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A coach’s burden and blessing: Reforming La Salle basketball

Many different faces have led the DLSU Green Archers from the sidelines in the past couple of seasons. The Taft-based squad is now being mentored by their third head coach in over three years, with Gian Nazario stepping up to take on the position this UAAP Season 82. Joined by Jermaine Byrd leading the way as the team’s active consultant, and Roland Watts entering as an assistant coach, a mixture of both local and international minds comprise the new La Salle coaching staff, who now bear the responsibility of steering the Green-and-White back to the top.

Diverse backgrounds

Having been exposed to the sport ever since he was a child, Byrd’s passion and love for the game has continued to grow all throughout his life. When asked how he got into basketball, he shares that it traces all the way back to his mother, “My mom was a teacher, she owned a gym—it’s called Fonde Recreation Center. I’ve been around basketball my whole life…I’ve been a gym rat my whole life.”

Experience in the top level is something Byrd has achieved over his 13 years of coaching in the United States, mentoring several NBA G-League teams as well as several current NBA stars including the likes of Jordan Clarkson, Hassan Whiteside, and Reggie Jackson, among others. “I spent a lot of time honing my craft. In the G-League, you don’t just get one title. They give you two or three jobs, and you learn on the fly—whether it’s coaching, front office work, or whether it’s for the players…I had [the current NBA players] when they were [still] very young—they spent a lot of time with me, as I was the coach that worked hand in hand with them,” Byrd recounts.

Alongside Byrd is Watts, who is well-versed in the sport much like his compatriot, as he has already won several titles at the amateur level, “I got a state championship as an assistant and head coach in high school. After that, I coached in New York and Indiana—that was last year—when I won a championship as a head coach. [Coaching] was just something I’ve always wanted to do. Play [basketball] or coach it…I was able to do both and I’m blessed.”

On the other hand, head coach Nazario has been building up his resume in the local scene. Nazario narrates his Green-blooded basketball history, ranging all the way back to his youth, “I represented La Salle for the UAAP Juniors [tournament] all my high school years. I was also part of the national team [in the] Under-18 division. In 2005, I started coaching for De La Salle Zobel [as] part of Coach Boris Aldeguer’s coaching staff. From 2005 all the way to the present, I’m still part of the team, so I’m sort of familiar with the culture [and] the winning tradition [of] La Salle. That’s what we’re trying to live up [to].”

Instilling a new system

Byrd expresses that he hopes the players can “be themselves” while playing “team basketball” involving better passing, ball movement, and transition plays. He furthers, “My mindset is to come in here each day, to get better, grind, and chip away. I know our players have that mindset—we just hit a tough stretch right now, but it wouldn’t be a basketball season without any adversity.”

Watts is determined to follow Byrd’s lead and help improve the system through preaching his own style of coaching, “I’m here to back him up with whatever he wants to do. I’m more of a disciplinarian type of coach, but I love defense—defense wins championships. At the same time, I’m an offensive type of guy; I love the run and gun style that we’re doing.”

Nazario adds that he works hand in hand with Byrd in order to determine what is best for the team as they attempt to ingrain a defensive yet productive system. He explains the ideal playstyle for the Archers, “We try to run as much as possible; we try to generate points as fast and as efficiently as we can. Our defense will actually dictate everything that we want to do on offense.”

Despite their game plan, Byrd admits that the team’s defense has been unsteady early in the season, “In the preseason, we were playing really good defense; we were holding teams to 28 to 39 percent from the field, while getting out in transition. We just have to get back to the things we know—that’s to get [defensive] stops and run.” He also shares that with the new additions to the team, it has been taking time to get on the same page, but he is “confident [that] it will happen.”

On coaching La Salle

For full-blooded Lasallian Nazario, becoming the head coach of the Green Archers has been the pinnacle of his coaching career thus far, “Personally, [it’s] a blessing to be a part of the DLSU Green Archers coaching staff. I was a coach in Zobel. Parang ‘yun yung ideal path for you eh, [so] when I got the call from the management…I was really excited.”

However, with the prestige of being in the coaching staff of the Green-and-White comes a tremendous amount of pressure, given that La Salle’s basketball program carries a flourishing history—accruing several years’ worth of semifinals and finals appearances, and of course, championships. Byrd details finding out about the expectations attached to the position, “I did my research when I got the job. I understand that there’s a lot of pressure; the standard is very high…this University is about excellence. I’m embracing that [and] our players are embracing that.”

After months of exposure to Philippine basketball, Byrd shares that he enjoys the atmosphere and the passion the players exhibit while representing their respective schools, “It reminds me of 90s NBA basketball, where you get to hand check, foul, and play tough. It’s kind of helter skelter, but it’s very entertaining.”

With Season 82 already underway, all three coaches emphasize the importance of adjusting to the game and staying on the same page in order for La Salle to find success this tournament. “I think it’s also our job as coaches to make sure that [the Green Archers’] mindset is to play together as a team, and as cliché as it sounds, to trust the process,” Nazario concludes.

Rain Leoncio

By Rain Leoncio

Alfonso Reyes

By Alfonso Reyes

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