Will Gozum will have a lot to prove when he banners College of Saint Benilde against Letran College in the best-of-three finals showdown of Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.
In a conversation with Daily Tribune shortly after the Blazers’ training on Friday, the 23-year-old Gozum said he was at ringside when Mapua University challenged the Knights for the crown last May.
A former standout of the Red Robins, Gozum stressed that he promised himself that he will go all out to lead the Blazers to their first finals appearance after a 20-year absence.
Now, he’s glad that his effort had been rewarded as they open their title series against the seasoned and very dangerous Knights side on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“My and JC (Cullar) watched Game 2 of last season’s finals since I was there to pick up my award. We told ourselves that we will play in the finals next season. I’m glad that it paid off,” said Gozum, the frontrunner in the Most Valuable Player award.
He added that seeing the Cardinals push the Knights to the brink before surrendering the title had greatly motivated him.
“I was teammates with Warren (Bonifacio) in high school and I was happy seeing them play in the finals,” said Gozum, a champion in the junior ranks in 2016 and MVP in 2017.
“I hope they support me as well.”
After Mapua, Gozum moved to University of the Philippines in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
But his stint with the Fighting Maroons was forgettable as he played behind the likes of Juan Gomez de Liaño, Gelo Vito, Bright Akhuetie, Paul Desiderio and Diego Dario.
Although the Fighting Maroons advanced to the finals of Season 81, Gozum failed to score as he saw only two minutes and 33 seconds in Game 2 where they were swept by the mighty Ateneo de Manila University.
Gozum said his previous setbacks motivate him to work harder and prove to himself that he has what it takes to emerge as champion.
In fact, he opted to stay in the Saint Benilde dormitory despite residing in España, Manila so he will keep his focus on the task at hand, which is giving the Blazers their first crown since 2000.
“I stayed at the dorms even though I live near so I could stay focused,” he said.
“I would also do extra workouts here because I want to bring a winning culture here in Saint Benilde.”
“We have nothing to lose here. We’re going to enjoy the game but we’re also hungry to win that trophy.”