JRU: Could and Should
by Joe Buduan
Jose Rizal University has seen two seasons practically slip through their fingers. Last season should have been their season, their championship, the culmination of several years of recruitment and seasoning and training. Instead they could not even muster a way into the Season 85 Finals. Sure, hotshot gunner John Wilson was named the league Most Valuable Player, and he did put up great numbers and placed among the Top 5 in all statistical categories of note. Unfortunately they just did not have enough in the tank to get past the Final 4. However, the unexpected loss to injury of 6-foot-9 Cameroonian center Etame Joe would be telling, as the JRU frontline just could not muster enough production against tall and talented frontlines. Joe might have been a real difference-maker in that regard.
In Season 84, they managed to get into the Finals to face the mighty Red Lions. They were confident they could at least match up against San Beda, anchored on the mighty Nigerian giant and two-time MVP, 6-foot-8 Samuel Ekwe. After all, they did beat the Red Lions in the eliminations of this season with an unorthodox approach that saw a lot of mad outside bombing. They almost made it, forcing a deciding Game 3 in a series that turned out to be a lot harder fought and a lot more competitive than anyone thought. Back then, the Heavy Bombers still had the now-deceased forward-center Jason Nocom to provide added depth in the frontline, as well as buff swingman Maui Pradas. One might say their Season 84 roster was even stronger than their Season 85 lineup.
Plenty of observers really thought with the maturity and unity of a roster that grew up together over the last three or so years, as well as the emergence of Wilson into a legitimate NCAA superstar, the Heavy Bombers would have won it all last season. Alas, such would not be the case. “You know who should have really won it all last season? JRU, not San Sebastian, because that lineup was all-veteran, and ready,” explained a long-time observer and supporter from a rival NCAA school. “It’s too bad they just didn’t have what it took to return to the Finals,” he added.
JRU retained plenty of its veterans, but it just plain looks like an all-new team, with a lot of formerly ignored players now getting the chance to show their stuff. Even the coach is new: PBA legend Vergel Meneses replaced long-time coach Ariel Vanguardia. “We like Vergel’s new approach. It is important to give all your players a chance, so that they gain confidence,” explained a long-time hardcore basketball organizer. With the new approach Meneses and Company are hoping to make a little more leeway in the tournament. Goings will not be easy though. They lost three starters: Wilson, center James Sena and pointguard Mark Cagoco. Those three account for well over 70% of the scoring and at least 50% of the rebounds and steals of the last two full seasons. Joe however is back from injury and regaining his step. Veterans Marvin Hayes, Nchotu Njei, another African, and the likes of Jon Lopez, Jay Bulangis, Reycon Kabigting and Jecster Apinan also return.
For the Light Bombers, they lost Season 85 MVP Louie Vigil and Mythical 5 member Joshua Saret to graduation. Their biggest loss however might be long-time coach Boy De Vera, who has retired. They still have a few good young players, but it is time to look for a new high school superstar for JRU.