year handling the team, Mr. Tang said the goal is to make it to the Final Four and good deeper beyond that.
“This is my third year with the team and we hope to continue our improvement. We are excited to show what we are capable of and our goal is to make to the playoffs,” Mr. Tang said at last week’s press conference for NCAA 95.
Saint Benilde begins its campaign against the Generals, who struggled to a 4-14 record last year, good for ninth place in the 10-team field.
Now handled by Oliver Bunyi, EAC tries to regroup in the absence of their stalwarts, notably center Hamadou Laminou, who reports said did not qualify because of academic reasons.
The Generals are banking on a mix of steady and capable players to propel their cause, which include JP Maguliano, Jethro Mendoza, Kyle Carlos, Marwin Taywan and JC Luciano.
Meanwhile, Perpetual Help begins life without league most valuable player Prince Eze, who had exhausted his eligibility last season.
Altas coach Frankie Lim said it would be a tall order to replace what Eze brought to the table for them but he is bullish he has players who could get the job done.
“We will compete this season. Eze is a big loss for us but my players will try their best to make up for it,” said Mr. Lim, whose team made it to the Final Four last season before bowing to eventual champion San Beda University in the semifinals.
Ben Adamos, who previously played for the Red Lions, is now with the Altas and is joining force with the likes of veteran guard Edgar Charcos, Kim Aurin, Tonton Peralta and Jielo Razon.
For Mapua, Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League champion coach Randy Alcantara looks to do wonders and take the Cardinals to a better position than the seventh place they were at in Season 94.
The Cardinals got added help with juniors standouts Paolo Hernandez and Cyril Gonzales joining the team, which already has the likes of Christian Bunag, Warren Bonifacio and Laurenz Victoria.
Egay Macaraya-led San Sebastian, meanwhile, will try to return to the Final Four even sans an import with the help of veterans Allyn Bulanadi, RK Ilagan and Alvin Capobres. Standing in their way first is JRU, the tailender last season and now has a new coach in Louie Gonzalez. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo