University of Santo Tomas fell short of dethroning Ateneo in last year's UAAP championship series, but rather than mull what-could-have-been, the Growling Tigers and their coach looked at the setback as a learning experience.
The series, UST coach Pido Jarencio said, had toughen their resolve and he believes the Tigers are hungrier and looking forward to one more showdown with the Ateneans, or whichever team, and hopefully come out on top this time.
"Ang nakikita kong positive sa team na to is mas naging matibay sila, lalong tumaas ang kumpiyansa nila at naging mas experienced sila," said Jarencio who brought his team and the coaching staff to a team-building session in Boracay.
Though Boracay may not be the right place for such objective because of the many distracting delights at the world-famous resort, Jarencio approved of the trip because it had given him a chance to have his complete team with him.
The past weeks, practices were done with a limited line up as many players had to honor their obligations with teams competing in the PBA D-League.
Despite the circumstances, UST was able to put a respectable showing in the summer, placing third in the Filoil tournament and won the MBL Open championship opposite teams composed of ex-PBA pros.
"Kahit 75 percent yung players ko nasa D-League at ganun ang sitwasyon, kahit papaano maganda rin ang naipakita namin sa preseason," said Jarencio, a former PBA star and UST spitfire who won a UAAP title in his debut as UST coach six years ago.
The preseason showed the growing maturity of graduating senior Jeric Teng and Aljon Mariano whom Jarencio and the team will rely heavily on in the coming UAAP season. Both were consistent 20-point scorers.
Jarencio is confident their consistent scoring will be there when it is needed although he admitted the Filoil tournament is vastly different from the UAAP.
"Tingin ko naman, consistent pa rin ang ipapakita nila at nandun naman yung commitment nila para makatulong sila sa team," he said of his two main gunners.
Kevin Ferrer, known for his defense and all-around offensive play, is expected to take his game to a new level after coming off a splendid D-League campaign where he helped Blackwater Sports win the Foundation Cup diadem.
Jarencio also saw improvements from guard Ed Daquiaog, who may share point guard duties with veteran Clark Bautista and Robin Tan in lieu of the departure of Jeric Fortuna.
Fortuna has graduated after five seasons at UST but the squad is confident that the big shoes can be filled.
He also cited Cameroonian center Karim Abdul who struggled during the preseason but will be ready when the season opens.
Given their lineup, the Tigers are expected to easily make it to the Final Four and, who knows, maybe end the Blue Eagles' streak.