San Beda coach Jamike Jarin is quite puzzled why most—if not all—of their rivals are considering the Red Lions as one of the top contenders in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney that gets going on June 25 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Still licking the wounds inflicted by archrival Letran in their epic finals duel last year, the Red Lions are also trying to fill the huge hole created by the graduation of their regular starters—Baser Amer, Art dela Cruz, Nigerian import Ola Adeogun, Ryusei Koga and Michole Sorela—and backup guard Ice Reyes, leaving them vulnerable in different positions.
“That I don’t understand,” was Jarin’s quick response when sought for his reactions about San Beda being tagged as one of the title favorites. “Every time you lose your First 5, you lose your best defender, you lost six key players, mabigat ‘yun.”
But those kinds of compliments mainly reflect how successful San Beda’s basketball program is, according to Jarin, 46.
“Nakakataba rin ng puso what the other coaches are saying. It goes to show what kind of program San Beda has and I appreciate the comments of all the coaches,” he said.
Although he has clearly lost some firepower and an inside presence usually provided by the 6-foot-8 Adeogun, Jarin is confident the new pack of Red Lions, led by veterans Dan Sara, Radge Tongco, Jayvee Mocon, Cameroonian import Donald Tankoua and gunner AC Soberano, has what it takes to complete an unfinished business.
“We have a young, athletic and hungry group of kids,” he noted. “We’re very much happy with what we have and also the leadership of Dan Sara and Radge Tongco are the ones guiding everybody for this coming season. We’re just a team that’s able to develop that fighting spirit from last year and they feel they have a good chance (of winning).”
Aside from guard Robert Bolick, a transferee from La Salle, the new faces among the Red Lions include Davon Potts, Benedict Adamos, Nigerian import Arnaud Noah, Kyle Carlos, William Navarro, Calvin Optana and Kenneth Alas, the younger brother of former Letran star and current NLEX guard Kevin.
Jarin noted the arrival of fresh faces gives San Beda the flexibility that it can utilize to the hilt.
“We’re very flexible,” he said. “Talent-wise, last year’s talent is better than this year. But ‘yung flexibility namin—we can go small, we can go big, we can go fast, we can go slow—that’s what we are gonna be banking on this coming season. We’ve got players who could play multiple positions.”
With almost a week to go before the real battle begins, Jarin said the Red Lions still have a lot of tweakings to do, knowing they need to display a sustained performance as season host, with the Knights serving as their opening-day rivals.
“We’re happy with where we are right now but of course you can not be satisfied. Because if you’re satisfied, that will be the end,” he said.
“A lot of rooms to improve, a lot of things to mature in and a little more dedication, a little bit of fine-tuning and we’ll be competitive come Saturday.”
“Arellano, Mapua, JRU, Letran and Perpetual” are among the schools that Jarin feels will be in strong contention for the coveted title.
Asked if he’s more pressured than ever to win it all on his second year at the helm, Jarin said: “Whatever high-profile job you accept, there will always be pressure. Ako naman, I’ve been blessed with a great coaching staff, a great bunch of kids and a great school with a great administration, that ease off the pressure.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports