By Jerome Lagunzad
Championship or bust.
That’s how Letran coach Jeff Napa is raising the stakes a notch higher for the Knights next year despite failing to reach the Final Four round for the second straight time in the 93rd NCAA seniors basketball tournament.
While top guard Rey Nambatac won’t be around since he is set to join to the pro ranks, Napa remains in high spirits that Letran can go deep next year and possibly reach the Promised Land anew.
“Next year will be a different story,” he said, sounding confident that the arrival of former University of the East star Bonbon Batiller, along with promising big men Christian Fajarito from St. Benilde and La Salle castoff Larry Muyang, can address the Knights’ pressing issues.
Lanky guard Fran Yu, another former Red Warrior, and ex-St. Clare gunner Coy Galvelo are also expected to provide big boost to Letran’s solid core of veterans bannered by Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, Jerrick Balanza and Jeo Ambohot.
“The talents that we have, magiging mabigat talaga ‘yung competition (for the final roster.) So there’s no assurance kung sino ang maila-lineup. But one thing’s for sure, my target next year is to become a champion.”
Napa has no other reasons to settle himself for anything less since he will be entering the final year of his three-year contract since being tapped by Letran management to take over the coaching reins left by Aldin Ayo.
Ayo transferred to La Salle after leading the Knights back to the NCAA throne at the expense of archrival San Beda in 2015.
The latest band of Knights has all the makings of a legitimate title contender, but they just couldn’t live up to the hype, especially against the fired-up Golden Stags of host San Sebastian in their knockout battle for the fourth and final playoff spot last Tuesday.
“Mahirap manalo when you missed 15 free throws,” lamented Napa, referring to one of the glaring aspects that hastened their downfall to a 74-69 defeat. “Marami ring crucial stops na hindi namin na-execute. That’s why naging ganun ang turnaround.”