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3-team race in NCAA tilt

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Saturday
(Mall of Asia Arena)
12 noon — Opening Ceremonies
2 p.m. — San Beda vs Perpetual (Srs)
4 p.m. — Lyceum vs San Sebastian (Srs)

A three-team race is looming in the 94th NCAA seniors basketball tournament which gets going this Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena, with back-to-back titleholder San Beda as the clear frontrunner while last year’s losing finalist Lyceum and retooled Letran as its closest pursuers.

The Red Lions won’t have Fil-Am gunner Davon Potts and backup center Ben Adamos at their disposal but will remain a genuine force owing to an intact roster led by heady guard Robert Bolick, do-it-all forward Javee Mocon and Cameroon big man Donald Tankoua, the reigning Finals MVP.

In yesterday’s presser held inside the MOA Arena, amiable San Beda tactician Boyet Fernandez – as expected – tried his best to temper the usual high expectations from the Red Lions who are gunning for their 11th overall crown in the last 13 years.

“This will be a close NCAA season. But for us, we will just keep on preparing hard and making ourselves better every game,” said Fernandez, 46, who himself is setting his sights on adding a fourth NCAA silverware to his trophy case.

The Pirates, fresh from a productive off-season when they ruled the PCCL tourney and topped the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup under the colors of Zarks Burgers, should be primed to go all the way in what could be their greatest chance yet with the presence of reigning MVP CJ Perez, MJ Ayaay and Cameroonian Mike Nzeusseu.

“After those experiences, I feel they really now know how to win,” Lyceum coach Topex Robinson. “Winning a championship is always there. But more than that, we are still going back to our core values – which is to inspire others.”

Current NCAA president Anthony Tamayo of Perpetual Help expressed high hopes that the new season, under the theme “Unparalleled Heights in Sports Development, will sustain the gains of the country’s oldest collegiate league.

“The theme echoes NCAA’s commitment to promote sports development in the country. Sports development means to promote character and leadership values among our players,” he said.

Also expected to make some noise are the revitalized Knights, the 2015 champions who will have several big additions to their already solid crew bannered by forward Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, Jerrick Balanza and Gilas cadet member Jeo Ambohot.

“We are pleased to be given such billing but for us, we still have to work our way up and compete at the highest level, day in and day out,” said Letran’s third-year mentor Jeff Napa. “We don’t want to get carried away by the hype. It’s music to our ears but we still have to prove what we are really made of inside the court.”