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Native Knights

It’s no secret that foreign players have emerged as strong contributors in our country’s major basketball leagues.
Especially in collegiate hoops where height is a superior advantage; foreign players have become almost indispensable.

But for Colegio de San Juan de Letran, an institution which celebrates athletic recognition, the acquisition of foreign players has never come to mind.

It’s been more than a decade since foreign players or ‘imports’ started donning jerseys in the NCAA and UAAP. Letran, however, has had multiple seniors basketball titles with no one but homegrown talent on its roster.

In 2015, the Knights clinched their 17th overall championship, defeating an old rival in a historic three-game finals. That was probably one of the most historical victories for Letran, especially against a highly-regarded foe in a do-or-die to end a decade-long title drought.

Of course, the triumph was made sweeter since it was fashioned with no foreign Letran player in the middle.

The reason the school has not tapped the talents of foreign players is because it believes more in harnessing young local big men. Instead of looking beyond our shores, the school scouts players from provinces and other minor leagues and gives them opportunity to play for the team.

Former PBA star Kerby Raymundo played for Letran and was instrumental in the Knights’ back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999. But before Raymundo took college and the pros by storm, he had played for a little known high school in Bataan.

Twelve years later, another “Kid” was discovered by Letran in Cebu City: Jomari Sollano, a 6-foot- 5 center who eventually became an unlikely hero in the 2015 NCAA Finals.

Sollano was playing for the Cebu Schools Athletics Foundation Inc. (CESAFI) before he brought his skills to Intramuros. Sollano ventured into Manila’s basketball scene and quickly became a reliable big man for the Knights while also notching a championship on his maiden year.

Importless, the Knights were viewed as a “small team” because of its undersized big men. This resulted in being tagged “underdogs” through the course of the season.

Still, the team lived up to its original brand and now continues its legacy as one of NCAA’s strong title contenders.

The school’s motto: “Deus, Patria, Letran,” which translates into “God, Country, Letran,” is appropriate to the team’s homegrown mantra.

This ideology has since become strong statement which leads to a strong support system from the school’s community, from students to the alumni and even a few popular personalities.

Letran is recognized as the second oldest college in the country. Existing for 396 years, the Intramuros-based school has produced some professional basketball stars such as Kevin Alas of NLEX, Raymond Almazan of Rain or Shine, Kevin Racal of Alaska, and PBA Hall of Famer Samboy Lim – hometown heroes to the core.
(RAFAEL MANZANO/Sports Editor The Lance, Colegio de San Juan de Letran)