Not that they believe that they’re already there but the University of San Jose-Recoletos Jaguars are confident they are on the right path to once again attain contender status in the upcoming Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (Cesafi) wars.
And though they won just one game and suffered one loss after another in their stint in the 2015 Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, three of the Jaguars’ top cats believe that there was a silver lining to each of those losses which would serve them well down the line.
For one, it provided them with the reality that apart from Cebu’s traditional powerhouses, namely the Southwestern University Cobras, the University of San Carlos Warriors and the University of the Visayas Green Lancers, they too can stand toe-to-toe against the country’s best collegiate squads.
“Siguro ang biggest lesson I learned from the Filoil is kaya namo mu-compete sa biggest league labi na sa Manila teams,” said up-and-coming sophomore wingman Iron Suano, who showed off his much-improved perimeter game during the prestigious preseason competition.
“It helped us to be more competitive than other teams,” shared Kevin Villafranca who is now expected to become the team’s leader after the departure of veteran guards James Regalado and Raymund Catipay. He did just that in Manila, averaging 11.25 points and 5.25 rebounds in eight games.
Villafranca, a member of the Cesafi’s Mythical Five last year, said the three-week competition also boosted the team’s camaraderie and fellowship, and forged a bond that will stand the tests of what is expected to be a long uphill battle to reach a plateau it hasn’t stood on since 2008.
“We know so much about each other after the Filoil games. We know every individual’s capacity and the composure of the team as well,” Villafranca said.
The team may have taken steps forward but there’s always some wiggle room for improvement, said another sophomore, Fletcher Galvez, himself a key cog in USJ-R’s high-octane fast-paced attack.
“The biggest lesson for us is to be more physical and maintain the intensity until the end of the game because we weren’t really able to end the game strong. We still have a lot of adjustments to make and we still have to work hard to improve our game as a team and as individuals,” said Galvez who comes with a championship pedigree with his roots in juniors ruler Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu.
With the aforementioned loss of their two stalwart guards, the question remains, do the Jaguars have enough to battle it out with the Cesafi titans? The Jaguars believe they do with the addition of former University of the East point man Roy Villarias and Miguel Gastador and the ever-improving games of Nelvin Navarra and 6-foot-11 center Quintin Nzuzi.
Still, work needs to be done, said Villafranca. “I can’t say we’re ready but we are preparing for every team in the Cesafi.”