Jude Roque Believes In ‘Deep’ San Beda Team Heading Into Title Defense

Jude Roque, longtime San Beda team manager, shares his optimism toward the Red Lions’ title defense roster early into the collegiate hoops preseason. 

San Beda University’s title run in 2023 was one of the year’s best sports storylines. Against a heavily-favored Mapua Cardinals team, the Yuri Escueta-coached Red Lions finally returned the crown to Mendiola–two seasons since they moved on from Boyet Fernandez. 

Since then, they have lost some key cogs. Clifford Jopia, Damie Cuntapay and JV Gallego have exhausted their eligibility, while Jacob Cortez transferred to La Salle. 

However, they also snagged a group of UAAP recruits led by DLSU’s Penny Estacio, FEU’s Bryan Sajonia, the Calimag brothers RC and Richi, and former UST Tiger Cubs star Bismarck Lina. Sajonia in particular, was recently part of the Mythical Five in PinoyLiga’s Next Man cUP Season 2 last March.

A key witness to these ups and downs is Jude Roque, the Red Lions’ longtime team manager. A constant presence in the San Beda camp, Roque believes this new roster is “so far so good”. 

Recalling their two games at the PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup, Roque admitted that San Beda’s wins have been impressive. While they’ve yet to face tougher teams like La Salle or CEU, Roque told The GAME: “But so far, I like what I’m seeing with our young team, we lost a lot of our key players from last year. But some guys have stepped up, so it’s exciting for us.”  

For instance, Roque noted that their current big men are athletic and competitive. Even if their seniors were taller and more experienced, Roque admits the two aforementioned traits already compensate in some ways. 

But Cortez’s loss is another story. Being their “most consistent scorer” in Season 99, Roque still expects “other guys” to fill the Cool Cub’s role by Season 100.

“Hopefully they’re able to fill [those] shoes, big shoes to fill but sana…doesn’t have to be from one guy. Kung magtutulungan then maybe we can also compensate from that,” said Roque, who has been San Beda’s team manager since 2012. 

Jude Roque sees Yukien Andrada as a new key player for San Beda
Yukien Andrada has been a revelation for San Beda. (Photo Credit: NCAA Philippines)

Among their holdovers, Roque mentioned sharpshooter Yukien Andrada as one who has stepped up to fill that gap. He also believes that Andrada would also take on a bigger role for Season 100, which the homegrown forward fully accepts. 

Emman Tagle, Jude Roque said, is another holdover who has “improved his game a lot.” 

“And among the new guys, we have si Bryan Sajonia, he’s undergoing residency pero maco-complete na niya this semester and the Calimag brothers as well RC and Richi. I think they could provide the firepower that we lost from Jacob’s transfer. Baka sila…sila hopefully ‘yung mag-provide non, ng scoring na nawala,” Roque explained during the PinoyLiga Collegiate Cup Season 3 media day on Tuesday. 

“And then we have guys that are also hard workers, great role players. So right now, I think we have a team na…I can’t say mayroong nagdadala talaga eh. So it’s more of a team effort, whenever we win games, medyo balanced ‘yung scoring, walang masyadong mataas ‘yung score, but halos pantay-pantay,” he explained. 

On navigating a huge loss

Heading into the preseason, Jude Roque and San Beda had to deal with Cortez’s departure. The “Cool Cub” left after a breakout season in Mendiola, which also included a Finals MVP plum. 

Admittedly, Roque recalled that team morale decreased initially, as Cortez was a “big part” of the Red Lions, and he was a “nice kid [and] everybody [loved] him”. While saddening, he said the team had to move past the sudden loss. 

Jude Roque says they have been used to shock transfers, including Jacob Cortez's.
Jacob Cortez was supposed to be the next King Lion before leaving for La Salle. (Photo Credit: NCAA Philippines)

San Beda, Roque’s tenure included, was also used to big transfers. Recent examples include Evan Nelle to La Salle in 2020, Ben Adamos to Perpetual Help in 2018, and William Navarro to Ateneo in 2016. 

“And I think naman through the years we’re able to handle those situations, so ganon talaga. It’s just about being flexible, being able to adapt to those situations. And it’s also a test to the strength of our program eh. If we can survive those difficult situations, I believe we have naman and we have proven that through the years,” said Jude Roque. 

And those transfers are why San Beda “[tries] to get enough players”. Simply put, even if they lose some, “hindi naman kami biglang sobrang hina”, Roque said. 

“Especially itong nangyaring huli, with Jacob, [‘yung mga] pumalit naman sa kanya I think are also capable. Ayun nga sina Bryan, sina Calimag brothers. So ‘yun, I think we’re ready naman when it comes to this new season,” the longtime manager said.

‘Happy problem’ 

All in all, Jude Roque believes that the current Red Lions have a “deep team” and a “deep bench”. In fact, he bared they have a “happy problem” of finalizing the Season 100 roster. 

Roque believes “all” in their 26- or 25-player pool are good enough to make the final roster, making selection difficult for the team. “So that’s one thing I can say about this particular batch…malalim…but of course it’s not just about lalim, it’s also about players stepping up in big games,”  he said. 

Jude Roque believes San Beda has a deep team heading into Season 100.
Will we see the Red Lions like this again in Season 100? (Photo Credit: NCAA Philippines)

Currently, San Beda’s immediate objectives include getting their roster to “play better together”, and establishing chemistry between their recruits and holdovers. Also included, is using the preseason to see their recruits’ compatibility with Escueta’s system. 

Preseason leagues like the PinoyLiga Collegiate Cup can help achieve these. Being a young team, Roque stressed the need for “a lot of games”, tough ones at that. 

Particularly, the Collegiate Cup allows them to test their mettle against import-reinforced universities. “A lot of them have really high level of talent. So maganda silang makalaban to test our skills. To test how good we are as a team,” said Roque. 

“So from those games, we will find out kung malaki pa ba kailangan namin trabahuhin, or baka konting adjustments na lang.  So those are the things that we’re looking forward [to],” Roque said. 

Banner Image by RJ Ballecer.

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