Boyet Fernandez of San Beda addresses questions from the media during the NCAA Season 90 press conference held at the SM MOA Arena. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – San Beda head coach Boyet Fernandez is not expecting the Red Lions to simply cruise to a fifth consecutive NCAA title, as he believes the other teams in the league have improved a lot.
"It's a well-balanced tournament right now," Fernandez told reporters after a press conference at the Mall of Asia Arena on Monday. "You cannot really tell if we can beat this team or not."
San Beda secured a fourth straight men's basketball championship after beating the Letran Knights in the Season 89 finals. It was also their seventh title in the past eight seasons, and 18th overall.
A fifth title is far from a done deal, however, even with the core of last year's championship team returning. Skipper Rome dela Rosa is gone, having used up his eligibility years, but star point guard Baser Amer and big man Ola Adeogun will still suit up for the Red Lions.
Season 89 Finals MVP Art dela Cruz will also be back, along with David and Anthony Semerad, who were crucial to San Beda's run to the finals of the Filoil pre-season tournament.
"Okay naman ang team namin," he said. "We have four rookies, and the other guys are coming back… Balanse naman kami. I’m just happy with what they're doing right now in practice, and how they played in the Filoil."
"But Filoil is summer league," he quickly added. "Hopefully, what we've done in the Filoil and in the next few weeks, ma-combine namin para maging stable kami for the NCAA."
Unlike in previous seasons, the coaches of the other teams are not so quick to anoint San Beda as the title favorites, and this is cause for relief for Fernandez.
"I'm happy about it. I'm happy that they're not saying that we are the strongest," Fernandez said. "And I think they believe that they're strong teams as well, so hindi pwedeng San Beda na lang lagi."
"I believe that all the teams are really strong, so for me, it’s a tough season for us, looking ahead to the NCAA."
San Beda opens its five-peat campaign on June 28 at the Mall of Asia Arena, when it takes on host school Jose Rizal University.