Jom Sollano’s off-the-bench gambit pays off for Letran

Groping for form in their first two matches, Letran big man Jom Sollano voluntarily asked Knights coach Jeff Napa to have him off the bench and that ploy immediately paid big dividends.

The 6-foot-5 Sollano, 22, showed what he’s truly capable of on Friday, leading defending champion Letran past College of St. Benilde 56-52 for its second straight victory in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan.

With star wingman Rey Nambatac struggling to get his usual fiery touch, Sollano provided the needed lift on both ends as he collected a game-high of 16 points and a team-best nine rebounds while coming off the bench in nearly 33 minutes of play.

Humbly enough to admit what bugs him, Sollano said he has yet to adjust to a bigger role that was created following the graduation of top guard Mark Cruz and ace wingman Kevin Racal, the main sources of the Knights’ production last year.

“Medyo na-pressure lang ako kasi nasanay ako na andito sina Mark Cruz at Kevin Racal at umaasa kami sa kanila,” he said. “Ngayon iba na talaga ang role namin kaya kailangan na namin mag-step up.”

A productive pep-talk with Letran’s first-year coach Jeff Napa also helped eased the pressure of his shoulders.

“Kinausap kami ni coach na hindi pwedeng naka-rely lang kami. Kailangan na rin namin mag-trabaho ngayon lalo na wala na ‘yung dalawa. Si Rey kailangan rin namin tulungan kaya dapat ‘yung efforts namin doblehin,” said Sollano, with Napa sitting at a hearing distance.

Napa disclosed it was Sollano who suggested he would come off the bench for him to get an initial view—at least from the bench—how things will fold up.

“Siya ang nag-volunteer mag-off the bench. Pinakikinggan ko lang rin naman ang saloobin nila,” said Napa. “May mga bagay na willing sila i-sacrifice. At nagko-complement naman kaming lahat. Kung ano ang ikagaganda ng team, doon kami.”

His big performance could be a timely morale-booster for Sollano since Letran will undergo a near two-week break before plunging back to action on July 14 against top title contender Arellano U, bolstered by do-it-all rookie Lervin Flores and American import Dioncee Holts.

“Dito ko na kukunin ang kumpyansa ko,” said Sollano. “Magmu-move on na ako sa bad games ko tapos dito na ako mag-start.” – By Jerome Lagunzad

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