MANILA -- A revamped Letran side kicks off its title defense on Sunday when the NCAA Season 99 basketball tournament opens at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Knights will face off against Jose Rizal University at 3:00 p.m., after the opening ceremonies scheduled for 2:00 p.m.
Letran now features a new coach in Rensy Bajar, who has been tapped to take over from Bonnie Tan. They are also moving forward after losing Fran Yu, Louie Sangalang, Brent Paraiso, King Caralipio and Tommy Olivario -- all of whom played vital roles in last year's title-winning campaign.
"We lost some of the leaders of the team and key players from past campaigns but we will work harder to compete and make the school and our fans proud," said Bajar.
Expected to carry the mantle of responsibility for the Knights is Kurt Reyson as their new team captain.
"[I] will do my best to try to lead by example," said Reyson, who showcased his readiness with some high-scoring performances in preseason tournaments.
For the Heavy Bombers, it's all about improving upon last season's campaign after they labored to a 7-11 win-loss record.
"I expect better days," said coach Louie Gonzales.
College of St. Benilde, runners up the past two seasons, launches its own title bid minus reigning MVP Will Gozum, who will serve a one-game suspension following a head-butting incident that also involved Letran’s Pao Javillonar in the deciding Game 3 of last season’s finale.
The Blazers will be battling the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates at 5:30 p.m.
"We will be out without Will Gozum but we will go out there and compete," said CSB mentor Charles Tiu, who is expected to parade an almost intact team headed by skipper Robi Nayve, Miguel Oczon, Mark Sangco, Miguel Corteza and Prince Carlos.
LPU coach Gilbert Malabanan vowed to pick up from a strong effort a year ago when they finished in the Final Four.
"We learned a lot from last season and we hope to continue learning this year," said Malabanan, whose roster has returnees, skipper Enoch Valdez, McLaude Guadana, Shawn Umali and John Bravo among others.