#NCAA99: BPC predicts Benilde Blazers as NCAA Champions


Benildean Opening Article

Before the NCAA hits its century mark, let’s take a look at how this coming season will present itself.

By Driks Valencia, and Pio Lorenzo Perez | Saturday, 23 September 2023

NCAA Basketball is back soon and all 10 teams are ready to wear their school colors with joy and pride. As the games begin on Sept. 24, the Benildean Press Corps breaks down how each squad will perform for the 99th season. 

De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde Blazers

Previous standing: 1st

The immature Blazers could not overtake the battle-tested Letran Knights last season, who completed their three-peat run. It was not just another heated and exciting three-game finals series where the team made its first appearance since 2002, but rather a testament on how far the Benilde basketball program has gone yet how much they still have to go if they want to be the kings of collegiate basketball. 

Key Additions: Zenric Jarque, Felipe Marasigan, Paul Turco, Rajko Toroman

With an offseason full of raking in new players, expect Zenric Jarque, Felipe Marasigan, and Paul Turco to be the next men up to fill their respective roles. Jarque and Marasigan during the pre-season tourneys proved to be solid microwaves. Turco is a big who is expected to carryover Mark SangcoMiguel Corteza and Will Gozum’s energy when they are on the bench. However, the biggest of boss moves the front office did was hiring former Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman, who will be the team’s consultant.

Major Losses: JC Cullar, Jimboy Pasturan

These two Blazers were there for the ups and downs of Benilde basketball. Unfortunately, as much as Benildeans want to see them one more time, it is time for them to pass the torch to the next era of guards who can follow their footsteps on what being a true Blazer guard is all about; being good leaders and having a big heart. Of course, we are talking about Jose Carlos Cullar and Jimboy Pasturan, who are now transitioning to their professional careers in basketball.

Prediction: 1st

Coming off of a near-Championship season, at this point, the Blazers have no real enemies but themselves. For a team that only tends to trend upwards based on their progress for the past couple of seasons, the sky’s the limit for them. Their own vulnerability is going to be their biggest adversity this time because if they want to be the best, they have to be consistently great all the way, which was what they almost achieved last season. 

San Beda University (SBU) Red Lions

Previous standing: 4th

Getting knocked out last season by the Blazers in the final four match, the Red Lions were definitely a team that wished they saw themselves going up against their archrival in the finals. The past couple of seasons by the team look good from the casual fan’s eye. But in San Beda standards, being the most glorious team in NCAA history, it is definitely uncharacteristic to not see them top the standings. 

Key Additions: Coach Norman Black

The San Beda basketball program used their smarts on who they add to their team this offseason by adding more brains behind the scenes. Of course, we are talking about multiple champion and well decorated coach, Norman Black, who will be the Red Lions’ consultant, reuniting with a former player of his in head coach Yuri Escueta

Major Losses: Tony Ynot, Justine Sanchez, James Kwekuteye

A huge bummer for the Red Lions not only because they left with signs of progress during their tenure with them, especially Tony Ynot who once had a 25-point outburst in season 98, but also because it was to the Benilde Blazers they settled to. Ynot and Justine Sanchez showcased some memorable outings during the offseason, especially in the Filbasket tournament, which resulted in mythical five appearances. A great kick to the gut for the school that already did not hear a response from their star player in James Kwekuteye, who turned pro this same month.

Prediction: 2nd

The real player here is coach Escueta. For a league that caters towards star-reliant offenses, Escueta has brought a new identity of basketball to the Red Lions. Quite like his fellow former schoolmate coach Charles Tiu of the Blazers, with also the help of Black, Escueta’s involvement in his team has been as deep as their star players. Jacob CortezPeter Alfaro, and Yukien Andrada are expected to take charge as they try to turn back time and make San Beda great again.

San Sebastian College–Recoletos (SSC-R) Golden Stags

Previous standing: 5th

Being the nearest out of the final four, the Golden Stags had a 44.4% win percentage, resulting in a very mediocre season. A wall created by the elites in Benilde, SBU, CJSL, and LPU was something they could only hope to get past with.

Key Additions: Coach John Kallos

After six seasons, San Sebastian decided to have a change of scenery in the head coaching job by tapping in coach John Kallos. Kallos recently coached in the MPBL under the Sarangani Marlins, which he helped and headed to the quarter finals.

Major Losses: Itchie Altamirano, Rhinwil Yambing

San Sebastian players have and always have been good breeders of professional ball players. It is no surprise that some of the Golden Stags’ most familiar players got selected by their respective teams in the draft, which in turn would be a void for the program. Rhinwill Yambing was still eligible to play in the upcoming season, however, after a breakout Season 98, he ultimately decided to declare for the PBA draft. 

Prediction: 3rd

This is very much a wild card prediction. But when thinking of San Sebastian, one name comes to mind: Rommel Calahat. One of the shining stars of the NCAA, Calahat has been an efficient double-digit scorer and a monster on the boards. Not to mention he was also a part of season 98’s all-defensive team. Don’t forget about Raymart Escobido, who showed promising signs to become their next lead guard. Together with a new coach, the potential dominance of the Golden Stags could bring glitters to their school.

Collegio San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights

Previous standing: Champions

Giving everyone the impression like they swept the scene in a mafia movie, the Letran Knights have been putting their feet on everyone’s neck for the past seasons. The villainous aura they gave after kissing the championship trophy for the third straight time can only stress out other schools and spoil Letranites for a fruitful team, coaching staff, and front office they have. From top to bottom, Letran set the bar on what it takes to be the best basketball program in the NCAA.

Key Additions: no key additions

Major Losses: Coach Bonnie Tan, Fran Yu, Brent Paraiso, Louie Sangalang, King Caralipio, Tommy Olivario

Some steers by the program were done during the offseason as their beloved championship coach had left the scene to pursue a head coaching job in the PBA, although his position was to be succeeded by coach Rensy Bajar. On the player side of things, the Knights’ core for the past few years which resulted in three consecutive NCAA golds have graduated and transitioned to the professional league. This is the most vulnerable this Letran team has ever been in recent memory to say the least. 

Prediction: 4th

Two words: Kurt Reyson. Expect Reyson to not only be the life of Letran, but to the entire NCAA as a whole as he has the chance to take the title as the best guard in the NCAA. The new team captain was a 20-point machine during the pre-season matchups and the weather forecast can tell us he’s going to continue to make it rain in season 99. While a slight fall from grace may occur in the program, the thing with Letran is that anyone can be a star. 

Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bombers

Previous standing: 7th

The infamous JRU Heavy Bombers have a clean slate to work with this season. It is very unfortunate how the disgraceful event possibly affected the trajectory of their season and overshadowed how good they actually were. Their performance in season 98 was impressive to say the least, initially being part of the final four in the early months of the tournament, the Heavy Bombers was a team to watch out for, until the unfortunate happened. 

Key Additions: no key additions

Major Losses: No major losses

Prediction: 5th

Coach Louie Gonzales has turned his squad into hustlers, runners, and fighters, sometimes to a fault. You can’t watch a JRU game and not feel some type of exhaustion from watching how their players move with maximum effort. The Heavy Bombers are the type of team that the elite ones would absolutely hate going up against. This is a mob that can beat the best ones if they are given the leeway. While guys like Agem Miranda and Ry Dela Rosa will continue to develop into the faces of JRU, Joshua Guiab and Marwin Dionisio are going to give opposing stars a hard time.

Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates

Previous standing: 3rd

Statistically speaking, the Pirates were third overall in the last season with 12 wins and 6 losses. The team was able to maintain a good solid run coming into the playoffs led by rising stars Enoch ValdezShawn UmaliMac Guadana and the ever reliable guard Enzo Navarro, but the eventual champions, Letran Knights, managed to stop their momentum, and sent them home early in the playoffs.

Key Additions: No Key Addition

Major Loss: Enzo Navarro

The Pirates will certainly miss a big piece in the form of the veteran guard, Navarro, the former team captain, was the go-to guy of the head tactician, Gilbert Malabanan, especially down the stretch, when the Pirates needed a bucket. Aside from his scoring creativity, the Pirates will also miss his efficient passing ability as he has been the main floor general for the team. 

Prediction: 6th

The Pirates were very solid last season, led by the mighty bruiser Valdez, a much stronger Umali and their young rising stars in John Barba and Renz Villegas, who both showed glimpses of the future in the latter part of the season. Reaching the final four must be more challenging this coming season, as teams are now more loaded. But, expect this team to still dominate in season 99 as they still have the experience they need and a very solid core in their roster. 

Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) Generals

Previous Standing: 10th

Things weren’t favorable for the Generals during Season 98, as they placed last in the standings accumulating only 3 wins and 15 losses. Despite defeating the runner-ups, the Benilde Blazers, the team was just not consistent in executing good outputs. But on the positive note, they have found their trust in their rising star Nat Cosejo, who always delivers in the crucial games of the Generals. 

Key Additions: Coach Jerson Cabiltes

The EAC Generals surely made some big changes during the off-season, as they have changed their coaching staff. The addition of Coach Jerson Cabiltes made an immediate impact to the team’s overall playing system. Proven by their preseason campaign, the Generals have improved their offense as Coach Cabiltes made sure that the ball is evenly distributed. 

Major Loss: Allen Liwag

The Generals lost a very efficient frontcourt in Allen Liwag. Liwag made a controversial move of transferring to the Taft squad of the Benilde Blazers. His departure from the team surely made a big hole in the frontline of the team. 

Prediction: 7th

The Generals have something to show this coming season, after showing an elite performance during their preseason campaign. Now handled by the decorated tactician, Cabiltes, the new system seems to work efficiently for the Generals. As observed through their statistics during the preseason, the scoring delegation of the team is evenly spread through the whole roster. Certainly, EAC will climb up the ladders from their previous last-place standing. Their revamped coaching system made the expectations high for them.  

University of Perpetual Help System-DALTA (UPHSD) Altas

Previous Standing: 9th

Despite the very low standing, having seven wins and eleven losses, the Altas were a threat from last season, even defeating the Blazers in the second round of the season. The team was a definition of hustle and grit, over exhausting the opposite teams and taking advantage of the fastbreak opportunities. Even though the team is filled with sharp shooting guards and skilled bigs, their talents just could not translate their performance as a team, taking the ninth place overall. 

Key Additions: No Key additions

Major Losses: Kim Aurin

The Altas will lose the scoring machine, Kim Aurin, as he chose to enter the professional ranks already. Despite his loss, the Altas are still intact with their line-up, maintaining their core for the season 99. 

Prediction: 8th

The Altas have been very solid in their preseason tournaments, even going head-to-head against UAAP title contenders Ateneo Blue Eagles and DLSU Green Archers. Aurin’s departure may not affect them much because of their quality backcourt department led by Rey Barcuma and Carlo Ferreras. They also retain the services of Mark Omega, who was very dominant on the boards and was part of the mythical 5 last season. Expect a more mature team in the Perpetual Altas heading into the season. 

Mapua University (MU) Cardinals

Previous Standing: 8th

From being the runner up in season 97 to dropping in to the 8th place in season 98, the Cardinals surely didn’t meet the expectations of the media. The team only placed eighth overall with seven wins and eleven losses. Despite maintaining their core line-up heading into the season 98, the Cardinals failed to execute the expectations on them. The team accumulated nine straight losses early in the season, which also translates to their unsatisfying outing heading into the second round. 

Key Additions: Clint Escamis

A familiar face will be returning to the Cardinals’ den coming into the season. Former Mapua Red Robin, Clint Escamis, will suit up for Mapua once again, now for the seniors squad. The former NCAA Juniors MVP already served his one year residency after transferring from the UE Red Warriors. Expect Escamis to be a problem for the opponents once their campaign begins. 

Major Loss: Joaquin Garcia

The Mapua Cardinals will enter the season without the shifty Joaquin Garcia who suffered a severe ankle injury. Garcia was opted out of the NCAA Season 99 and will return to the squad for the centennial season. 

Prediction: 9th

The Mapua Cardinals just made a statement during the preseason tournaments. Shocking teams by doing upset wins, thanks to the help of the returning Escamis who certainly overpowered the guard spot. Expect also a hungry Warren Bonifacio, who will certainly go all out as he will be serving his final playing year as a Cardinal. However, they have lost a valuable guard in Garcia who suffered an ankle injury and declared not fit to play for season 99. This loss in the backcourt offense of the Cardinals may affect them as they have been very reliant into their outside scoring. 

Arellano University (AU) Chiefs

Previous Standing: 6th

The Arellano University Chiefs finished the previous season with seven wins and eleven losses. A good first round performance made hopes high for them, but luck didn’t favor them in the second round, accumulating losses after losses despite the heroic efforts of the eventual rookie of the year, Cade Flores

Key Additions: No key additions

Major Losses: Axel Doromal, Cade Flores, Shane Menina

The Chiefs will enter the season losing their key players in Axel DoromalCade Flores, and Shane Menina, essentially the core of the Chiefs last season. They have lost experience and a huge load of skills in their line-up, the coming season will absolutely be a lot more challenging for the team. 

Prediction: 10th

The Chiefs are currently in a rebuilding phase, not only with its players but also its coaching staff. This also means that a new system is also in effect for the team. With all the star players, who did most of the load last season, now gone, the Chiefs are certainly in a challenging position of looking who’s the next man up for the team.

Last updated: Saturday, 23 September 2023

Reposted with permission from The Benildean

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