Red Lions responding to big challenge

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    NAYSAYERS had written off defending three-time champion San Beda University after the team lost gunners Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon, who are now both proving their worth for NorthPort and Rain or Shine, respectively, in the pro league, to graduation.

    Those doubts and claims that their young core can’t get the job done in the 95th NCAA basketball tournament have fueled the Red Lions’ desire to prove they have what it takes, according to coach Boyet Fernandez.

    “When we started our preparations for this NCAA season last January, we read a newspaper article and it said that this team will not go anywhere because we lost Robert (Bolick) and Javee (Mocon) and we don’t have a team yet that has a chance of making it to the finals again,” said Fernandez.

    “I showed that to my players and I told them that even our own community is challenging us for this (four-peat bid),” he added.

    The Mendiola-based squad advanced to the Big Dance outright by completing an 18-game sweep of the eliminations.

    San Beda will battle the survivor of the grueling stepladder semifinals between No. 2 Lyceum, third-ranked Letran, and fourth seed San Sebastian College in a best-of-3 finals kicking off Nov. 12.

    The Knights and Golden Stags clash tomorrow in a knockout match, with the winner taking on the Pirates in another one-game duel on Friday, Nov 8.

    The likes of sophomores James Canlas and Evan Nelle, and veterans Calvin Oftana, the league’s MVP frontrunner; AC Soberano, and 6-foot-5 Cameroonian big man Donald Tankoua are expected to lead the Lions’ bid to annex their 12th title in 14 years and 23rd overall.

    Who says that a youth-laden squad cannot hack it?

    “I know we’re young. It’s true that we’re young but I think, I believe, that the players really embrace our system,” said Fernandez. “Even though we’re young, if we compete and play as a team, we will improve as a team.”

    San Beda also swept the elimination round on its way to bagging the crown with a perfect 18-0 season in 2010 while Lyceum posted an eliminations sweep in 2017 but lost to the Lions in the finals in two games.