Still licking the wounds of a painful ending to its title defense in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney, Letran’s first-year coach Jeff Napa is urging the Knights to move on quickly, knowing they have nothing to else to do but bounce back stronger next year.
The Knights absorbed a heartbreaking 72-77 loss to the Mapua Cardinals on Tuesday at The Arena in San Juan City, putting a premature end to their title reign with a game to spare in the double-round eliminations.
“Siyempre masakit especially on the players,” admitted Napa outside The Arena in San Juan City after Letran dropped its ninth match in 17 games, staying at sixth spot while seeing Mapua firm up its grip on the No. 4 spot by improving to 10-5.
While he endured struggles since he assumed the post left by Aldin Ayo, who transferred to powerhouse La Salle, Napa isn’t one to cry over spilled milk for too long, saying the Knights should use their latest setback as their main motivation to strive further.
“Although we fell short, kailangan mag-move on,” he said. “Sa mga maiiwan, na-experience nila ‘yung setbacks na ‘yan and we will bounce back stronger. Hopefully ‘yung experience na naranasan nila, ‘yung pain bitbit nila para magpursigi lalo. I’m confident we will have a different story next season.”
While the likes of star wingman Rey Nambatac, Bong Quinto, Jerrick Balanza and JP Calvo can return, the Knights will lose five players to graduation, including skipper McJour Luib, big men Jom Sollano and Felix Apreku.
Napa, however, couldn’t help but feel sorry that the Knights failed to show enough maturity that was seen from top guard Mark Cruz, the Finals MVP, and do-it-all forward Kevin Racal last year.
“Hindi mare-replace ‘yung dalawa. Mabigat talaga ‘yun,” he said. “May mga rookie na sobrang bata na pumalit. Talagang binigyan namin ng experience, pero hindi tumama.”
While he’s man enough to admit that the Knights “underachieved” on his first year at the helm, Napa added their sorry finish was triggered by a costly five-game tailspin where they lost by an average margin of 4.16 points per game.
“Halos lahat ng talo du’n, dikit lang. Pero all throughout the season, hindi namin na-dictate ang pace namin. Hindi lang rin kami sinamahan ng swerte sa ibang talo namin. 50-50 ang chances namin sa ibang games,” he lamented.
Napa, however, sounded defiant that he has gained enough lessons which he can put into good use on the Knights.
“Sobra-sobrang experience ang nakuha ko dito. Malaking bagay para mag-grow pa ako. Alam ko naman na marami pa akong kulang. To become a better coach, kailangan ko pa mag-improve sa tulong ng mga bata,” he said.
“Ganun naman talaga ang buhay. Let’s move on. Nakita ko naman ang ginawa ng mga bata. Magiging ready na lang kami for next year.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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