MANILA, Philippines — Before they could even fully begin to celebrate their championship in the NCAA Season 94 men's basketball tournament, the San Beda University Red Lions were already inundated with questions about defending their crown next year.
The Red Lions swept the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates in the best-of-3 finals last week, winning their third NCAA crown in a row and 11th in the last 13 seasons. They did so in impressive fashion, beating the Pirates 73-60 in Game 1, then routing them even further in Game 2, 71-56.
It was a fitting sendoff to Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon, the two veterans who played a key role in San Beda's triumph. Also set to leave the Lions' den after NCAA Season 94 are Jeramer Cabanag, Joe Presbitero, and Ranbill Tongco. Still unsure of his return is big man Donald Tankoua.
With several players leaving, San Beda head coach Boyet Fernandez acknowledged that a "four-peat" will be tough to achieve even for the dynastic team.
"It's really tough," he said last Monday, just a few hours after San Beda wrapped up the finals series. "Even with them, it's really tough to win a championship. Kahit andito sila sa tabi ko, mahirap manalo ng championship dito sa NCAA. Without them, it will be tough as well."
"Mahirap punan," he added.
But a hallmark of San Beda's dominance in the NCAA has been their recruitment, and even now, as they stand to lose their stalwarts, there are already players who are waiting in the wings in Team B.
Indeed, even as they prepared for the finals, the San Beda coaching staff was already checking who among their Team B players could possibly step up in Season 95.
"Right now, sa totoo lang, habang nagpe-prepare kami sa finals, we're also preparing for our future. So, we're already checking out who are capable to replace them," Fernandez said.
"I know it will be tough replacing their shoes, it's too big to fill. So we'll start early, we'll prepare early, and hopefully we can train our young guys to step up the way these two guys will play," he said, referring to Bolick and Mocon.
He has no doubts that it will be difficult to replace not just the production of his veterans, but also their leadership. After all, Bolick and Mocon were the stabilizing forces of San Beda all throughout the season, and the ones who took charge during crunch time.
But the graduation of players is something that every collegiate coach goes through, and Fernandez is ready to face this challenge.
Moreover, it's not just San Beda that will lose star players: their finals opponent, Lyceum, bid goodbye to former MVP CJ Perez, and University of Perpetual Help also lost Season 94 MVP Prince Eze to graduation. Colegio de San Juan de Letran, the other team in the Final 4, will be without Bong Quinto and JP Calvo next year.
"Ganoon talaga sa college eh, collegiate basketball. May ga-graduate talaga. So we'll be ready for that," he said.
"It will be a tough one for us, it will be a tough year for next year. But rest assured we'll always be ready for next year," he promised.
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