UAAP: Minus veterans, Nic Cabañero emerges for UST

UST’s Nic Cabañero. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines — University of Santo Tomas head coach Bal David was hardly surprised when Nic Cabañero took charge and exploded for a career-high 33 points to kick off their UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament campaign on a high note.

The sophomore guard, who is turning 19 on Monday, showed maturity beyond years by leading the way in the Growling Tigers’ 69-60 win over the Adamson Falcons on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.

“Who won’t trust Nic with the skills he has? I’m sure, all the coaches, will give Nic an opportunity to grow with his talent,” said the new UST coach in Filipino after Cabañero’s impressive debut.

“He really stepped up. He filled in the big shoes left by Bryan (Santos) and Sherwin (Concepcion). That’s what I told them earlier, dedicate this game to the players we lost. They worked hard in practice, come game time, they strived harder.”

Cabañero, who shot 13-of-18 from the field and had four assists and two rebounds, admitted he felt the pressure of stepping up as a leader for a rebuilding squad. But thanks to David and his teammates, he was able to embrace the bigger responsibility.

“They always give me advice on how to play mature, how to stay composed during the game. I just followed what they always say,” he said in Filipino. “I’m so thankful to coach Bal because he let me do the things that I have to do inside the court. He knows what I can do and he trusts me.”

David, who won two championships for UST as a player in 1993 and 1994, said he wants Cabanero and Co. to have an underdog mentality as their squad was able to start the season with a big win over a dark horse contender.

“We want to be the underdogs. Because for us coaching staff, that’s less pressure since we just took over the team,” said the former Ginebra star. “We will keep on working and try to turn the bad habits of these kids into good habits. They have the potential.”

Cabañero, who played in front of his parents from Cebu, really wanted to win the first game, which could dictate their pace in future games.

“I really prayed to win our first game because I’m turning 19 this Monday and my parents from Cebu went here. So I showed my intensity and how I play,” Cabañero said. “We want to win the first game and our upcoming games, too. Because it will dictate our team’s future.”

UST eyes its second win against a bounce-back-seeking La Salle on Wednesday at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.

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