The DLSU Green Archers left no doubt as to who was UAAP Season 79’s best team; playing two stellar games against archrivals ADMU Blue Eagles in last season’s finals showdown. Jeron Teng led La Salle in a performance which will forever be remembered by the DLSU community as he silenced the roaring opposing crowd with clutch play after clutch play. Since then, Teng and three other key veterans have graduated from the team. Now, with a young core and a fresh start, the Lasallians are once again set to repeat last year’s achievement as they bid for a back-to-back championship.
Highs and lows
Over the course of the preseason, the Green Archers participated in a series of different tournaments with the goal of gaining experience for the developing team in mind. Although La Salle failed to defend the throne in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup against the SBC Red Lions, the team bagged the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) Cup University Basketball Tournament in Taiwan. To get used to the changes in their lineup, the team further joined a few more tournaments like the Father Martin’s Cup, Milcu Sports Summer Basketball Showcase, and a couple of tournaments in Davao. However, along with some unfortunate injuries, the team’s preseason was marred by a scuffle with the FEU Tamaraws in Davao.
“Maraming injuries and obstacles pero nakakaadjust naman kami and as of now may mga healthy players na kami and may mga iba na recovering pa,” says veteran forward Prince Rivero on the pre-season experiences of the team.
(There were a lot of injuries and obstacles but we were able to adjust and as of now, some players are healthy already but some are still recovering.)
With the departure of Thomas Torres, Julian Sargent, Jason Perkins, and Teng, players will have to step up for the upcoming season. Reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala will also be unavailable in La Salle’s first game versus the Tamaraws this weekend, and possibly more, due to his involvement with the Cameroon National Team in the 2017 FIBA Afrobasket. Two-time UAAP champion and defensive specialist Kib Montalbo will also be out due to illness.
This edition of the Green Archers will have four rookies ready to suit up and play for the Green-and-White. These include assistant coach Glenn Capacio’s son, Gabe Capacio, from the ADMU Blue Eaglets, Ramil Tero from St. Claire, UE transferee Josh Gonzales, and the rising big man from the University of Visayas, Santi Santillan. Each one will have a vital role in the team’s hunt for another title as well as having to fill in for the graduated seniors.
According to head coach Aldin Ayo, the rookies have already adjusted to the system since all of them were with the team last year and just sat out the entire season due to residency. He also added that the rookies will fill roles that will definitely help the team. “May purpose yung pagkarecruit nila eh.” (Their recruitment had a purpose.)
“I just told them to treat every game as if it’s their last because every game is a must win game for us kasi it’s a challenge na kung paano na kami mag-improve as a team,” P. Rivero on the advice he gave to the rookies.
(I just told them to treat every game as if it’s their last because every game is a must win game for us and it’s a challenge for us to see how we improve as a team.)
After garnering respect during his debut season with the Green Archers, Ayo aspires to continue what he started as he takes on his second year as head coach and looks to retain the aggressive nature of his team. The Letran graduate also aims to improve on the physicality and mental aspect of the players.
“Almost the same but our system is evolving. We have to do new things kasi nakakaadjust naman yung mga kalaban sa atin so we have to do new things na hindi nila alam, as much as possible kasi we want to be unpredictable,” explains Ayo when asked about the possible changes in his notorious “Mayhem” system of play.
(Almost the same but our system is evolving. We have to do new things because other teams are adjusting to us so we’ll have to do things they don’t know about yet as much as possible, because we want to be unpredictable.)
Leadership and maturity
Ayo has labeled this year’s squad as a young team and has focused on developing the maturity of the players. “Yung mga first stringers natin, last year they were coming off the bench, some were third stringers, some were second stringers last year so I hope during the season mag-mature yung mga players.”
(Last year, some of our first stringers were coming off the bench, some were third or second stringers, so I hope our players mature during the season.)
The UAAP champion coach added that the team has no problems on the basics of basketball but how the players will approach the game is one problem that Ayo anticipates the team to face this season.
Co-captains Montalbo and P. Rivero are the players expected by Ayo to lead the team this season along with last year’s starters, Mbala and Abu Tratter. Even with a young team, the latter has expressed his excitement to get the season started and stated that the team chemistry is strong. The veteran big man also pointed out the things that the team needs to do in order for them to successfully keep the championship in Taft. “We’re gonna run the plays a lot more and we’re gonna execute the plays precisely,” explained Tratter.
Although Ayo singled out these players, P. Rivero said that he expects everyone to act like a leader and that seniority does not matter when it comes to the leadership role. “Anyone can step up and be the leader. It’s about you helping your teammates grow and at the same time you’re growing also.”
A positive outlook
Although the team will miss the presence of the four key veterans that steered them to a championship last season, P. Rivero still has high expectations for the young batch of Green Archers. He said that if the team keeps on performing well this season, winning back-to-back championships will not be out of reach. “Bilog ang bola and the way we prepared I think kaya naman.”
(The ball is round and the way we prepared, I think we can do it)
Lastly, Ayo emphasized that most of the teams in the league are at par with each other and everyone will be very competitive. He added that the team will take the season one game at a time. Despite having a big target on their back, being the defending champions, Ayo expects the team the reach the same heights they achieved last season. “We always want to win and we always want to excel. We want to win a back-to-back.”
The Green Archers will kick off their title defense on Sunday, September 10, at 4 pm against the FEU Tamaraws at the Mall of Asia Arena.