The Letran Knights remain head and shoulders above the competition, cementing themselves as the team to beat heading into the next NCAA season with key acquisitions to their roster.
The addition of Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso, and Ira Bataller -- the latest players to leave the University of Santo Tomas -- to an already formidable lineup put the NCAA Season 95 champions in a great position to repeat as title-holders.
Although the former Growling Tigers were not the only ones that the Knights recruited this offseason, Abando and company offer talent and experience, especially coming off the UAAP finals a year ago.
Paraiso will be entering his third school in almost five years. He played two seasons for the DLSU Green Archers before playing one season for UST. In UAAP Season 82, Paraiso was a vital cog in the Tigers' offensive schemes as a steady guard who can space the floor. He put up 7.2 points with a 32-percent shooting clip from beyond the arc.
The 22-year-old Paraiso's decision to move to the NCAA was a logical choice because he would no longer be eligible to play if he transferred to a UAAP school. Unlike in the UAAP, an NCAA player's residency year isn't charged to any of his five playing seasons. In the case of Paraiso who played a total of three seasons in the UAAP, he can still play up to two seasons with Letran.
Bataller, meanwhile, has the potential to fit perfectly into Letran coach Bonnie Tan's system. Despite his modest averages of 1.9 points and 2.9 rebounds, his bruising presence complements the Knights' style of play. Last season, the Knights were the best rebounding team in the NCAA with 45.2 boards a game. They were also second in points in the paint (38.8) and second chance points (12.1). Big men Jeo Ambohot, Ato Ular, and Larry Muyang can take Bataller under their wings and develop him into a force in the paint.
The piece de resistance in Letran's huge offseason haul is none other than Abando. He was a breakout star in UST last season where he showcased his deadly combination of quickness, length, and versatility. His averages of 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks only tell half the story as he impacts the game beyond the numbers. It was no wonder that he found himself in a midseason controversy last year in which other schools were trying to get him.
Abando is eligible to play up to three more seasons with Letran and he will undoubtedly be a centerpiece of the program in the near future. The Knights welcome Abando with open arms especially after the departure of star Jerrick Balanza who averaged 15.1 points for them last year. With his size and talent, Abando can develop into one of the leaders that Letran needs.
With no signs of an NCAA season this year, the 96th season of the league will likely be pushed back to 2021. Once Paraiso, Bataller, and Abando complete at least two semesters in Letran before the resumption of the NCAA, they will be eligible to play when the season starts.
Aside from the former UST players, the Knights also injected youth into their program with the inclusion of high school standouts such as Nazareth School of National University's Jeff Mailim and Jimly Lantaya, Rafael Go of Chiang Kai Shek, and Yuki Kawamura of Perpetual Help.
With the combination of seasoned UAAP players and young high school standouts, the Knights' future is stable and secure. Letran's offseason moves is also a loud statement to the rest of the NCAA schools that it remains a powerhouse in the league and will be a perennial contender in the years to come.