Just like that, college basketball season is upon us once again. While opening weekend of this NCAA season is just a small sampling and doesn’t tell the entire story of the season to come, there are still some important takeaways from the first two games of the year.
The San Beda Red Lions will still be really good, but there are areas of vulnerability
Losing players in the caliber of Javee Mocon and Robert Bolick is never a good thing. But if there was a program built to move forward from losses like that, it’s San Beda. The school is a factory of elite basketball talent, seemingly sneaking in solid prospects in silence, then developing them in the long run.
This current batch of Red Lions looks to continue the tradition of excellence of San Beda and winning their first game of the season was a great start at it. A quick look at the result and it honestly feels inevitable for San Beda to win. Death, taxes, San Beda being successful. It’s turned into a fact of life.
However, as inevitable as San Beda may feel, to call them as a direct copy of their predecessors would be simplistic. The program can survive the blow of losing talents like Mocon and Bolick, but that doesn’t mean it can produce right away. That struggle coming out of loss is a necessary evil. Even the best of teams have to go through; even a program like San Beda.
San Beda’s defense will continue to be stout with its depth of big men and long wings, but their offense looks to be a work in progress. If there’s a single player who encapsulates this, it’s Evan Nelle.
He’s made strides as the primary playmaker of San Beda, dishing out five assists versus Arellano with just a single turnover He’s going to be the primary replacement of Bolick. Unfortunately, his efficiency isn’t on the same level (4/14 FG vs. AU) as his predecessor just yet. There will be humps. But it’s important to remember, he’s still very young as this his just his sophomore year.
As is the rest of the team. James Canlas is still getting used to being THE guy. Clint Doliguez is still learning how to embrace being a secondary scorer in a stacked team. At the very least, Donald Tankoua continues to be a fortress in the post. The Red Lions have all the tools to continue to succeed, despite their vulnerabilities.
It’s good to have Jerrick Balanza and Kent Salado back
Career-threatening injuries have this way of changing the way we view certain players. It makes fans appreciate the value of player even more, on and off the court. It puts things into proper perspective with regards to this game we follow so passionately. At the end of the day, it’s that; a game. There’s so much more to it and for basketball to bring about joy and hope is already a big win for everyone.
That’s why it was a huge sigh of relief to watch Jerrick Balanza and Kent Salado back on the court after having health issues the past season. Balanza made his return after sustaining a blood clot on his brain last season. Salado, on the other hand, finally took the reins as Arellano’s lead guard by coming back from an ACL injury. Not much was expected. What mattered was, both players were back playing the game that gave the most joy.
Both Balanza and Salado weren’t satisfied with just being back. They came into the season with a desire to win and it showed with how they played.
After losing Bong Quinto to graduation, Balanza looks like he’s ready to take the leap as Letran’s main man. He’s always been an effective player on both ends of the floor. This time around, however, he’s taking it up a notch by embracing a bigger role on the offensive end while amping up his effort on defense. He’s clearly the team’s leader this season and he wants that to translate as well with his production on the court. 19 points, four rebounds, five assists, and five steals in his first game back is a great way to kick things off.
Then there’s Salado, who many have projected to carry the reins for Arellano ever since Jio Jalalon’s departure. The biggest challenge from an ACL injury isn’t physical, as many say; it’s mental. Salado was projected to be a star. Suddenly, he was back to square one. But in his first game back, he didn’t show any signs of rust. The San Beda defense was clearly keyed on him, but this didn’t cause any worry on Salado’s end. It brought about joy, as if he’d waited for so long to get this much attention on the defensive end. It was a sign of respect of Salado’s talent.
While the two both lost in their returns, there was a noticeable smile on their faces as they played. They’re back. With that, NCAA fans can’t help but smile as well.
The Marcelino twins are FUN
Not much was expected out of the Lyceum Pirates coming out of this season, especially with what they lost during the offseason. No longer having an MVP and PBA top pick in CJ Perez stings. Mike Harry Nzeusseu nursing a fractured finger is a big blow to their size. They’re the smallest team in the NCAA. To be matched up against the giants of Letran seemed like a nightmare for Coach Topex Robinson and his troops.
However in Coach Topex’s eyes, this was an opportunity for the team. They could have easily rolled over and died, losing as the smallest team in the league. That wouldn’t have been surprising. Then there was that other option: to fight and win as the smallest team in the league. Being small is difficult, yes. But to use it as an immediate reason for a loss would be disrespect to this team’s principles.
Love. Serve. Care. Most importantly: joy. Always play with joy. There are two players in this Lyceum squad who encapsulated that: the Marcelino twins.
For the longest time, they’ve been understood as two Robins to the Batman of CJ Perez. Now that their Batman was gone, what would they have been able to do? The trust level on the twins wasn’t that high, quite in line with the expectations for the team. Could they at least keep the Pirates afloat?
However, here’s a dirty little secret of the Pirates: a lot of what makes Lyceum so good is brought upon by the Marcelinos. They’re incredibly pesky on both ends of the floor, making up for their lack of height with a blend of joy and passion that’s made to annoy opposing teams.
This time around with the giant Knights in their way, the Marcelinos brought that same mixture to lead their team. It wasn’t the dominant power that we’d gotten used to from CJ or Mike Harry. But with Lyceum coming out on top while actually out-rebounding Letran, it was a great start to his new era of Pirates basketball.
The level of trust has increased, yet it isn’t that high just yet. But this is for sure: this team will fight. The Marcelinos are at the forefront of that, bringing about a brand of basketball that is both annoying for opponents, but fun for everyone else.
Win or lose, they’ll be sporting smiles that capture the joy Coach Topex envisions for his team. Maybe they even close things out at times with a kiss so sweet, the team’s smiles grows a bit bigger.