COLEGIO de SAN JUAN de LETRAN KNIGHTS
IT TOOK JUST 16 GAMES TO COMPLETE THE SIEGE OF MURALLA. AFTER A STRING OF SEVEN CONSECUTIVE FINAL FOUR APPEARANCES, INCLUDING TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS, THE ONCEIMPENETRABLE FORTRESS THAT WAS COLEGIO DE SAN JUAN DE LETRAN CRUMBLED THANKS TO A LACKLUSTER 7-9 W
Look for a lot of fluidity and interchangeability from this lineup. Hotshot Kevin Alas (team-highs of 12.8 PPG, 3.1 APG), while learning the ropes of being a more efficient scorer in the NCAA, will see a lot of time manning the point as his father and coach, Louie, looks to hold him more accountable to the team. Franz Dysam should still figure in the playmaking chores, but Alas’ more prominent role at the one spot is also designed to decrease the number of turnovers Letran registers in a game, a number that stood at 20.5 in Season 86, second-to-the-worst. That could stand to benefit Dysam, who shot 39 percent from three-point range.
While Alas is still expected to be the focal point of the offense, the onus is on the Knights’ frontline to be more involved in the offense. The elder Alas is expecting big things from Jam Cortes and Jonathan Belorio. Cortes (10.8 PPG, 10.6 RPG) was one of only four players in the league to norm doubledigit averages in points and rebounds, while the athletic Belorio will look to improve on a woeful 32 percent shooting clip in his first tour of duty with Letran. Sophomore small forward VJ Espiritu takes on the role vacated by streaky shooter Jaypee Belencion, the only significant loss from the 2010 squad.
Despite missing out on the semifinals last season, the Knights’ second unit typified the workmanlike attitude of past and more storied Louie Alas squads. Rookies Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz will add a touch of skill and finesse to this corps. Racal, a lanky
6’2” swingman who made waves for team Muntinlupa in the inaugural 2010 Coca-Cola Hoopla, is deadly on the open floor and an asset on defense. Cruz, a former Letran Squire and younger brother of Marvin, makes up for his size at the point with his build and oncourt savvy and smarts.
One of the most intriguing storylines for 2011 wrests on the shoulders of Raymond Almazan. The 6’7” center, who tallied just 8.9 minutes a game last year, had to work his way back into the lineup in the preseason after battling academic issues. While the coaching staff isn’t rushing his learning curve, a sound contribution on the boards and better use of his imposing figure can only benefit the squad. Jun-Jun Alas, Lyceum transferee Andrei Mendoza and ex-Squire Zyrone Cudal provide additional muscle to the frontcourt. Andrei Pantin, a fringe rotation player, is a defensive stopper.
Only a handful of tacticians possess the credentials that Alas has, a fact that rendered his team’s 2010 performance difficult to believe. Making matters worse for his squad was going 1-5 in games decided by six points or less. “Endgame execution is something you learn from playing in as many games as possible. It’s a habit they need to develop,” he asserts.
Despite the debacle, however, things like his demanding practices and emphasis on hard-nosed defense remain constant. They were the primary catalysts of the four Letranite title teams from 1998 to 2005. Alas was in charge of three of those championship squads, and has delivered a strong message to his wards. “There’s a sense of urgency to get to the Final Four. It’s not like last year where I just forced them to believe we could.”
The logic of common sense dictates that, with a strategist like Alas leading the way, Letran would be shoo-ins for the Final Four every year. The likes of JRU and Mapúa debunked that, so it’s now up to Cortes, Kevin Alas and the more experienced players to reinstate that lost swagger. It’s imperative for someone to emerge and become a locker room presence.
The Knights will be in the thick of the fight for a semis slot. It won’t come easy, but considering how level the field is below San Beda, they’ve got more than a chance.
C PF SF SG PG
Jonathan Belorio Jam Cortes VJ Espiritu Kevin Alas Franz Dysam