THE San Juan Knights know they have become the yardstick of Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) teams now that they emerged as its first ever national champions.
But they are up to the challenge of defending their title when the league opens its new season come June 12.
“Lahat ng teams alam namin nagpalakas lalo, kaya ready lang kami,” said Randy Alcantara, coach of the newly-crowned champions who defeated the Davao Occidental Tigers on the road in the deciding Game 5 of their title series, 87-86, to win the league’s Datu Cup crown.
Five days after their conquest, Alcantara and the Knights appeared in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Amelie Hotel-Manila on Tuesday where they savored the feeling of having to go through the eye of the needle in beating the Tigers and frustrating the capacity crowd that trooped at the Rizal Memorial Colleges gym to cheer the home team.
“Sabi nga ni coach Randy, babawi kami s Game 5 at doon namin sila tatalunin sa homecourt nila para kung anuman yung nararamdaman naming sakit nnung tinalo nila kami sa homecourt naming (Game 4), mas dobleng masakit sa kanila na natalo sila sa homecourt (nila),” said finals hero Jhonard Clarito, who scored the Knights’ last six points including the pressure-packed basket in the final eight seconds that clinched the win in dramatic fashion.
Clarito was joined by teammates Mike Ayonayon, veteran John Wilson, team executive Chris Conwi, team patron Jeremy Go of Go For Gold, and MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes in the session presented by San Miguel Corp., and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Following the title conquest, cohesiveness and experience have definitely become the Knights’ biggest edge from the rest of the field, which augurs well in their bid for a back-to-back title.
“Ang advantage namin may experience na kami ng championship. Yung heart ng champion nasa kanila na,” said Alcantara, who proudly wore the MPBL championship ring reportedly worth P100K during the forum.
“Sa dami ng teams, yung ibang players naglipatan, more challenging para sa amin ito. Yung mga players, mga coaches matututo dito sa ganitong mga laban.”