Lions toughen up for 3-peat

MANILA, Philippines — Nigerian Toba Eugene is expected to provide power and ceiling off the bench when San Beda University opens its three-peat campaign in the 94th NCAA men’s basketball tournament Saturday at the MOA Arena in Pasay.

The 6-9, 22-year-old Eugene has impressed coach Boyet Fernandez with his solid play in the Filoil Pre-Season Cup where the Red Lions finished second to Ateneo last weekend.

Eugene has taken over 2016 Finals MVP Cameroonian Arnaud Noah’s spot in the roster although Cameroon’s Donald Tankoua, last year’s Finals MVP, will still be the team’s starter.

Two foreign players are allowed to play for each school although the league recently decided to ban all foreign-student athletes in 2020.

“We will be bigger this year because of him (Eugene),” said Fernandez, who is seeking to steer the Lions to their third straight crown and 11th overall in the last 13 seasons.

Aside from Eugene, the Lions have also acquired Evan Nelle, a blue-chip recruit from their high school program. He will join a loaded roster composed of Robert Bolick, Javee Mocon, Clinth Doliguez, Franz Abuda, AC Soberano and Jomari Presbitero.

San Beda will play host to Perpetual Help, now coached by Frankie Lim, in the opener at 2 p.m. followed by the 4 p.m. clash between Lyceum of the Phl U and San Sebastian. Lim steered San Beda to four championships more than a decade ago.

Like San Beda, the Pirates, runners up a season ago, and the Letran Knights have also beefed up their roster with key recruits.