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Doubters silenced by San Beda’s resolve.
Many doubted the San Beda Red Lions’ chances of reclaiming the NCAA crown when center Donald Tankoua went down with a season-ending ACL injury in the second round.
The Cameroonian-born Tankoua was a major contributor on both ends for the Red Lions with double-double averages in points and rebounds. That is why his loss proved to be a major concern for the team that was aching to rebound from a devastating setback to the Letran Knights in last year’s finals.
But for coach Jamike Jarin, that obstacle proved to be the turning point in San Beda’s season.
On Tuesday, the Red Lions returned to the top by sweeping the Arellano University Chiefs in the best-of-three title series for their 9th title in 11 seasons and the first for Jarin after two seasons at the helm.
“Maybe the loss of Donald was a wake-up call for all of us,” Jarin said after Tuesday’s 83-73 victory that further enhanced San Beda’s status as the NCAA’s most successful team.
“Everybody stepped up, and all the boys just believed in themselves and just rallied behind Donald, rallied behind the coaches, and rallied behind San Beda.”
Fittingly, one of the players who took his game to a higher level following Tankoua’s absence was fellow Cameroonian Arnaud Noah, who emerged as the Finals Most Valuable Player capped off by a splendid Game 2 performance where he made the key plays down the stretch.
Noah’s performance came after struggling to find role in the San Beda rotation. Tankoua’s injury paved the way for him to have his big moment.
“The reason why I got Noah is because I really wanted him to play that different positions, the 4 (power forward), the 3 (small forward), even the 2 (shooting guard) but he was struggling,” Jarin said, adding that Noah was a bubble before the season started making the final cut.
“Then all of a sudden, Donald had that ACL, and he just stepped up.”
Then there were the other players who were instrumental in the championship like Robert Bolick and Dan Sara.
Bolick could have been another fitting winner of the Finals MVP award with his improved scoring and defensive effort namely on Arellano star Jio Jalalon.
The former La Salle benchwarmer, a member of the 2013 UAAP squad, also had his redemption, almost two years after he got an early morning call from Jarin after winding up without a collegiate team.
Sara, on the other hand, solidified the guard position in his final year, giving him a fitting farewell to an up-and-down collegiate career that began in 2010 with La Salle, followed by two championships at San Beda in 2013 and 2014, and this season where he dealt with a hand injury.
Sara is the only player that will be out next season, an obvious sign that San Beda’s reign may continue in years to come.