MANILA, Philippines—In just his second year with the Knights, Fran Yu has proven to be the stabilizing presence that Letran needs in crunch time.
The diminutive guard made key plays down the stretch of Game 1 of the NCAA Season 95 finals, wherein the Knights stunned the San Beda Red Lions, 65-64, to inch closer to claiming the men's basketball crown.
Yu knocked down a crucial 3-pointer with 4:33 left to trim San Beda's lead to one point, 60-59. He assisted on Larry Muyang's bucket with 1:28 to go that gave them a 3-point cushion, 65-62. And when Calvin Oftana missed a potential go-ahead triple in San Beda's last possession, it was Yu — the smallest player on the floor — who came up with the rebound with just 2.6 seconds left.
Yu was immediately fouled by San Beda counterpart Evan Nelle. He muffed his first free throw, then intentionally missed the second, preventing the Red Lions from getting a chance to call a timeout and set up a play.
"Matagal na ako nagba-basketball. Sa kalye, mas dikdikan pa sa kalye," Yu said after the game, when asked how he dealt with jitters. "Siyempre, may kaba, pero 'pag nagpakain sa kaba na 'yun, wala kang mapapakita."
Yu's demeanor now is a complete contrast from last year. In Season 94, an erratic Yu committed a bevy of errors in the Knights' Final 4 game against the Lyceum Pirates, who are known for their intense pressing defense. Letran wound up getting blown out, 109-85, to crash out of the semis.
That experience has served as Yu's motivation for Season 95, and he emerged as this season's Most Improved Player.
"May mga last year na lapses siya sa Letran at bumabawi lang 'yung bata," Letran coach Bonnie Tan said of his young guard. "He wants to prove something sa Letran community at sa coach niya na hindi niya nabigay last season."
Yu credited his improvement to hard work and sacrifices, noting that everything started in their practices.
"Sa practice, walang kai-kaibigan, walang teammate-teammate doon. 'Pag nasa loob kami ng court, bakbakan. 'Pag sa labas, kulitan na," he said.
Interestingly, Yu very nearly left the Knights during the offseason. Tan revealed that the guard asked for permission to try out for other teams before the start of Season 95, which he granted.
"I'm just testing his character, and 'yung loyalty niya sa school kung gusto niya umalis," said Tan.
Yu wound up staying in Letran, and Tan welcomed him back with open arms.
"Parang meron akong kailangang tapusin dito sa Letran," said Yu, who had 10 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals in their Game 1 win. "Kasi last year, ayun nga 'yung nangyari. Tapos ayun, andito na kami ngayon, tatapusin na namin."
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