The Letran Knights are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (Philippines) basketball team of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.
Their 16 NCAA seniors basketball championships are the most by any NCAA team.
The Knights of Malta is a Benedictine Hospitaller Order whose roots date back to Pope Gregory the Great, himself a Benedictine monk, who requested Abbot Probus of 600 C.E. and the Benedictines to start a hospital in Jerusalem.
When Letran joined the NCAA in 1928, the Squires promptly won the Juniors championship on their first season, and later on established the then NCAA record of three consecutive juniors championships. However the Colegio withdrew on 1932 after a dispute on an ineligible player in track and field. Letran later rejoined the league on 1936. Two years later, the Knights, won their first title in 1938 under coach Jacinto Ciria Cruz, and captained by Felicismo Fajardo.
The Knights and the Squires would then go on to several forgettable seasons until the Knights scored a breakthrough in 1950.
The Knights would then win their championships at the beginning of the decade. In 1960 they would beat San Beda and Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers in the Championship round (they would again beat JRC in 1966), and La Salle in the 1970 season. The 1960 Final match would come down to the wire as Knight Basilio Go converted a jumper as time expired.
The only "Battle of Intramuros" Finals happened in 1979 as the Knights and the Mapua Cardinals faced off for the championship. Coached by the legendary Nemie Villegas, with MVP Ramon San Juan, Angelito "Itoy" Esguerra, Gracito "Chito" Mojica, Timoteo "Tim" Coloso, Arnulfo "Nonie" Robles, Ed Ducut, Ted McKinney, spitfire Pedrito "Bong" Aninon and Team Captain Ed Baldomero, the Knights defeated the Cardinals to take the trophy.
The 1980 season would change the face of the league forever as the fans of the Knights (going for a back to back winning season) and of the La Salle Green Archers got involved in a massive brawl inside the Rizal Memorial ColiseumThis was sparked by the mauling of a Letran student by goons hired by the rival school. The NCAA Policy Board banned Letran from the remainder of the season, and suspended the basketball tournament. When Letran was readmiited in 1981, La Salle disagreed and bolted out of the league (they would later join the UAAP starting at the 1986 season). The jinx was said to be broken after this season.
Coached by Larry Albano, the 1984 Knights did better than the 1950 team which emerged with a 9-1 record. Albano coached the first NCAA three-peat championship team (1982-1984) with the third year going undefeated. In 1983, they would face Baste in the Finals and they stopped the Stags. The three-peat was capped by their 1984 championship.
After a heartbreaking 1985 season, the Knights, now coached by Eddie Reyes, would face Baste for the 1986 title. The Paul Alvarez-led Stags would take the series to a deciding Game 3. But it was Alvarez himself who would throw the series away at the deciding seconds when he turned over the ball, which led to a Monty Albano conversion to bring the title back to Intramuros. In the 1988 season, Letran finished second to the eventual champions SSC-R Golden Stags, which swept the first and second rounds.
But it was the Baste decade as they would win the next five championships (an NCAA record). In 1998, Baste would try to beat their own record by winning their sixth consecutive title. But it was Kerby Raymundo and Chris Calaguio, who led Letran back into the promised land. Coached by Louie Alas, Letran leads the series, 1-0, the Stags forced overtime. But Letranite J.P. Pacheco denied the Stags of their 6th consecutive titles as he drained two three-pointers, and assured the Knights of a 2-0 sweep.
The 1999 championship series would literally be a "hopia" filled series, as the JRC Heavy Bombers (whose last title was last won in 1972) would face the Knights. The 1999 Finals was notorious for being violent and chaotic, as Letran supporters would throw hopia (a kind of pastry) and all sorts of debris to the playing court, causing a delay of games. Game 2 was delayed by a half-hour when Letranites rained the playing court with hopia. With Letran leading the series, 1-0, the Heavy Bombers would not recover from the hopia incident as the Knights blew out them out, The 1999 Knights was mentored by now Coca Cola Tigers coach Binky Favis. prior to that championship game, Letran made history by becoming the first number 4 team to beat a number 1 team in the Final 4 and that team is their familiar opponent, the San Sebastian Stags. In Game 2 of the championship series with under 3 minutes remaining with the Knights leading by 18 points JRU's John Dale Valena punched John Paul Prior of Letran in the head leading to a brawl which extended outside The ULTRA. JRU withdrawed after the brawl and awarded th trophy to Letran.
The 2003 series would again feature Baste and Letran. Host San Sebastian, who have won the last two championships, are aiming for another three-peat. The Knights, coached by the comebacking Louie Alas and led by resident star Ronjay Enrile were aiming to break Ateneo's record of 14 titles. The series reached a deciding Game 3. In the final minutes, Boyet Bautista, Aaron Aban and Jonathan Piñera ignited an 8-0 run, turning a 56-58 deficit to a 64-58 title-clinching victory. Ronjay Enrile was voted as NCAA Finals MVP.
As a result of the championship, the Colegio joined the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) in 2003 under the banner of Toyota Otis. The Knights captured the third place trophy in the Unity Cup after beating defending champions Hapee Toothpaste.
The 2004 season would be an extremely difficult endeavor for the Knights. Emerging at the end of the elimination round with a 9-5 standing, they face the PCU Dolphins (10-4) in the Final Four tournament with a twice to win disadvantage. On the first game, with Letran down by two points in the final moments, Jonathan Aldave converted a three-point shot to force a winner-take all rubber match. But on the deciding game 3, Enrile missed both of his free throws in the 4th quarter and lose steam in Overtime as the Dolphins escaped with the victory. This led to disappointment on the Letran camp, while the Dolphins would go on and win their first NCAA title against the season host UPHSD Altas.
Their stint the PBL was more disappointment as they narrowly missed out on a playoffs stint via tiebreakers.
With Letran hosting the 2005 season, Letran and PCU were considered as shoo-ins for the Finals by pundits. The Knights defeated the Dolphins in overtime in the first round, and they escaped in regulation in the second round. With the Knights and Dolphins finishing 1-2 at the end of the eliminations, they disposed their semi-final opponents to setup one of the most anticipated Finals in recent history. The Dolphins, who have never beaten the Knights in 2005, shocked Letran as they emerged as winners in Game 1. However, Letran blew out PCU on Game 2 led by JP Alcaraz, who was not a factor during game 1. The deciding Game 3 was decided by a Letran run in the fourth quarter as Bautista again providing the spark to Letran in the 4th quarter and eventually brought home Finals MVP honors. Louie Alas won his third NCAA title and was awarded with Coach of the Year honors. The Squires would've made it to the Final Four but had to forfeit all of their games when a player was found to have played in another league while the NCAA tournament is ongoing.
On the PBL Heroes Cup that followed, Toyota Otis-Letran drafted former UTEP player Joe Devance. But the Knights won't make it to the playoffs, as they finished last in their division.
On the next PBL conference, the Unity Cup, the Toyota-Otis team, now known as the Sparks, finished tied for first at the end of the classification round. Seeded first due to tiebreakers, they swept defending champions Rain or Shine ElastoPaints in their best of five series, setting up a best of five Finals against the Harbour Centre Portmasters. With Aban having a wrist injury in Games 4 and 5, the Portmasters defeated the Sparks in 5 games. Devance was named as the most valuable player of the PBL Unity Cup.
On the 2006 NCAA season, the Knights had a 6-0 start but were beaten by San Beda in the first round finale, the Knights won several more games, but with successive losses to Final Four finalists Mapua, PCU and San Beda on their last 3 elimination round games, the were forced to face PCU in a playoff to determine which team gets the second seed and twice to beat advantage. The Knights lost the game, and were blownout in their Final Four game as they bowed out of the Finals, finishing second runner-up. The Squires were unluckier - they finished winless in the season. Knight Boyet Bautista won the Most Improved Player Award, while Julius Wong of the Squires was selected as one of the Mythical 5.
Alas then described the 2007 season as a "rebuilding" season, with Bautista and Aban leaving after being drafted to the PBA. PCU was suspended, so there were only 7 teams. Letran however was the surprise of the tournament, winning their first 4 games before losing to host JRU Heavy Bombers. However, they were able to defeat the then-undefeated San Beda Red Lions to finish on top after the first round. Letran however was beaten by Mapua and San Beda at the second round, but still finished second. Letran disposed JRU in the semifinals to face their 1950 tormentors. However, anchored by Nigerian behemoth Samuel Ekwe, San Beda swept the finals series to win their 13th trophy. The Squires on the other hand, made a 360-degree turn as they've finished second place after the eliminations. However, they were defeated by the San Sebastian Staglets in two games in the finals. Bryan Faundo and Dino Daa were selected as seniors' mythical five members, while Squire John Noble was juniors' mythical five member for 2007.
*Pirante Warren "the MVP"
The Letran Booters won several titles in the NCAA, most notably in 1980s, when they beat a fabled Mapua team with Taiwanese and foreign-bred players. However, due to financial restraints, the Colegio discontinued the seniors soccer team in 2003.