NATIONAL UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
AFTER A SURPRISING 7-7 WIN-LOSS RECORD AND FIFTHPLACE FINISH LAST SEASON, THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS DIDN’T STAND PAT IN THE OFF-SEASON. THEY BROUGHT IN A PROVEN COACH IN ERIC ALTAMIRANO, SECURED ROOKIE SENSATION BOBBY RAY PARKS, AND SURROUNDED HIM
Three starters from last year – Kokoy Hermosisima, Jewel Ponferrada and Mervin Baloran – have already graduated, and Altamirano will turn to a rookie and two sophomores to fill the void. The shooting guard spot is already reserved for Parks, a talented and athletic 6’5” wingman who can actually play both guard spots and even slide over to the three spot if the need arises. Veteran Joseph Terso is still the resident point guard, forming an interesting backcourt duo with Parks. At the small forward spot, second-year player Glenn Khobuntin should get the nod, while fellow sophomore Jeff Javillonar is set to take over the power forward position. At center, last year’s MVP runner-up Emmanuel Mbe is out of the country as of this writing, although Altamirano said he will be back in
time for the opening of classes.
A few old faces and a lot of new ones will be seen on the NU bench this season. Back for another go are shooting guards Ajeet Singh and Jul-Ashri Ignacio and center Marion Magat. Making their UAAP debuts will be several blue chip recruits, including exTiger Cubs forward Kyle Neypes and point guard Cedric Labing-isa. A pair of forwards from Rizal Technological University, Robbie Celiz and Dennice Villamor, will beef up the frontline rotation. Backing up Mbe will be 6’7” Jano Eman, younger brother of PBA pro Samigue, for whom Altamirano has high hopes. Angelo Alolino will most likely be the team’s third point guard.
With only seven returnees, four of whom
are sophomores, it’s a rather young but nonetheless promising roster, with a lot of versatility thrown in. Several players can play more than one position, giving Altamirano the luxury of fielding in multiple combinations.
Altamirano is fresh off a successful stint as coach of two youth teams that placed fourth and fifth in 2009 and 2010, respectively. This stint not only boosted his coaching résumé, it also provided him with a crucial pipeline to talent: Parks, Labingisa, and Neypes all played for Altamirano on those youth teams.
The former UP Maroon brings championship coaching experience from his time with Purefoods in the PBA, where he earned a reputation as a drillmaster who ran demanding practices, but who also became known as a players’ coach. Backing him up on the bench will be Joey Guanio, his former UP teammate, Mon Jose, who coached the Philippine entry to the World Youth Olympics 3-on-3 competition, veteran mentor Vic Ycasiano, holdover Jeff Napa, and new faces Leo Pujante and Marlon Celiz.
Last year, no one expected NU to come within a game of crashing the Final Four. The Bulldogs had the element of surprise and most everyone didn’t take them too seriously. This year, with the bar set higher and opposing teams already devising ways to slow down Parks, there will be more pressure to produce wins. Altamirano is doing his best to manage these expectations, saying their target is to make the Final Four in three years, but that won’t stop people from watching their every move. The challenge will be to guide this young team and not let the pressure get to them, while at the same time producing acceptable results.
The new era of NU Bulldogs basketball will kick off this season. Parks is the new face of the basketball program, and from all indications he should be as good as advertised. With Mbe anchoring the post, NU has a nice inside-out game. The question is whether it will be enough to give the team its first Final Four berth since 2001.
No doubt, the Bulldogs will be fielding what looks to be their most competitive line-up since the team led by Froilan Baguion and Alfie Grijaldo crashed the Final Four. And in Altamirano they have perhaps their most accomplished coach in a long time. These are all ingredients for success – in the long run. Teams like Ateneo, FEU and Adamson all have the advantage in terms of experience and depth, so the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them in their quest to make it to the post-season. Not impossible, not too farfetched even, but it’s gonna be tough.
C PF SF SG PG
Jeff Javillonar Glenn Khobuntin Bobby Ray Parks Joseph Terso