As UAAP Season 84 draws closer, the DLSU Green Archers are slowly coming together, building a meaningful chemistry with hopes of achieving success this year. After the team narrowly missed out on the Final Four in Seasons 81 and 82, Season 83 was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to this, many key players departed after opting to play professionally amid the uncertainty surrounding the collegiate scene.
Until now, the aftermath of the last UAAP season still stings the men’s basketball team and its supporters. Forward Joaqui Manuel expresses, “[Season 82] was really hard. There were a few games where [we] should have won.” He furthers, “We couldn’t make the Final Four, so it [was] a really tough pill to swallow.”
Since then, the team has been reinforced with fresh talent. Among the team’s biggest offseason acquisitions is sharpshooting floor general Evan Nelle from San Beda University (SBU). Also back at the helm of management head coach Derick Pumaren, who led La Salle to dominance by winning multiple championships from the late 80s to the early 90s. With a reloaded roster that boasts a multitude of talent, the Green Archers have their sights on the upcoming season and are hungry to bring back the crown to Taft.
For any athlete, a momentary lull in competition is sure to pose difficulties in improving or even sustaining competitive performance. But since adjustments have to be made while in an ongoing health crisis, a hiatus on games and practices for more than a year could greatly affect multiple factors. Manuel discloses, “[Within] these past two years, I don’t think any athlete [who’s missed the] UAAP maintained their shape because it’s super hard.”
The unexpected departures of key players Encho Serrano and Aljun Melecio were also major losses for the roster’s firepower and should-have-been existing team chemistry. The said players decided to forgo their remaining college eligibility and opted to take their talents to the National Basketball League and the Philippine Basketball Association, respectively. However, Pumaren expresses, “Life goes on. So with or without them, we will still be playing hard.”
Despite the challenges, the squad must move forward. The champion mentor shares, “[Our] players are already adjusted [to playing] without them (Serrano and Melecio).” To this, defensive stopper Manuel adds, “They are scorers. It’s hard for [a] team to lose those types of players. But the people we recruited are also the types to bring the team together, [like] Evan Nelle.”
Young guns and familiar faces
Once Season 84 commences, veterans Justine Baltazar, Kurt Lojera, and Joaqui Manuel are expected to lead a team heavily composed of newcomers. “I definitely see myself taking more of a leadership role. I think that’s what I proved to the coaches, last [season],” Manuel stresses.
With the addition of transferees Nelle, Mark Nonoy and Deo Cuajao from University of Sto. Tomas, Benjamin Phillips from Miami University, Deschon Winston from Central Michigan University, rookies Jcee Macalalag from La Salle Greenhills, Raven Cortez from De La Salle Santiago Zobel School, Aaron Buensalida and Kevin Quiambao from Nazareth School-National University, Penny Estacio from Far Eastern University, Michael Phillips from Creekside High School, Jared Abadam from Westfield Sports High School, and holdover Joshua David, Pumaren is confident that the team is ready to face major challenges to be brought by other teams. “I have conditioned their minds to be ready [at any] given time. I know that if our numbers are called, we’ll [be] ready.”
Still, building a connection with one another is important for a team to play as one. At times, rosters that have many new faces struggle to compete against experienced and well-bonded teams partly due to the lack of time spent together by players. Majority of the offseason training was also spent online, posing additional questions if this newly formed DLSU team can translate their talent to garnering victories this season. “That’s [why] I try to bond with everybody, so that when it comes to the court, it will translate na we got each other’s backs,” Nelle emphasizes.
Regardless of the massive roster shakeups, everyone involved seems to be committed to achieve a common goal, “It’s a commitment. It’s a sacrifice. It’s an attitude that we work hard and everything [will] come out,” says Pumaren. After two seasons filled with disappointment and uneventfulness, the new roster is eager to restore La Salle’s reputation as a premier powerhouse in collegiate basketball.
Targets in sight
To achieve the team’s ambitious goals, Pumaren highlights the importance of playing disciplined basketball, stating that it was the lack of such that plagued the team in the two previous seasons. “We cannot close out games. Why? Because walang discipline, diba?…And that’s why I’m always telling the boys, [that] we have to have discipline because that is where you separate men from the boys, that is where you separate a win from a loss,” the returning head coach comments.
After contributing significant success for the SBU Red Lions in the NCAA, Nelle aims to shine on a different stage to complete his illustrious collegiate career. “I want to outdo my years in [San] Beda. I really want to win this one talaga,” he remarks.
On the other hand, Manuel shares his mentality to becoming a better player, imparting that having goals way above one’s capabilities will push anyone to work even harder. “I want to get MVP; I want to get [inducted as one of the] Mythical Five,” he asserts.
The Green Archers will enter Season 84 as underdogs, while their rivals—the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles—currently boast a three-peat and their being the title defenders. However, such a disposition will not be a concern according to Pumaren. “We want to have that role. We want to be the underdog. We know deep inside that we can beat the other teams,” he proclaims. With the new promising recruits and veterans looking sharp, it would be hard not to believe Pumaren.
De La Salle’s men’s basketball team will start their long-awaited journey on March 26, and will once again face the participating UAAP universities that also aim for the same goal: becoming the basketball champs after the two seasons of actionless grind.