MANILA, Philippines – The National University (NU) Bulldogs are optimistic about their chances in the upcoming UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament despite losing two of their star players, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and Emmanuel Mbe.
Mbe has exhausted his eligibility, while Parks opted not to suit up for NU in his final playing year and is now in the United States, where he is hoping to be drafted into the NBA.
"Malaking adjustment talaga (for us) this year, kasi nine (players) ang bago namin, and… especially since ang mga nawala sa amin ay key players," NU head coach Eric Altamirano said in an interview on "The Score" Wednesday night.
Parks and Mbe were the heart and soul of NU, providing not only a bulk of the scoring but also leading the way on the defensive end. With the two now gone, Altamirano said it is going to take a "collective effort" from the Bulldogs if they wish to continue competing at a high level.
"'Yung output namin will not come from one or two players," said Altamirano. "Ngayon talaga, it can come from a lot of players, so parang 'yun 'yung identity that we’re trying to build this season – to be unpredictable."
This is both an advantage and a disadvantage, according to Altamirano, because while they are harder to scout now, they also become more vulnerable as they are fielding in a young team.
"Vulnerability namin is 'yung youth and inexperience," said Altamirano. "'Yun 'yung isang bagay that we are trying to improve, and hopefully, pagdating ng season, we’ll be able to have a better, more mature team."
Composure and poise
The Bulldogs were among the favorites to contend for the title last year, and indeed they entered the Final Four as the top-seed. But for the second consecutive year, they were beaten by the UST Growling Tigers, who overcame a twice-to-beat disadvantage to make it to the Finals.
Altamirano said the painful experience has taught them the importance of poise and composure in endgame situations.
"Yun talaga ang ine-emphasize namin ngayon, even in our practices – the ability to handle the pressure, especially in the crucial part of the game," he said.
"I think 'yung game namin last season, ‘yung last game namin, it really boiled down to the final five minutes of the game," he added. "So there are a lot of things to be learned there, is na nga 'yung maturity, how to handle crucial situations."
Altamirano believes the future remains bright for the Bulldogs, even if they do have to start from scratch after losing two of their best players.
"We have a good set of players, very promising," he said. "So again, you have to start from the beginning again after losing all these players (but) maganda naman, maganda naman 'yung turnover namin."
"We have promising players, so I think maganda ‘yung continuity ng program," he added.