Three seasons ago, a young assistant coach by the name of Juno Sauler was given the head coaching job of a somewhat promising DLSU Green Archer squad just three weeks prior to its opening game. La Salle had suffered an early semifinals defeat the prior season against its archrivals, the ADMU Blue Eagles. Then led by a young Jeron Teng and a number of championship-hungry veterans, the team started off slow and unimpressive in 2013, ending the first round with a subpar 3-4 win-loss record.
Most of the criticisms were targeted at the rookie coach as the Green Archers were on the brink of missing the playoffs. With a two-week break to make way for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, La Salle, then under the guidance of Sauler, was able to finetune its system. The Green-and-White would then go on a seven-game winning streak to end the elimination round with a 10-4 record. The team from Taft was ultimately crowned champions after defeating the UST Growling Tigers in three games in the Finals.
Impressive as it was, the legendary run by Sauler would never be replicated. After missing the playoffs in 2015, Sauler would vacate his position and La Salle would eventually hire former Letran Knights coach Aldin Ayo. As promised, Ayo brought his “mayhem” style of play to the court from start to finish, finishing the elimination round with a 13-1 standing. La Salle would then march unblemished towards the championship, sweeping ADMU in the Finals.
To analyze the dominance of the Green Archers in their two most recent championships, the squad’s two title-winning editions are compared in terms of depth, offense, and defense.
Even before the season started, the current Green Archers were already the talk of the town, not only because of their new burly coach coming in, but also because of the team’s talented roster. Jeron Teng and Thomas Torres were named captains for the season. Veterans Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent also provided leadership throughout the campaign.
Season 79’s batch of rookies also gave the team a great lift off the bench as Aljun Melecio, the former UAAP Juniors Most Valuable Player (MVP), stood out the most. The blue-chip recruit from De La Salle-Zobel finished his first season in the Seniors Division with Rookie of the Year honors, following in the footsteps of teammate Andrei Caracut, who won the award the previous season.
Providing the biggest impact for the team this season was Cameroonian Ben Mbala, who was setback for three years due to residency requirements. Although not a rookie, Mbala was a massive presence for the team as he finished the season with a double-double average on points and rebounds, thus earning himself the MVP award.
Completing an effective one-two punch alongside Mbala was Teng, a member of this season’s Mythical Five. He was a consistent scorer throughout the season and provided crucial baskets. His heroics, particularly during the Finals, allowed him to also take home his second Finals MVP.
The 2013 Championship team did not receive the same hype and fanfare as La Salle’s most recent team, but it also showcased an outstanding set of players. It was then bannered by future PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) players LA Revilla, Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, and Almond Vosotros. The Green Archers then snuck into the top-two at the end of the elimination round. They eventually bested UST in the Finals.
Complementing the veterans then were Mythical Five member Jason Perkins, veteran guards Luigi De La Paz and Oda Tampus, plus a young upstart from Bacolod named Kib Montalbo. Montalbo, Teng, Torres, and Perkins were the four holdovers from the last championship team. Aside from Teng winning the Finals MVP in Season 76, Van Opstal also took home the Most Improved Player award.
Sauler’s offensive tactics mainly relied on traditional post-up play inside. Ayo, meanwhile, would mainly get his offense going on the fastbreak coming off forced turnovers. Both coaches had the luxury of employing reliable big men throughout the season. Sauler had the likes of big men Van Opstal, N. Torres, and Perkins. Ayo had Mbala, Tratter, Perkins, Prince Rivero, and Justine Baltazar.
Both teams can also play an inside-outside strategy wherein the guards can space the floor when the big men have difficulty scoring inside. Vosotros, Revilla, and Matt Salem were the main threats from three-point territory for Sauler. Meanwhile, Ayo had the likes of Caracut, Melecio and Jollo Go.
Revilla was then the lead playmaker, as T. Torres eventually stepped up to fill in his shoes. One advantage of the 2013 team against its most recent counterparts was in terms of taking care of the ball. Sauler’s squad only averaged 15.7 turnovers per game, while Ayo’s team averaged 23.7. Both teams also shared the ball well with the former and latter averaging 13.4 and 14.6 assists per outing, respectively.
On the other end of the court, Ayo employs his trademark full court pressure, as Sauler utilized a half-court defensive scheme. Sauler and his team held their opponents to only 68.9 points per game on 37 percent field goal shooting, while forcing 13.9 turnovers a game. N. Torres and Van Opstal then anchored the La Salle defense with their heft and length. Revilla led the team’s perimeter defense with his leadership and experience.
Ayo’s “mayhem” system, on the other hand, requires a team-oriented approach to pressure their opponents’ ball handlers. The Green-and-White, under his guidance, limited its opponents to 73 points per game on 40.8 percent field goal shooting. From their aggressive style of defense, they forced their opponents to commit 26.9 turnovers per game. His frenetic style of play has proven to be successful in both the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the UAAP.
The Green Archers back in 2013 only lost LA Revilla as he opted to forego his fifth and final playing year. In their title defense, they bowed out of the Final Four versus the FEU Tamaraws in a heartbreaking fashion and settled for third place. As to the recently crowned champions, the departure of key players Teng, T. Torres, Sargent, and Perkins will prove to be the biggest test for DLSU in UAAP Season 80. It is up to Ayo to guide the likes of Mbala, Montalbo, Melecio, and company to lead the team’s campaign in keeping the championship in Taft.