San Beda College head coach Boyet Fernandez was grateful to the people who doubted his wards during their title-retention campaign in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament.
Heading into the league’s 93rd season, expectations are high for the Red Lions after they swept this year’s FilOil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup. Their feat was capped by a thrilling 75-72 victory over reigning University Athletic Association of the Philippines titlist De La Salle University.
But comes the NCAA and San Beda bowed down twice to a retooled Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU). The Pirates went on to make history with a sweep of the 18-game eliminations en route to their maiden finals appearance.
But in the end, the Lions with their championship experience, snatched their 10th crown in 12 seasons and league-best 21st overall. San Beda silenced its critics and the skeptics alike with their 92-82 title-clinching victory over the Pirates in Game 2 of the finals on Thursday at the Araneta Coliseum.
“To the haters and doubters, I’m thankful to them because they pushed me to work harder and really look to the point why we are losing to LPU,” said Fernandez, who was named Coach of the Year.
“They counted us out. But in the end, we came back and win a championship. I share this championship with the haters and doubters of San Beda. We strived to win because of the things they’ve said,” he added.
Fernandez claimed it was solid defense that was the key to their latest triumph.
The Lions were down by much as nine points in the first half but employed crafty defense in the last two quarters to outscore the Pirates, 51-35.
“I told them at halftime we just have to go back to the basics. We have to make stops and convert it to offense. Eventually, you’ll be surprised that at the end of the game, we’re going to win a championship,’” said Fernandez.
“Maybe offense can earn you an 18-0 but defense will win a championship,” he added.
Fernandez said he considered everything that has happened a sweet redemption.
Prior to his return to Mendiola last December, the seasoned mentor struggled in his coaching stint with the NLEX Road Warriors in the Philippine Basketball Association.
“It was tough for me with all the situation that I had in the past. What happened to me last year was so bad that I thought I’ll never coach again,” said Fernandez.
The 46-year old hoops tactician is thankful to his players and to San Beda as a whole.
“A door closes but the big gate of San Beda opened for me. Without San Beda, I will never be here right now. And also without my players, who welcomed me with open arms,” he said.
And Fernandez hopes his tenure in the Lions’ den will last long.
“If I would be asked how long I would like to stay with San Beda, my answer would be, could it be for a lifetime?” he concluded.
Lessons of experience
Lyceum coach Topex Robinson, on the other hand, was grateful for the lessons of experience.
Lyceum made history by sweeping the 18-game double round eliminations but stumbled in two straight games against San Beda in the finals.
“We’re so grateful for Season 93. It was really a blessing to LPU,” said Robinson.
Robinson though was not able to hold back his tears after seeing his Pirates surrender the trophy to the Lions.
“I just went back to the sacrifices that we made—being away from our families. I just felt that I let the team and the community down,” lamented Robinson.
But the 37-year old coach believed that all their pain and hardships would pay off in the future.
“The experience that we gained here is just going to make us better. It’s going to make us a better team. Most importantly, it’s going to make us better individuals,” said Robinson.
Robinson and his crew are now setting their sights on new journey.
“Season 94 will start tomorrow for us. When you have a good group of young men that is just so hungry to improve, that’s what you get. I told them, just lick your wounds and tomorrow is a new day for us.”
“I’m excited for what lies ahead of us after this experience. At the end of the day, we will be defined by how we faced this adversity. Our vision won’t stop just because of losing this finals. We just made a bigger platform now of pushing through with our vision,” he added.
For now, Lyceum is bracing for the PBA Developmental League (D-League) action.
“We’re going to join the D-League as a team. It’s something that I’m excited about. We will carry on as we go along on our journey to be one of the respected programs in Philippine collegiate basketball,” said Robinson.