MANILA, Philippines – For the second straight season, the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (CSB) Blazers are off to a fine start in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Just like in Season 94, the Blazers have won their first two games, beating Emilio Aguinaldo College and University of Perpetual Help to earn a share of the early lead in Season 95.
But CSB coach TY Tang is wary of looking too far ahead, having seen how the Blazers' campaign fell off the rails in Season 94. Last year, they finished with a 6-3 record at the end of the first round, and appeared headed to the Final 4.
They won just four more games, however, and suffered upsets to teams like Mapua University and Emilio Aguinaldo College. They finished with a 10-8 slate, one game behind eventual fourth-placer University of Perpetual Help.
When asked about their promising start, Tang simply said: "Well, right now, it's just a step in our journey."
"We're not even thinking of the destination for now. We've learned our lesson from last year," he added.
CSB had retained its core from last season, with Justin Gutang, Clement Leutcheu, Unique Naboa, and James Pasturan all a year older and wiser.
Tang is hopeful that their team has become more mature after enduring last year's disappointing campaign, and thus is more ready for the rigors of a long NCAA season.
"We're hoping that this can really build our confidence and our toughness going into towards the last stretch of this season," he said.
"Hopefully we sustain the consistency that we now have," he added.
What gives Tang reason for optimism is that the Blazers can only get better once they are fully healthy. Leutcheu is still working his way back from a quad strain, while veteran swingman Yankie Haruna has yet to play after sustaining a broken jaw.
"Clement is cleared to play, but in terms of being there 100%, he was absent for one month, I think, of physical contact. So I wouldn't say he's at his best right now," said Tang.
"Yankie is a day to day basis. We're trying to make sure if he can get clearance for physical contact by this week. But it's still day to day depending on how his stamina is and how his conditioning will be," he added.
The good news is that CSB has a long break before their next game. They won't play again until July 25, when they take on Mapua.
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