MANILA - For a team with almost the same roster that came a victory short of making it in last year's Final Four, the Emilio Aguinaldo Generals are brimming with confidence entering the 90th NCAA basketball tournament.
Cameroonian big man Noube Happi, Jan Jamon, Igee King, John Tayongtong, Jack Arquero and Sidney Onwubere are returning this season with hopes of surpassing the Generals' surprising 5th place finish a year back, their best finish since joining the oldest collegiate league 5 years back.
EAC won 10 of its 18 games, or just one win short of making the Final Four last year, but instead of dampening the hopes of coach Gerald Esplana's charges for the upcoming season, it did the opposite thing.
"Nagkaroon ng kumpiyansa ang mga bata sa experience namin last year kasi naisip nila na kaya naman pala," said Esplana.
Esplana said a Final Four appearance this year is attainable but they will need to double their efforts for them to achieve their goal.
"Syempre, mas kailangang doblehin pa namin ang effort kasi lumakas din naman ang ibang team," he added.
The Generals also hope to draw strength from their rookies, Ariel Aguilar of Valenzuela, Manel Quilanita of Laguna, John Santos and Jerald Serrano of Pampanga, and Jozhua General of University of the Philippines Intergrated School.
Esplana said though that San Beda, the league's dynasty team after reigning supreme the last four seasons and winning championships in seven of the last eight years, remains to be the league's yardstick.
"I know everyone will agree with me if I say San Beda is still the team to beat," said Esplana. "For us to have a good season, we need to find a way to beat San Beda or at least show them we can compete against them."
This is where the 6'7" Happi will come in. The Cameroonian will be relied on to challenge San Beda's Nigerian import Ola Adeogun, who should be the favorite to win this year's MVP plum.
"Kelangan talaga mag-step up si Cedric (Happi) pero ang pinakasusi, team effort and tulungan dahil ang basketball naman pinapapanalo sa pamamagitan ng teamwork," said Esplana.
"Example na lang yung San Antonio Spurs sa NBA, tinalo nila si LeBron James at Miami Heat dahil sa team effort," he added.
The league unfurls with reigning titlist San Beda clashing with host Jose Rizal at 1 p.m., and last year's runner up Letran tackling San Sebastian at 3 p.m. on June 28 at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City.