Star point guard Jeric Fortuna may be gone, but University of Santo Tomas coach Pido Jarencio is hardly worried as the Tigers gear up for UAAP Season 76 aiming to duplicate or hopefully even surpass their runner-up finish last year.
In fact, the ever-smiling mentor even considers the departure of the 5-foot-8 Fortuna, who posted a league-best 5.12 dimes per game last season, due to graduation as “a blessing in disguise.”
“Walang problema,” Jarencio quickly stressed. “Kami na mismo ang gumawa ng adjustment sa sistema na hindi na namin kailangan ng talagang uno (point guard).
“Leadership lang naman ang kailangan sa point guard at kahit sino naman sa kanila (Tigers) pwedeng magdala ng bola, kahit si (center Karim) Abdul,” he noted, tongue-in-cheek.
Height-wise, UST somehow gain an advantage at the playmaking position, according to Jarencio.
“Although malaki ‘yung pagkawala ni Fort, mas gumanda naman ‘yung guard rotation ko kasi si Ed Daquioag (a 6-foot-0 guard) matangkad. Kaya hindi na kami basta-basta mapopostehan. Sila na ngayon ang mamumurublema sa amin,” he stated.
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Now entering his eighth year as Growling Tigers coach, Jarencio will field virtually the same core that led UST to a runner-up finish against eventual five straight champion Ateneo last season.
The 6-foot-6 Abdul, a member of last season’s Mythical Team, is expected to lead the team’s charge anew along with gunner Jeric Teng, efficient forward Aljon Mariano and vastly-improving Kevin Ferrer.
Among the four, it's the 6-foot-4 Ferrer who thrills Jarencio the most, even pointing out the former UAAP juniors MVP has all the tools to fully develop into one of the league’s elite.
“‘Yung talent and skills ni Kevin, andyan na. Makikita mo na nag-ma-mature na talaga ‘yung laro niya. He’s destined to be great. Consistency na lang talaga ang kailangan niya matutunan. Kasama kasi siya sa puzzle ng team (to win it all),” he said.
Instead of dwelling on the past, Jarencio opted to look what to the immediate future, saying: “Hindi naman kami kinapos last year. Kung tutuusin, overachieved pa nga kasi wala naman tumitingin sa amin ng magsimula ‘yung season. Ang focus lang namin, kung saan mapupunta ang team ngayon.”
His team considered by many as a genuine title threat, Jarencio deflected the hype and stressed “almost all the teams, lumakas. Syempre National University at La Salle ang talagang tinitignan ngayon. Pero andyan pa rin ang Ateneo, Far Eastern University at University of the East. Kaya nasa lahat rin ng coaches ang pressure.
"Kami naman, ready mambulaga ulit. Basta ako sigurado box office kami. UST–una sa takilya,” Jarencio said in jest.
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