Instead of being discouraged, Letran coach Jeff Napa intends to use the Knights’ failed title-retention bid in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tournament as a prime motivation—and not a source of frustration—moving forward.
Having been dethroned as early as last week, the Knights somehow put a positive ending to Napa’s first stint in the country’s oldest collegiate league on Thursday night when they outlasted Emilio Aguinaldo College in overtime 93-87 at The Arena in San Juan City.
Although the victory, their ninth overall in 18 matches, hardly made an impact on Letran’s challenging title defense, Napa believes that could offer his wards, especially those who’ll be back, some sort of a silver lining on the horizon.
“Kung sino man ang magiging players ko next year will become more ready and more prepared. ‘Yun ‘yung pinaka-sigurado ako talaga—na babalik kami ng mas malakas,” he told sports scribes with conviction. ““At least talagang makukuha ko ‘yung expectation ko sa gusto kong mangyari.”
Tapped to take over the coaching reins from Aldin Ayo in early March, Napa refused to make any excuses and even sounded man enough to make himself accountable for Letran’s failures on his first stint at the helm.
But he promised nothing less than a big bounce back performance from the Knights next year.
“Siguro mas kailangan ko pang maging firm kasi medyo mature enough na ‘yung mga hawak ko ngayon,” Napa stressed. “At least, next year will be a different story. Kumbaga it’s a mix of old ones and young ones.”
While he’ll lose at least three vital cogs in McJour Luib, Jom Sollano and Felix Apreku, who all played significant roles in Letran’s Cinderella run last year, Napa could still have a potent core surrounded by top guard Rey Nambatac, Bong Quinto, Jerrick Balanza and JP Calvo.
But there’s no guaranteed spot for Letran’s holdovers, stressed Napa. “No one is safe. Tryout muna silang lahat. Ang importante sa akin, ‘yung magpapakamatay para sa eskwelahan,” he said.
While he clearly flopped on his collegiate coaching debut after a championship-filled run with National U Bullpups in the UAAP juniors ranks, Napa isn’t one to shy away from the challenge.
“Masarap, maganda at maraming opportunity, maraming ups and downs,” was how he described his initial experience in the collegiate level.
“Doon naman ako natuto sa mga ganung scenario. Good thing, hindi naman bumigay ang mga bata. ‘Yung natutunan ko this year, dadalhin ko next year. Kaya nga lagi kong ina-address sa kanila na babalik tayo next year ng mas malakas,” vowed Napa. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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