With Justine Baltazar and Kurt Lojera turning pro, the DLSU Green Archers will rely on a different veteran presence heading into their bid for the UAAP Season 85 crown. Two-way player Joaqui Manuel remains the only active Green Archer from Season 81’s roster, experiencing La Salle’s turnaround from missing the Final Four to bagging a bronze medal last season.
However, Manuel’s biggest challenge is fast approaching, especially since UAAP Season 85 is set to begin in October. As basketball runs deep in his blood, the forward aims to continue his journey as one of La Salle’s most passionate hustlers on both ends of the floor.
Enjoying the game
While Manuel showed superb performances on the court throughout Season 84, it did not come without challenges. The two-way forward faced much criticism during the season, primarily because of his unsportsmanlike foul on ADMU Blue Eagle Ange Kouame—which led Manuel to serve a one-game suspension. “This season was the most [hate] I’ve gotten. That started with that Ateneo game, but it’s definitely just part of the game. I mean, Ange [and I] are good friends.” He further explains that he simply brushes it off and opts not to mind it. In fact, Manuel reads up on everything UAAP fans say about him and finds it funny, even liking some of the posts.
Another obstacle Manuel faced in experiencing the bubble setup was having his family so near, yet so far. With his parents watching from the stands and his brother just meters away commentating during games, the six-foot-three Green Archer says that he “definitely doesn’t recommend it” for anyone. “It’s mentally draining…I was really struggling then, but thankfully I have a good support system.” Manuel also frequently speaks to the team’s sports psychiatrist, explaining that it keeps him in check.
Apart from dealing with affairs off the court, the veteran was figuring out how to make an impact and find his way into head coach Derrick Pumaren’s rotation. However, his constant training and positive mindset paid off as the Green and White made it to the final four. “It was just me and Balti [left] from Season 81. Two straight years not making the final four, it was challenging, especially for the fans din.”
Although the Green Archers dealt with countless intense matchups this season, Manuel found ways to relax as he “just kept smiling”, proving to Lasallian fans that it is important not just to play the game but to love it as well. “I just try to enjoy it lang,” he says with a smile, looking back on both the highs and lows of the season.
Growing through time
With a ton of basketball experience under his belt, Manuel narrates the differences in approaching the game during his rookie season compared to his role as a veteran today. He admits that he had to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of collegiate basketball, especially with that of DLSU since “nothing’s certain in these kinds of teams in college.”
He also mentions that as a basketball player, with experience, the game starts to “slow down”. “If you’re a freshman coming in, everything seems like it’s moving faster. Throughout the years, I’ve had those moments. And last season, I’ve had those moments na parang I find the games getting better and easier,” the veteran forward elaborates.
Completely understanding the game as an athlete takes a lot of time and maturity, aided by mentors that usher a system of development among their players. For Manuel, he had to adapt to three different head coaches since his rookie year, all with varying coaching philosophies and systems. Still, Manuel found ways to make a mark in each of the teams coached by Louie Gonzales, Jermaine Byrd, and current head coach Derrick Pumaren. After a rollercoaster of a season, Manuel remains grateful for his opportunity to prove that he is a crucial piece in La Salle’s puzzle—securing quality minutes for the Green and White in their games. With Pumaren currently gearing up his team for Season 85, he will be fortunate to have Manuel “supporting him in whatever decision he makes.”
Hungry for gold
“There’s going to be that age na we’re not going to be able to play that sport, so how else are we gonna make a living?” the Green Archer stresses, as a reminder to fellow student-athletes that education is of utmost importance in building a future. Even an athlete of Manuel’s pedigree accepts that basketball is not going to be there forever; thus, a degree in economics provides him an opportunity to excel in continuing the family business. Manuel exclaims that he and his siblings wish to maintain the legacy ”for the future generations of Manuels.”
An impactful player is echoed through future generations by how much the athlete is adored back in the day. For Manuel, he wishes to be memorialized as the Green Archer who gave it his all every time, “I really play 110 percent, 120, hundred-whatever.”
Looking at a championship-hungry run, Manuel’s journey donning the Green and White is far from over. He will continue to play his game by “always going all out…not stopping, not resting in the middle, always in the end.” Confident in a Final Four return, the forward claims that anyone is beatable in this league”, and that it is just a matter of who wants it more. “Hopefully, my teammates are as hungry as me, hungry as the ones who’ve reached the Final Four last season.”