MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in 4 years, the Letran Knights are back in the NCAA finals as the latest challenger to the renewed San Beda Red Lions dynasty in Season 95.
Incidentally, the last time a team other than San Beda won the NCAA title was also 4 years ago, when the Aldin Ayo-coached Knights halted the Red Lions' 4-peat bid in a championship heist for the ages.
History now repeats itself as Letran is once again in the way of San Beda's road to 4 straight titles in the Grand Old League.
And much like the ongoing storyline back in 2015, the Boyet Fernandez-coached Red Lions are again clear-cut championship favorites after completing an 18-0 sweep in the elimination round to clinch an outright finals berth.
Just when pretty much everyone thought San Beda would be entering a rebuilding year after the exit of superstars Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon, new blood surged right through and gave new life to the league's undisputed top program.
Former reserve forward Calvin Oftana exploded onto the scene and bagged the league MVP award by a landslide. Sophomore studs Evan Nelle and James Canlas backed up their flash and swagger with a pair of Mythical Team citations.
Even outgoing star Donald Tankoua ended his final elimination round with a bang as the league's first and last Best Foreigner awardee.
Although Letran does not have the same influx of talent like its rival has, it still earned everyone's respect with consistent hard work.
Under first-year head coach Bonnie Tan, sophomore guard Fran Yu and lanky forward Ato Ular grew by leaps and bounds, with the former even nabbing the Most Improved Player award for this season.
Bruising big man Larry Muyang and crafty veteran Bonbon Batiller continued chugging along, while vocal team captain Jerrick Balanza continued his admirable resurgence from brain surgery a year ago.
Gilas cadet Jeo Ambohot, King Caralipio, Allen Mina, Kurt Reyson, and Tommy Olivario also provided valuable minutes, proving the Knights' depth to be a great asset.
All their collective efforts paid off in the end as they got past the talented San Sebastian Stags and former finalists Lyceum Pirates in thrilling fashion as the knockout stepladder semifinals moved along.
Now, the two rival squads meet on the NCAA's biggest stage with the same goal in mind: to win it all.
Will San Beda continue its relentless march towards history or will Letran give a history lesson in heartbreaks once again?
Game 1 is at 4 pm on Tuesday, November 12, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Follow Rappler's live blog for updates:
NCAA95: SBC v CSJL G1 - Curated tweets by RapplerSports