MANILA, Philippines -- Jose Rizal University (JRU) coach Vergel Meneses was quite unsurprised at how the Heavy Bombers struggled in the NCAA Season 94 men’s basketball tournament.
The Heavy Bombers made the Final 4 three times in the last four seasons, but they were utterly hapless in Season 94.
On Tuesday, they concluded their campaign with an 84-68 loss to the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde Blazers to end with a 3-15 slate.
“Noong simula, actually bago pa lang mag-start ang season, natanggap ko na eh,” Meneses said after the game, when asked about JRU’s poor performance this year. “Talagang alam kong mangyayari at mangyayari to eh.”
Their 3-15 record was the worst in Meneses’ nine years in charge. His second worst year was all the way back in 2013, when the Heavy Bombers managed just six wins.
Meneses noted that their team didn’t fully come together until there was just a month to go before the season officially started. He also had no foreign student-athletes this year, after relying on Abdoul Poutouchi and Abdulrazak Abdulwahab for the past couple of years.
JRU relied on Jed Mendoza to carry their offense for the bulk of the season, though MJ Dela Virgen had his shining moments. Still, they simply lacked the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the league.
“Alam ko na mag-struggle talaga eh. Tinanggap ko na 'yun eh,” said Meneses.
Still, Meneses will take the small victories. He touts the improvements shown by his team in the second round, along with the flashes of potential shown by his players.
“Well sa akin, pagdating ng second round, napakagandang improvement para sa team compared ng first round. Talagang nakita niyo naman 'yung performance. Noong second round, nakita niyo naman 'yung mga players na may potential, lumabas na,” he said.
“Ang importante, there's a good sign na noong second round, meron kaming mga games na dapat mananalo na. 'Yung sa end game lang bumibigay,” he added.
He specified JR Aguilar as one player who showed great improvement. The forward had 12 points and 9 rebounds in their loss on Tuesday.
“Ang laki ng potential ng bata,” Meneses said.
Next year figures to be different for Meneses and the Heavy Bombers. As early as now, he has informed the members of the current roster that not all of them are assured of spots in next season’s squad. He is anticipating six members of the current JRU Light Bombers team to make their way to the seniors’ program.
“'Yung mga iba na bata, if they're willing to stay naman, pwede naman sila sa Team B. Pero 'pag tingin nila na sa ibang school, makaka-adapt sila, hindi ko naman sila pinipigilan. Career nila 'yun eh. Pag may nagpaalam naman sa akin, talagang pinapayagan ko naman,” he said.
The crucial factor will be Mendoza, who averaged 15 points per game for JRU this year but clearly struggled to carry his team. Meneses is hoping that the guard will return to play in his final season of eligibility.
“Sabi ko nga sa kanya, one more year. Next year, hindi naman ganyan ang magiging line-up. At least, may core na talaga na sanay na sa sistema,” Meneses said.
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