UAAP: Green Archers eye redemption rally, aim for supremacy under new leadership in Season 86

After a heartbreaking end to last season’s fifth-place UAAP stint—short of entering the Final Four—the DLSU Green Archers are more dedicated than ever to bringing the championship title back home to Taft this Season 86.

After a heartbreaking end to last season’s fifth-place UAAP stint—short of entering the Final Four—the DLSU Green Archers are more dedicated than ever to bringing the championship title back home to Taft this Season 86. 

At the helm of this redemption campaign is head coach and renowned tactician Topex Robinson, who has already proven to be an inspiring mentor to the team. His introduction has already seen the emergence of La Salle’s old and new talents alike, with new standouts proving that they can immediately make a difference on the court and incoming seniors hitting their stride at the right time. 

Entering his first UAAP season, Robinson expresses that he and his team have their arrows aimed at one target: the championship title. “Everybody wants to win a championship,” he says, “and I guess that’s going to be the same end goal [that] we have in mind. As far as our lineup [goes], we’re going to make sure that each and every one of them is ready.” 

Embracing the responsibility 

Despite being the head coach of the Phoenix Super Fuel Masters in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) prior to his current job, Robinson admits that he had to adjust to suddenly becoming the mentor of a team that had been acclimated with each other for so long. Among the challenges faced by Robinson upon receiving the opportunity to coach the team was familiarizing himself with the players and getting them to buy into the system the coaching staff wanted to establish. “I guess that’s a normal process that you have to go through [when] being a new coach of an old program,” he explains. 

The former 44th overall PBA draft pick believes that coaching the Green Archers is definitely different from his experience with previous teams over the past 12 years. This, he emphasizes, was because of the talent that radiates from his young team and how it allows them to stand out individually. With the aim of bringing out the best in each of his players as athletes and humans, Robinson shares, “Love will always win. I am given a task to create an environment where everyone is safe and [shares] their gifts [with] the world. It’s about building the talent of these young guys to become great men.”

The change in the Green Archers’ coaching staff signaled a significant shift in team culture. To facilitate learning and tighten bonds, the players were told to treat the practice court as their playground. They were given the freedom to commit mistakes and the courage to set aside the pressure that comes with failure. 

Veterans and rookies have benefited from the current team dynamic, resulting in the team showing signs of substantial development. They displayed their maturity and growth in several successful stints at preseason competitions, earning first-runners-up honors in the FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup 2023 and bagging titles in the 2023 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup and 38th Kadayawan 2023 Invitational Basketball Tournament. These preseason battles have helped them gel as a team and have given them a good head of steam before they confront their greatest trial to date. 

New roles, new opportunities

Perhaps one of the athletes who are most excited to apply the reimagined system is eager rookie EJ Gollena, who will be expanding his game beyond the role that he established during his one-year residency as a defensive stopper. “During Coach Manong (Derrick Pumaren’s time with the team), I developed my defensive mindset. Kasi si Coach Topex defensive coach din siya—but then Coach Caloy [Garcia] and the other coaching staff really helped me be a thinking player and it helped me become an offensive threat.” Gollena highlights. 

(…Because Coach Topex is also an offensive coach)

While acknowledging his ability to make a difference on the court, Gollena prioritizes his team’s success rather than making a name for himself. “I want this roster to be remembered,” he passionately states. “The Season 86 roster—they are the team.” 

Gollena’s love for his school and team extends back to his childhood days when he would banter with his late grandfather, an Atenean, over La Salle-Ateneo games on television. “I used to side with DLSU, and it became so much [a part of me] that I fell in love with green,” Gollena shares. Now that the versatile wing will get the chance to play on the UAAP stage in the very rivalry game he grew up watching, he looks forward to the competition and wishes to make his grandfather proud. 

Another player who has flourished under the change in leadership is guard-forward Francis Escandor, who has blossomed to become a reliable scoring option for the Taft-based side. Being one of the roster’s veterans, Escandor looks to use his final year to do as much as he can to help out his teammates. “I’m just trying to set a good example every time I play and every time we’re outside the court as well,” the Davao City native explains. With the added firepower that Gollena and Escandor bring to the mix, the Green Archers are set to become formidable contenders for the UAAP crown. 

All for the Green and White 

Hailing from the United States, Ben Phillips has come a long way from playing basketball on dirt roads and grass with his brothers and now DLSU teammates Michael and Isaiah. As the current team captain of the Green Archers, he carries a full plate of responsibilities, including the gargantuan task of bringing the team together both on and off the court. “You need to talk to your team as a group and make sure that you have relationships and conversations with everybody individually,” says Phillips, who emphasizes the valiant role of being a team player when leading as captain. 

“I want to be remembered as someone who sacrificed everything for his school,” the business administration student reveals. His unwavering motivation stems from his goal to make the best of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for La Salle. “I just finished my MBA, and I’m starting my doctorate now—and it’s extremely grueling. Sobrang mahirap talaga like laging pagod ako laging antok ako, pero you only get to do this one time in your life, so I’ll do whatever it takes to wear that Green and White [proudly],” the team captain shares. 

(…It’s really tough and I’m always tired and sleepy, but you only get to do this one time in your life.)

Undoubtedly, Phillips is an integral part of the team and knows what it takes to be an esteemed leader—citing former team captains Aljun Melecio, Justine Baltazar, and Kurt Lojera as inspirations. One of his crucial tasks is to pass the torch to the younger members and guide them. To build continuity for the Green Archers’ achievements in the years to come, Phillips, along with the other veterans, has vowed to lead by example. “We really want to make sure we’re setting a good example not just on the court, pero outside the court,he declares. 

All the unseen pain and sacrifice that the Green Archers have endured in preparation for the upcoming season have been undertaken to bring honor and glory to the Lasallian community. The work they put in daily is a testament to how badly they want to win—not to settle for a mere trip to the Final Four but to go all out and bring home their first UAAP championship title in seven years. 

Jaden Alberto

By Jaden Alberto

Tana Melgar

By Tana Melgar

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