With the entry of solid recruits, led by promising big man Matt Aquino, National U is primed to make a deep run in the UAAP Season 70 men’s basketball tourney.
And fifth-year coach Eric Altamirano feels the Bulldogs have enough tools to re-assert the dominance that they have shown in 2014 when they claimed the school’s first UAAP men’s cage title in more than six decades.
While they have lost starting guard Gelo Alolino to graduation, NU returns solid upfront as Cameroon import Alfred Aroga anchors the paint anew alongside 6-foot-7 Aquino, the proud son of former pro league star Marlou who initially suited up for Adamson.
Gunner J-jay Alejandro, Rev Diputado, Dave Yu Reggie Morido and Mehd Salim will also return for another tour of duty while former La Salle big man Matt Salem, rookie guards JV Gallego, Joshua Sinclair and former Philippine youth team stalwart Michael Pate will make their debut for the Bulldogs.
“Maganda ang mixture ng mga old and new players,” gushed Altamirano. “One thing that’s unique about our team is that everybody can step up. We have that depth to be able to compete with other teams.”
While it remains to be seen if their recruits will make an instant impact, Altamirano is optimistic they will play big roles as they try to surpass their Final Four finish last year.
“It’s going to be a work in progress for these guys to contribute. But I’m confident they will sooner than later,” he said.
With plenty of firepower at his disposal, Altamirano also made a conscious effort to make the necessary adjustments on the offensive end.
“We’re more of a defensive team talaga ever since. Hindi naman mawawala ‘yun. But now we wanted to add something more. I feel yung materials and personnel namin ngayon will be able to maximize their strengths with what we’re trying to do on our offense,” he stressed.
Asked what his wards need to do if they want to achieve their collective goal, Altamirano said: “One thing we have to learn as a team is to be consistent. ‘Yan ang focus namin ngayong season, consistent improvement. We don’t want the same thing when we finish the season. Dapat better kami.”
Altamirano and the Bulldogs will kick off their title campaign against University of the East counterpart Derrick Pumaren and the Red Warriors on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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