After bagging the 2012 Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) title and finishing second in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 75 cage tourney, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers are back and still intact despite losing two key players due to graduation.
UST Coach Alfredo “Pido” Jarencio regarded most of the Tiger’s wins as tsamba (winning out of luck). But the España-based squad’s never-say-die attitude was a key reason why UST prevailed in a lot of heart-attack-inducing games last season. This unrelenting attitude, coupled with Pido’s humble approach to the game, helped the Tigers land a spot in the Finale of the UAAP.
|Jeric Fortuna||Karim Abdul||Joco Macasaet|
|Carmelo Afuang||Jeric Teng||JP Faundo|
|Kevin Ferrer||Brian So|
|Aljon Mariano||Kent Lao (returnee)|
|Paulo Pe||Jamil Sheriff (returnee)|
|Robert Hainga||Edcor Marata|
Opposing small forwards might have a hard time against the Tigers, both offensively and defensively, as veterans Clark Bautista, Kim Lo and clutch cat Aljon Mariano are now tasked to lead the Tiger pack. They’ll be in charge of orchestrating the team together with the rest of the seasoned players, under the leadership of gunner Jeric Teng. The assigned vocal leaders are Teng and his co-captain Bautista, who can not only motivate the team but also contribute in the scoring department as well.
With the departure of big man Carmelo Afuang, The Growling Tigers still have Karim Abdul to man the paint along with Paulo Pe and Robert Hainga.
Although undersized against its UAAP rivals, scoring would not be an issue for the Tigers as their veterans are known for their three-point shooting, a trademark of Coach Jarencio’s UST squads. Defense has also improved, with some of the other team’s go-to guys blowing their top from being guarded by the Tigers’ pesky and stingy defenders. A classic example is the crucial defensive stand of Ferrer in their semifinals match against NU, limiting the Bulldogs’ captain and season 75 MVP, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. to a measly 12 points. Ferrer’s contribution earned UST a ticket to the season finale, after six years of hard work and waiting.
Aside from the FilOil tournament in the summer (where UST placed fourth), some of the Tigers had more training being part of the UST-led PBA D-League team Blackwater Sports. Although it gave birth to problems such as over-fatigue and training time conflict among players. Blackwater Sports won its first D-League Foundation Cup, dethroning the NLEX Road Warriors of its four-year reign.
One of the earliest problems UST has to face is finding a replacement for the former team captain and ace point guard Jeric Fortuna. The Tigers are now training with returnees Jamil Sheriff, who sat out due to a knee injury, Edcor Marata and Eduardo Daquioag with several untested cogs as they try to solve their point guard problem.
Fortuna relies on rainbow country shooter Clark Bautista and sophomore Janrey Garrido as potential playmakers this season because of their agility inside the court. Unfortunately, Garrido might sit out this season to an injury. Assistant coach Estong Ballesteros, in a Fil Oil interview said “Hindi naman point guard ang kahinaan namin, kung hindi tiwala sa nagbibigay ng play.”
Also, Louie Vigil, 2009 Junior NCAA MVP, who made the most of his guarding stints for UST in Season 75, will sit out this year to concentrate on his studies and budding career in Blackwater Sports, per Spin.ph. Also according to the report, Vigil will definitely suit up for the Tigers next year to give priority to other players and to give him time to pull his grades up.
Cameroonian center Abdul is still a strong candidate for the MVP race given his numbers in his performance last season, even landing as runner-up to Season 75’s MVP, National University’s Bobby Ray Parks Jr. Abdul is aware of his foul troubles last season, to which he said “I’m big and tall so any of my little movement could be mistaken for a foul but I respect the referees for that, I’ll just have to be careful next time.” Abdul has a fair chance of bagging the Season MVP award this year, once he’s mindful of the emotions that come with the game.
Given the individual athleticism and experience from last season’s Cinderella finish, the Growling Tigers sure do know how to play with each other, another added bonus for this year’s deeper lineup. During a FilOil after-game interview, Coach Pido said that the team chemistry is still at 60 to 70 percent but the whole team is working their way to being more than ready for Season 76. A definite X-factor for the Tigers is their knowledge of how each of them plays, every player’s strengths and weaknesses inside the court. Coach Pido likes to rotate his players, even in crucial end games, giving everybody not just the confidence but also the experience. If you play well, you’ll get minutes, regardless if you’re a veteran or not. This is an important aspect of Coach Pido’s strengths as a coach – his ability to cultivate talent which allows UST to have a deep bench.
Last year, coach Pido’s statement before entering the season Finals says “Kung ano lang naman yung tinuturo ko, yun lang ang ginagawa nila [Tigers].” Indeed as they say, humility comes a long way.
Last year’s unfortunate end to the Finals might inspire the Tigers to a great season and push them back to the Finals, but will they finally have enough to win it all? Or has their luck finally run out?
Tsamba lang ba o tadhana?
UAAP Season 76 Team Previews
|Ateneo Blue Eagles||UST Growling Tigers||NU Bulldogs||De La Salle Green Archers|
|FEU Tamaraws||Adamson Soaring Falcons||UE Red Warriors||UP Fighting Maroons|