Posted Feb 16th 2014
Experience will be key for UST
By Anthony Divinagracia Posted Jun 27th 2013
Jeric Teng led the first group.
Clustered in threes, Teng sprinted down the floor with Ed Dacquioag and Roberto Haingan.
Kevin Ferrer, with Kim Lo and John Sheriff in tow, followed suit.
Paolo Pe, Robin Tan, and Edcor Marata succeeded them.
Rookies Jan Macasaet and Jeepy Faundo joined Clark Bautista next.
Then Karim Abdul, Kent Lao, and newcomer Brian So completed the mad routine to beat the one-minute fastbreak drill.
“Habol tayo, habol!” Teng - the new captain - appeals, paws balled on his knees.
“Kayang kaya n’yo yan. Ganyan lang. Disente and pasa,” bellows assistant coach Senen Duenas from the sidelines.
Beside him, Pido Jarencio stood calm and quiet.
Yet even in silence, University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) sound-bite loving and quotable tactician is making a statement.
“Sa practice pa lang, mga beterano na dapat ang manguna,”he says. “Eto ang magiging puhunan namin ngayon. Tawag dito experience.”
Who can blame him?
Last season proved meteoric for a team which gave five-peat defending champion Ateneo de Manila University hell in the Finals before yielding to the championship-tested Eagles.
From that aborted trip to the Promised Land, the Tigers gate-crashed the Eden of Experience.
“Naging beterano ang team because of last year. Kahit naman kasi super rookie ka kung wala kang experience lalo na sa mga mabibigat na laro (tulad ng championship), wala rin mangyayari sa’yo.”
No, the Tigers had little to do with Jarencio’s freshman-freak-of-nature analogy. They even had none last season yet UST almost did the unthinkable.
“Puro breaks of the game lang naman ang nangyari. Sa Games 1 and 2 lamang pa kami sa first half. Nadale na lang sa dulo.”
“May mga issues na hindi nasagot sa’kin that time. Pero siyempre may mga missed shots din kami. Nasa 5th or 6th nga lang ang rating namin last year. Masuwerte pa nga kami at umabot kami sa Finals.”
Overachievement it was for Jarencio and the ’75 Tigers. But Season 76 is a different story. Suddenly, the underdog is now a fox, chased by a hunter’s axe.
Target on their backs
“Hindi ko sinasabing malakas kami. Pero siyempre tingin nila we are one of those teams na obstacle sa pag-abot nila sa dulo,” the seven-year UST mentor explains.
Yet the Jarencio of UAAP lore remains faithful to his classic off-season pitch.
“Mahina kami. Actually tsa-tsamba nga lang ulit kami e.”
He’s kidding right? But last season’s records say otherwise.
Kidding aside, the Tigers finished third in points (71.3 per game), rebounds (44.2 per game), and assists (15.2 per game). They were second in perimeter (27.1 per game) and second-chance (11.1 per game) scoring, and best in turnover points (17.2 per game) and steals (6 per game).
And given a virtually intact line-up with more stripes of experience and firepower, the Tigers can afford to produce these numbers anew (or better them) en route to at least a Final Four return. Now Jarencio is serious.
“Yung sistema mas kabisado na nila ngayon. Pati yung ikutan ng player alam na alam na rin nila. Maganda ang team chemistry. Healthy ang mga veterans namin,” he says while downplaying the absence of swingman Aljon Mariano, who suffered a minor sprain in practice before the team left for a team-building activity in Boracay.
The 6-foot-3 Mariano made a growling comeback last season, averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds to become the Tigers’ third leading scorer. A few times he saved UST from the brink of defeat, notably with clutch games against Ateneo and De La Salle University in Round 1.
Abdul meanwhile emerged as UST’s top gun, chalking up a double-double of 16.9 points and 12.2 rebounds an outing. Teng (13.6 points), Clark Bautista (8.6 points), and lead guard Jeric Fortuna (8.4 points) composed UST’s scoring five.
But with Fortuna already gone, how does Jarencio set the offensive tables now?
“Hindi namin pino-problema ‘yun. Marami namang nananalong team na walang natural na point guard. Pumasok nga kami sa Final Four ng Filoil kahit walang natural point guard. Ngayon, point guard ba problema ‘dun?”
Despite criticisms, Jarencio has stuck to Dacquioag as Fortuna’s back-up last year. The 5’11 Ilocos Sur native has been a serviceable reliever for J-Fort with good defensive skills and perimeter touch. But a full-time playmaker?
“Sila lang nagsasabing may problema kami. Ang ganda nga ng possisyon ko ngayon e, tumangkad pa guwardiya ko. Isipin mo si Dacquioag kahit sino pwedeng bantayan niyan. Uno, dos, tres kaya niyang bantayan.
“Si Tata (Bautista) ganun din. Si (Jeric) Teng kahit 3 or 4 kaya niyang bantayan. Ngayon dehado ba ako sa guwardiya? Marunong magdala (ng bola) at maglatag (ng play) ang mga yan.”
Upfront, the Tigers only lost Melo Afuang to graduation and will practically have the same core anchored on Abdul and the much-improved Pe.
“Yung frontline ko decent naman kahit 6'6 lang si Karim (Abdul). Si Paolo Pe kahit 6'4 ok pa rin. Meron ka ngang 6’8 di naman lumalaban e di wag na lang. Wala kaming problema. Sila ang may problema sa amin.”
Further shoring UST’s frontline this season are three newcomers from the NCAA in 6’2 So (Letran), 6’3 Macasaet (San Sebastian), and 6’6 Faundo (JRU). Returning to the Tigers’ fold are guards Marata and Sheriff. Another guard, Louie Vigil, however won’t be suiting up this season due to academic deficiencies.
Opposing crews may have beefed up their respective line-ups but Jarencio picks La Salle, Ateneo, Far Eastern University, University of the East (UE), and National University (NU) to crowd UST in the Final Four.
UE recently won the Filoil tournament, dethroning NU which took the Fr. Martin plum as a consolation of sorts.
“Halos lahat ng teams malakas naman pero iba ang UAAP sa pre-season league,” he says. “But as long as the (Thomasian) community is behind us, we’re fine.
“Basta simple lang: Lahat ng tumitingin sa team namin mahina kami. Yun naman sinasabi lagi nila e. Basta kami nakaka-tsamba lang. Kung maka-tsamba ulit kami ngayon e di mas maganda. Tingnan niyo na lang kung saan kami pupunta.”
Jarencio then reclaimed his silence. Quietly, he stood at center court.
With paws balled in the air, Jarencio led his group.
UAAP Season 76 Lineup:
Bautista, Clark Daniel
Daquioag, Eduardo Jr.
Lao, Kent Jefferson
Lo, Kim Kaizen
Macasaet, Jan Cornelius
Marata, Edcor Jr.
Pe, Paulo Lorenzo
Sheriff, Sheak Jr.
So, Brian James
Tan, Robin Allan
Teng, Jeric Allen