MANILA — National University is ready to take things to the next level in UAAP Season 86.
After their third-place finish last year, losing only to the UP Fighting Maroons in the Final Four, the Bulldogs are looking forward to making a splash in the upcoming season headed by their young veterans Kean Baclaan and Steve Nash Enriquez.
“Ready naman na siya,” said head coach Jeff Napa of Baclaan in an interview with Noli Eala’s Power & Play on Saturday.
The incoming sophomore tallied 7.92 points, 3.38 rebounds, and 4.15 assists in his elimination round games as a rookie for NU last season, which is why Napa is preserving Baclaan and the rest of the team until the season starts September 30.
“Iniiwasan natin yung mga [injuries], safety precaution na ‘rin para sa team. Hinahada na lang namin sila. Ayaw na rin namin ma preempt yung aming season due to injuries. We’ll see, coming into our first game, ready na yan lahat,” he continued.
Napa also expressed how he is expecting more from his court general in Enriquez, especially with the departure of one of their standouts in John Lloyd Clemente.
“Last year he’s playing with injuries so medyo nakulangan ako. Pero this year, mabigat na responsibilities yung binigay ko sa kanya dahil siyempre, yun nga Kean is Kean na, so right now, more on leader na siya ngayon. Kahit third year pa lang, yung maturity na i-gather niya yung team para mag-unite as a group, yun yung malaking factor talaga samin,” said the former NU sniper.
“JLC is JLC, pero di naman kami tumatakbo sa isang player lang. Alam naman ng mga tao na di ako nagre-rely sa isang tao lang. Happy naman ako na, I think 18 players kami ngayon, they compete with each other.”
“Sa pagkawala ni JLC, meron naman nag step-up especially don sa mga rookies na papasok. Happy ako na nakakapag-jell sila sa mga sophomores and veterans,” he added.
Another player who will be helping them is former Juniors MVP Reinhard Jumamoy, and Napa is glad of how the 5-foot-11, 19-year-old Cebuano guard is doing so far in his stint with the seniors.
“Pinrove niya naman nung high school, pero definitely, different story ngayong college," said the former Letran coach of Jumamoy.
“Pino-prove niya na kasama siya don kay Steve at kay Kean. Talagang nagpapagalingan silang tatlo. Happy ako na nag-commit siya samin at nag stay para makatulong sa program namin dito sa NU.”
And with the trio alongside the rest of the Bulldogs squad having an eventful and productive offseason that even saw them finish third at the 2023 FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup, Napa is turning up his expectations for the team come Season 86.
“Kung ano yung na-achieve namin last year, kailangan ma-surpass namin yun. Pero ‘di namin magagawa yon kung puro kami salita. If we will not go all out, eh magkakaron tayo ng problema,” he said.
“Yung winning mentality, hindi na dapat yun Final Four lang yung tinitignan natin, kasi siyempre kahit papano, hindi naman masamang mangarap, so yung championship level, yun yung kailangan ma-achieve for this year.”
“Kailangan trabahuhin. Walang imposible, libreng mangarap, so yun yung mindset na nagiging approach namin at ini-instill ko sa mga players ko,” he added.
And despite powerhouses such as UP, La Salle, and Ateneo also having great off-seasons, what Napa assures is that opponents will have to bring their A-game as well when they face National-U.
“Actually I don’t consider na we are the top favorites eh. Ang favorites dyan yung Ateneo, La Salle, and UP. Kumbaga andun lang kami sa middle, pero rest assured, we will fight and we will compete up to the last,” Napa said.
“Just like last year, we were very competitive. Up to the last talagang pino-prove namin na we belong.”
“Kailangan niyo kaming respetuhin rin.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES