Lions battle Chiefs in NCAA 95 opener

San Beda starts its quest for a fourth consecutive championship title.

San Beda University kicks off its hunt for its fourth consecutive title when Season 95 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament erupts Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Red Lions battle host Arellano University at 4 p.m., looking for a victory that would jumpstart their quest for another title in the country’s oldest collegiate league.

Meanwhile, last year’s runner-up in Lyceum of the Philippines University also kicks off its campaign against Letran College in the 2 p.m. battle that comes right after the opening ceremony prepared by the host.

It’s going to be Arellano’s first time to serve as host after joining the league in 2009 and management committee member Peter Cayco vowed to come up with a simple yet very inspiring opening show.

“We’re deviating a little from the usual. We will have no special guests or speakers,” said Cayco, who also heads the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc.

“Each of the presidents of the 10 members schools will be given time to deliver a message that would be played during the opening ceremonies. Our Policy Board president will declare the Games open.”

But inside the court, it’s going to be a war.

The Chief, who failed to make it to the Final Four last year, will be bringing in long-time San Beda assistant coach Cholo Martin as head coach while welcoming the return of Kent Salgado.

Martin is known to be a prime mover in engineering the Red Lions’ dynasty, giving the Chiefs a handsome chance of toppling the Red Lions in their very first game as host.

“It’s really hard to face the host school in the very first playing day. The crowd will definitely be on their side,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, wary of the tricks that the veteran Martin might pull off his hat.

“Coach Cholo is like a father to me. I learned my coaching chops from him.”

Martin, who also handled the coaching chores of Arellano in the 1980s following his varsity career with San Beda, admitted that he is very familiar with the Red Lions’ system after serving them for eight years, including four titles – three under Fernandez and one under Jamike Jarin.

“To be honest, I know their system. I was there for eight years,” said Martin, who will bank on new recruits Justin Arana and Gelo Sablan from University of Santo Tomas and Alfren Gayosa from San Sebastian College.

“But it’s different when you’re already on the court. We still have to work doubly hard to come up with a victory.”