By Jerome Lagunzad
Centro Escolar University will try to dig deep into its vast reservoir of championship experience when the Scorpions see action in the 2018 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup that gets going on Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena.
After ending up as bridesmaid to Cignal HD Hawkeyes in the Foundation Cup last year, the Scorpions should be motivated to regain their winning form behind an intact roster led by Congolese big man Rodrigue Ebondo.
Heady playmaker Orlan Wamar, gunner Judel Fuentes and forward Mark Neil Cruz are also expected to make their presence felt, giving CEU coach Yong Garcia enough confidence that they can return to the Promised Land since topping the Foundation Cup back in 2015 while carrying the colors of Cafe France.
“Tingin ko magkakaroon kami ng malaking chance this conference. Halos mga collegiate teams ‘yung kasali ngayon so kami na siguro ‘yung pinaka-beterano. Mataas rin naman ang kumpiyansa ng mga bata. Kailangan lang namin ipakita sa laro,” he told Tempo-Bulletin in a phone interview yesterday.
Garcia, 42, added that the 6-foot-7 Ebondo should pick up from where he left off after gaining valuable experience playing for his home country in the FIBA World Cup African qualifiers last year.
“Alam naman natin na walang masyadong problema kay Rodrigue. Every time na binibigyan siya ng chance na makapaglaro, all-out rin naman talaga siya,” he said of their prized center, considered by many as one of the most dominant foreign-born student-athletes in the country today.
However, Garcia believes the Scorpions, one of 11 school-based teams vying for the coveted crown, are in for a tougher grind this time, with loaded Marinerong Pilipino serving as the initial roadblock on January 29.
“‘Yung Marinero, grabe ang lineup ngayon. Halos lahat ng magagaling sa collegiate, nasa kanila kaya sila ang team-to-beat,” he said of the Skippers who secured the services of University of the East hotshot Alvin Pasaol, La Salle big man Abu Tratter and Ateneo counterpart Vince Tolentino during the rookie draft.
“‘Yung ibang mga school-based teams naman, andu’n na ‘yung familiarity and cohesion ng mga players nila. Talagang organized teams rin ang mga makakaharap namin kaya tingin ko mas mahirap ang labanan ngayon.”