Team Preview: Letran Knights

Overall Record last season:  3rd Place, 15-5

Head Coach:  Louie Alas

Assistants:  Justino Pinat, Kris Reyes, Allen Rodrigo

Players:
Alas, Kevin
Alas, Kristoffer
Almario, Japeth
Almazan, Raymond
Belorio, Jonathan
Buenaflor, Kevin
Cortes, Jam
Cruz, Mark
Cudal, Zyron
Espiritu, Vj
Gabawan, Jamil
Gabriel, Joel
Lituania, Carlo
Luib, Mcjour
Oluto, Edward
Pantin, Andrei
Publico, Rey
Racal, Kevin

The Letran Knights remain one of the most feared teams in the league.  After all, they always manage to make it to the Top 4.  But Letran is not terrifying because it is deep in talent.  It’s mostly because the Knights play with a lot of heart.  They are, of course, a very physical team as well that thrives on intimidation.  But the never-say-die spirit is hard to ignore each game the 16-time champions play.

Key Losses

There are really no major losses in personnel for Letran this season.  Franz Dysam, who chipped in 5.9 points per game last year, may be the most significant departure for the team.  Others no longer with the Muralla-based squad are Jay Espiritu and Andrei Mendoza.

Key Additions

There are no major additions for the Knights either, at least based on the Fil-Oil Cup.  The new names for the team are McJour Luib, Kevin Buenaflor, Japeth Almario and Rey Publico.  Luib, a high school standout from the Squires, got some playing time during the pre season, with about 11 minutes per game, where he averaged 2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds.

Holdovers

Expectedly, the multi-titled coach Louie Alas will once again rely heavily on his exceptional son Kevin on offense.  Although coming from a subpar performance in the Fil-Oil Cup, with just 8.8 markers per game, the young Alas will definitely be as explosive as ever.  Last year, he gathered 17.5 points per outing, on top of six boards, 5.4 feeds and two steals.  Kevin is the best skilled player in the NCAA today.

This season, more mainstays are expected to surpass their norms in 2011.  More notably, Jam Cortes and Mark Cruz have carried most of the fight for Letran during the pre season games.  Cortes is in the best shape of his life, posting double-double stats of 14.1 points and 10.1 boards in the Fil-Oil.  Cruz, on the other hand, is more confident now with his offense, as he provided his alma mater with 14.3 markers to lead the team in scoring during the summer.  Both also performed well last year.  Other significant returnees are 6’7” slotman Raymond Almazan, who also posted impressive numbers of 7.2 points and 9.6 rebounds, and Kevin Racal, who produced 8.4 markers and 4.6 assists in the Fil-Oil.  Almazan almost left the team early this year for personal reasons but was able to come to his senses in time for the NCAA wars.   The other holdovers are Jonathan Belorio, Carlo Lituania, Jun-jun Alas, and Joel Gabriel.

Season Outlook, Strengths and Weaknesses

The Knights will be a contender this season even as they remain the underdogs against the Stags and Lions.  But with coach Alas at the helm, who is still the most triumphant tactician in the league, Letran will always find ways to get to the Top 4, and possibly even score some upsets to get to the championship round.

A clear strength for the Knights this year is a deeper bench, since most of the holdovers have evidently polished their craft.  It seems that for the first time in three years, Letran won’t be a one-man gang, as others have stepped up to support Kevin Alas.  The team is now at least 8-man deep, and this should be enough for Alas to get his system to operate.  A usual Letran asset is its defense.  The Knights apply pressure to their opponents from the opening tip.  They are relentless and physical.  It takes a lot of mental and physical toughness to withstand their pesky defense.
The Knights’ Achilles’ heel is outside shooting.  Their best three-point artist is starting point guard Cruz, who nailed 21 treys in 20 games last year.  Kevin Alas, who is more known for his penetrations, had 19.  In the recent Fil-Oil, Cruz was the steadiest from beyond the arc, with 14 made shots in eight outings, followed by Alas with just seven.

Prognosis

There is nothing much to tweak in Letran’s formula.  As long as they continue what they do best – playing hard-nosed defense – the Knights should still be in the top three.  And with the apparent evolution of many of their holdovers, a big chunk may be unloaded from Kevin Alas as far as scoring is concerned.  More inside points from Cortes, Almazan and Belorio will open up the shooters.  This way, perhaps Racal, Lituania, even Luib and Kevin Alas can have the confidence to take more shots outside.  Then perhaps Letran won’t just be a tough defensive unit, but also one that is tough to defend against.

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