WITH their future uncertain at University of Santo Tomas, high-flying forward Rhenz Abando, guard Brent Paraiso, and big man Ira Bataller packed their bags and left España.
They found a new home in Intramuros, thanks to coach Bonnie Tan of defending champion Letran and the school’s special assistant to the rector for sports development and San Miguel Corporation sports director Alfrancis Chua, who are former UST players.
“Being Thomasians, coach Alfrancis and I did not turn a blind eye when these three young players were knocking and asking if Letran could be their new home,” Tan told Malaya-Business Insight last Tuesday night.
“After all, Letran and UST are sister schools,” he added.
The Knights have rolled the red carpet for the three former UST mainstays and officially welcomed them to the squad last Monday.
“The Letran Knights officially welcome Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso, and Ira Bataller to their roster of players,” said Tan.
“Their addition is certainly a huge boost to our program as they also bring their experiences to our championship core. Our team management, staff, and I have also done our homework on how we can easily integrate them into our team.”
UST is facing allegations of holding a bubble training at the hometown of former coach Aldin Ayo in Capuy, Sorsogon City from mid-June to August.
In his lone season with the team, the 6-foot-2 Abando was the Tigers’ second-leading scorer behind reigning MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo in the last UAAP cage wars, averaging 11.7 points on 29-percent three-point shooting, along with 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
Paraiso, who played two years for Aldin Ayo at La Salle where they won a title in 2016, was good for 7.2 points, to go with 4.0 boards and 1.4 assists last season.
Abando and Bataller can still suit up for three seasons for Letran, while Paraiso is still eligible to play for two years.
Playing all-Filipino all throughout last year, Letran wound up with a 12-6 card for third after the elimination round and hurdled fourth-ranked San Sebastian College and No. 2 Lyceum in the stepladder semifinals.
The Knights dethroned heavily-favored San Beda University, which was gunning for a four-peat, in the Big Dance in three grueling games.
Letran will no longer have gunner Jerrick Balanza, who was drafted and signed up by Ginebra in the pro league, and guard Bonbon Batiller and backup slotman Christian Balagasay, who both went to Terra Firma.
The likes of last year’s finals MVP Fran Yu, and big men Larry Muyang, Renato Ular, and Jeo Ambohot are expected to lead the Knights’ charge.
Aside from Abando, Paraiso, and Bataller, among Letran’s new additions are Chiang Kai Shek standout Rafael Go, Perpetual Help’s Yuki Kawamura, and Nazareth School of National University’s Jeff Mailim and Jimly Lantaya.
Tan said he could not wait to hit the ground running with his prized recruits.
“We definitely can’t wait to work with them once we can return to the gym,” he said.
“But for now, we will guide them to becoming true Letranistas.”