MANILA, Philippines -- Colegio de San Juan de Letran made an offseason splash by acquiring a trio of players from University of Santo Tomas (UST), including highly-touted swingman Rhenz Abando.
It is a big move for the reigning NCAA champions, who dethroned archrivals San Beda University in a thrilling three-game series in the Season 95 finals last year. With Abando, Ira Bataller and Brent Paraiso in the fold, they are assured of having standout players in their roster for the foreseeable future.
For Letran coach Bonnie Tan, accepting the former UST players to his squad was a no-brainer.
"We were surprised na tumawag sa amin, kung pupwede ba daw maging part ng programa ng Letran," said Tan during an appearance on "The Chasedown" recently.
"For a coach, it's hard to resist or parang tanggihan 'yung possible partnership for these kind of experienced players," he admitted.
The trio's exit from UST was part of a massive exodus of players from the Growling Tigers program in the wake of the "Sorsogon bubble" controversy -- an issue that has already led to the resignation of erstwhile head coach Aldin Ayo. He has since been banned indefinitely by the UAAP.
Tan, who led the Knights to the title last season in his first season as head coach, said they met several times with Abando and company, as they also had offers from other schools.
"Ayaw naman nating mapilit na maglaro sa atin, mamaya tayo pa ang maka-ano sa basketball career nila. Again, gusto lang nating makatulong dito, and we're happy na na-consider 'yung Letran," he said.
As happy as he is to welcome the trio to the Knights, Tan also acknowledged that their arrival threw a wrench in their plans as far as roster construction is concerned.
"Three players na madagdag bigla sa programa niyo, medyo mag-iisip din tayo sa other players na naka-abang sa atin," he said. "Medyo mahihirapan din kahit papaano."
"Pero napag-usapan din at nakausap din ang mga players namin, lalo na ang mga beterano namin, para maging open din sa kanila at maging clear kung ano 'yung objective natin, bakit natin ia-acquire 'yung tatlong players," he added.
After sitting out Season 96 for residency, Paraiso and Abando will have two more seasons of eligibility, while Bataller has three left. They will join a team that features Season 95 Finals MVP Fran Yu, who emerged as a star for Letran in their series against San Beda.
Maximizing the talent of his loaded line-up will be crucial for Tan, as the Knights seek to build a dynasty of their own in the NCAA.
"As a coach, lahat naman siguro maga-agree na mas magandang may problema na may materyales na gagamitin kesa sa walang materyales na gagamitin sa game," said Tan.
"Again, happy lang kami lahat na na-finalize namin 'yung partnership namin with the three players," he added.
The spotlight on him and the Knights will be inevitably magnified following the arrival of the former UST players, but Tan said they welcome the additional pressure.
"Pressure 'yun sa lahat naman siguro ng coaches, mabigyan ng ganitong players. Pero, doon tayo natututo at doon tayo siguro gagaling din, sa pressure," he said.
Abando, Bataller and Paraiso will watch on the sidelines as the Knights defend their title in Season 96. Basketball is one of four mandatory sports that will be played in the NCAA next season, as the league had to limit their events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.