A new UAAP season, a new opportunity for the DLSU Green Archers to take the much coveted men’s basketball title back to Taft. La Salle ended Season 78 in bitter disappointment, after finishing in fifth place and failing to make the Final Four. Out of the 22 editions of the Final Four, the Green Archers have only failed to make the playoffs on four occasions.
Furthermore, the team is out to break its championship drought, after last taking home the title in Season 76 under former coach, Juno Sauler. With key additions and a proven system set to take the league by storm, the Green Archers are primed for a huge run.
New coach, new system
Coach Aldin Ayo has been tasked to take the helm for La Salle, and is set to make his coaching debut in the UAAP. The former Letran Knight previously led his alma mater to the NCAA Season 91 Championship despite being tagged as the underdogs. Interestingly, Ayo has won a championship in every single debut season, with the different teams he has held in his coaching career.
“Simula nung Aemilianum, U-12, U-14, U-15, U-17, commercial [league], lahat ng teams na hinawakan ko,including Letran. On our first year, champion kami sa mother leagues namin,” shares the head coach in a previous interview with The LaSallian.
Ayo implements what is dubbed as the “mayhem system”, a system that has led to his coaching success to date. The no-nonsense coach employs full-court pressure on opponents in search of turnovers and easy baskets, and runs a fast-paced offensive game.
With Ayo entering the picture as early as December last year, the Green Archers had enough time to learn the Letran alumnus’ system before any of the major tournaments took place. Members of the squad had to adjust from a system that was more deliberate and relied on half-court sets, to one that was fast-paced and relentless on both ends of the floor.
“I really had to work on my defense [because] we really trap all game long,” team captain Jeron Teng explains, adding that every year is also an opportunity for him to improve on the other facets of his game.
Growing pains were evident in their struggles early on, but winning the Araw ng Davao Invitational and the FilOil Preseason Cup showed their improvements over the course of time. Naturally, there are tweaks here and there with regards to overall team play. However, this only serves to help them meet the huge expectations set for them by coaches, fans, and the UAAP community.
“I don’t see any rust, because during the practice, we kept on simulating everything,” Ayo says when asked about the team’s condition between their first UAAP game and the FilOil Finals.
Teng is set to exhaust his fifth year of eligibility along with co-captain Thomas Torres. Forwards Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent took the option to return to Taft and exhaust their final playing years after previously setting their eyes on entering the PBA Draft.
“I really can’t wait for UAAP because it’s my last chance to bring another championship here to La Salle and I’m really excited,” Teng shares. “I’ll just do whatever it takes. I’ll really give my best effort for La Salle to win another championship.”
Point guard Kib Montalbo is also set to return to the team after missing the previous season from an ACL injury.
The team will feature six newcomers with the likes of Cameroonian Ben Mbala, former NU Bullpup standouts Mark Dyke and Justine Baltazar, former De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers Aljun Melecio and Brent Paraiso, along with Ricci Rivero of La Salle Green Hills.
Mbala is set to make his long-awaited UAAP debut after undergoing an extra year of residency after violating league rules. Melecio and Baltazar on the other hand, were named season MVP and Finals MVP, respectively, in last year’s UAAP Juniors Basketball Tournament. The high-leaping Rivero and older brother Prince, meanwhile, are the first set of brothers to suit up for the Green Archers since Junjun and Christian Cabatu in the early 2000s.
Swingman Josh Torralba and point guard Lorenzo Navarro will no longer suit up for the Green-and-White. The prior made the decision to complete his education in the United States, while the latter chose to return to his alma mater, San Sebastian College. Gboy Gob, who has vastly improved over the offseason, will miss the upcoming season due to an ACL injury, while Larry Muyang has been left out of the lineup as well.
The key to victory
As to the team’s objective for the season, Ayo is expecting no less than the championship. “The mere fact that we’re joining the competition, we’re expecting to win,” he adds. “Otherwise, why join the competition?”
The Sorsogon local further explained that the bar set is not based on the team’s depth. Ayo and his squad simply mean business. “Kung may talent ‘man o wala, we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to find a way to win. Yan ang kompetisyon.”
Even with all the high expectations and the presumptive targets on their backs, the Green Archers remained focused on their path to redemption this season. A key to what will help them achieve their goal of winning it all will be to consistently run their sets and exert pressure on both ends of the floor.
“Well, we have to exert effort and execute and we just have to have a good approach to the game. So we just have to be patient,” Ayo says.
“To the La Salle community, we just promise to give our best every game and we’ll try to make them proud and it’s gonna be a fun season for us,” Teng adds. “It’s gonna be exciting because we’ll be trapping all game long. With coach Aldin, we’ll bring mayhem to the UAAP.”
Catch the DLSU Green Archers open their UAAP title bid on Wednesday, September 7, at 4 pm at the Mall of Asia Arena, against the defending champions, the FEU Tamaraws.