Letran: Coming Around
Was it really just the middle of the last decade that Letran was still a powerhouse in the NCAA? It seemed no one could match up against the Knights of head coach Louie Alas back then. They had wall to wall All Stars in Mark Andaya, Ronjay Enrile, Aaron Aban, Boyet Bautista, Jonathan Aldave, JP Alcaraz, Jonathan Pinera, and Eric Rodriguez. In a three-year span they won two NCAA championships, and it seemed there would be no end to it. But sic transit gloria mundis indeed.
They were still able to bring some talent up to the senior division and most of it was even homegrown right from their own Squires program. Current Smart Gilas mainstays RJ Jazul and Ray Guevarra are arguably the most prominent ones over the last couple of years. They also had Kojak Melegrito, Reymar Gutilban, Ray Dangcal (who figured in a terrible motoring accident about a year ago), John Foronda, Bryan Faundo, Alvin Cabonce, Regin Ranises, Clarence Foronda and Anjoe Latonio. It is perhaps the misfortune of this last group of Knights that they came together during that incredible grand slam title reign of San Beda. They even disputed one of San Beda’s three straight titles during this time.
Louie Alas no longer has the tall, highly talented and athletic roster he used to have. He is working with a limited deck now. But precisely because this is Letran no one should count them out. This is still a team that knows how to operate as a unit, play tough (some might say dirty) defense, pound the game into a grind-it-out affair, and even surprise the supposedly top tier teams.
Spearheading the Knights this time around are a pair of unlikely leaders: 5-foot-11 guard Kevin Alas, Louie’s boy, and 6-foot-4 power forward Jamison Cortes. Alas can shoot the lights out and has range that extends to the parking lot. Unfortunately, he has not gotten any of the easy looks he used to get in high school. All of the other shooting guards and even some of the pointguards in college are his size or bigger and stronger. He’s had to improve his ability to attack defenses with his dribble, and to use more screens than he used to.
Cortes has been a career role player, but he is now the new leader of the frontline. He has little say in the matter as the only returning big man of note. To his credit he has not shunned the role, getting good numbers in the offseason tournaments the Knights joined. He will have to be ready to do a lot of heavy lifting on his own though, since Letran is pretty thin up front. 6-foot-5 Jomar Datang may or may not be returning to the lineup.
One other returning veteran of note is JP Belencion, a 6-foot-1 gunner with an unorthodox shooting form. Belencion is a more college-ready shooter than Alas, better built and stronger, and he can play a 3/4 role in a small lineup if necessary. Belencion however is suspect on defense and winds up giving up as many points as he scores. That is quite a mouthful for a man who could easily erupt for 30 points in any given game, as he did last season.
Speaking of the Squires, their failed title run last season should give them extra motivation this season. Diminutive pointguard Mark Cruz is the new team leader.