Expectations were high when Rensy Bajar took over the coaching mantle for Colegio de San Juan de Letran, a powerhouse team that was seeking to achieve a rare four-peat in the NCAA.
That dream, however, quickly turned into a nightmare as the Knights struggled to live up to the billing in their forgettable Season 99 campaign.
Coming into the season, the Knights didn't just parade a new coach but they also fielded a completely different lineup from the previous squads that helped the school deliver three straight titles from Season 95 to Season 98.
With Bajar calling the shots, he had to inherit a rebuilding roster with only veteran guard Kurt Reyson and big man Pao Javillonar left from the core alongside a bevy of young players led by sophomores Kevin Santos, Kobe Monje, and Rafael Go as well as transferee Deo Cuajao.
Chemistry — or the lack of it — hurt the Knights.
They had to endure seven losses before barging into the win column with a statement win against San Sebastian College-Recoletos to improve to 1-7, but they would have to absorb seven more losses before copping their second victory against Arellano.
Both wins saw Letran play without Reyson due to what Bajar stressed was another issue for their gloomy campaign: injuries.
"More on na tinamaan kami ng injuries then ‘yung supposedly na mga leaders namin, si Kurt Reyson at Pao Javillonar pressured din sila to perform," Bajar said after their season-ending loss to San Beda last Friday.
"Kumbaga rebuilding ‘yung players, almost eight to 10 ‘yung rookies na meron kami ngayon eh. So talagang napakahirap plus ‘yung main guys namin last year ay nawala lahat."
(More on injuries hit us then our supposed leaders Kurt Reyson and Pao Javillonar were pressured to perform. The players are rebuilding, with the team having 8-10 rookies. It's hard, then our main guys last year were not here with us.)
The graduating Reyson showed in the preseason that he can be the next leader for the Knights but he was forced to sit out most of the games due to hip and hamstring injuries.
In fact, he had been ruled out for the rest of the tournament last November 14, making it just an 11-game appearance for the shifty guard this season.
Aside from Reyson, Letran was also dealt with a huge blow when Javillonar and offensive weapons Andrey Guarino and Nicko Fajardo sustained separate injuries to miss their last few games.
"Kung papansinin mo ‘yung mga games namin this season, ando’n kami and minsan lamang pa kami going to the fourth quarter pero sa mga crucial moments bumibigay kami," Bajar added.
"Pangalawa, ‘yung mga injuries kaya medyo nag-suffer din ‘yung rotation namin."
(If you can see, our games this season sometimes we're there and leading heading into the fourth quarter but we eventually collapse. The injuries also were a factor that's why our rotation suffered.)
Bajar, however, remains positive for the Knights, stressing they have already started laying out their preseason and offseason plans for their redemption bid in the centennial season next year.
"Sa ngayon, may nakalatag na kaming programa. So siguro itong mga preseason tournaments malaking bagay ‘to kasi ‘yung mga bagong players naka-standby na sa team."
(For now, a program is in place. The preseason tournaments will probably be a big help because the new players are on standby.)
—JKC, GMA Integrated News