MANILA, Philippines – The San Juan Knights know they have become the yardstick of Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) teams, after emerging as its first-ever national champion.
But they are up to the challenge of defending their title when the league opens its new season come June 12.
"Lahat ng teams alam namin nagpalakas lalo, kaya ready lang kami," said coach Randy Alcantara.
The Knights clinched the title on the road, beating the Davao Occidental Tigers in the deciding Game 5, 87-86, to rule the league's Datu Cup.
Five days after their conquest, Alcantara and the Knights appeared in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Amelie Hotel-Manila on Tuesday where they savored the feeling of having to go through the eye of the needle in beating the Tigers and frustrating the capacity crowd that trooped at the Rizal Memorial Colleges gym to cheer the home team.
"Sabi nga ni coach Randy, babawi kami sa Game 5 at doon namin sila tatalunin sa homecourt nila," said Game 5 hero Jhonard Clarito. "Para kung anuman 'yung nararamdaman naming sakit nung tinalo nila kami sa homecourt naming (Game 4), mas dobleng masakit sa kanila na natalo sila sa homecourt (nila)."
Clarito was the one to seal the title for the Knights, scoring their last six points including the go-ahead bucket in the final 8 seconds of their dramatic Game 5 victory.
Clarito was joined by teammates Mike Ayonayon, veteran John Wilson, team executive Chris Conwi, team patron Jeremy Go of Go For Gold, and MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes in the session.
Following the title conquest, cohesiveness and experience have definitely become the Knights' biggest edge from the rest of the field, which augurs well in their bid for a back-to-back title.
"Ang advantage namin may experience na kami ng championship. 'Yung heart ng champion nasa kanila na," said Alcantara, who attended the event wearing the MPBL championship ring that is reportedly worth P100,000.
"Sa dami ng teams, 'yung ibang players naglipatan, more challenging para sa amin ito. 'Yung mga players, mga coaches matututo dito sa ganitong mga laban," he added.
Asked directly about the prospect of winning a second straight championship, Alcantara answered in a playful manner.
"Yun talaga ang plano namin, punuin namin 'yung daliri (namin) ng singsing," the coach said.
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