Behind the Grind: How the Green Archers’ newfound strength and conditioning Coaches laid the groundwork for Championship success

The DLSU Green Archers successfully concluded their redemption journey in the UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament due to the support of the unsung heroes who worked in the background to enhance their durability, endurance, and physicality throughout the season.

The UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament saw the DLSU Green Archers complete their redemption arc, finishing with an 11-3 record, including a second-round sweep on the way to a nine-game winning streak. With their consistency and intensity, La Salle ultimately went on to earn their 10th title—the third-most in league history. Throughout this campaign, what seemed to become a recurring theme at every postgame interview was the Taft-based squad giving the coaching staff their flowers for implementing a winning system and promoting good team chemistry.

Aside from first-year Head Coach Topex Robinson, the Green Archers were also quite particular when acknowledging their Strength and Conditioning (S&C) trainers and team nutritionist. Following an injury-riddled Season 85 that embarrassingly kept DLSU out of the Final Four, players such as Finals MVP Kevin Quiambao and workhorse center Mike Phillips were some of the most vocal about the impact of the unsung heroes who worked behind the scenes toward La Salle’s durability, endurance, and physicality and how they should receive their well-deserved credit as much as those who put in work on the hardwood.

Green Archers going in and out of the lineup due to players constantly getting hurt became the story of that lackluster season, unable to fully tap their potential as a team, much to the frustration of fans. These instances came especially in Round Two up until the battle for the last Final Four slot against the AdU Soaring Falcons, with starters and rotations still being figured out by the coaching staff given the health statuses of some players. It was clear for the Green and White that to build a championship team, availability was the best ability. And, in the much-anticipated arrival of Coach Topex, La Salle also brought in key personnel that would serve as avenues for unmatched consistency, discipline, and toughness–all of which led to the Men’s Basketball crown finding its way back to Taft after seven long years.

Putting in the work 

It was a full circle moment for two La Salle Greenhills alumni who met the Green Archers for the first time a few months after the UAAP Basketball Tournament had finished. Strength and Conditioning coaches Miguel Aytona and Gelo Vito were greeted by a roster eager to flip the script storied by the heartbreaking end of their Season 85 campaign. 

Even though the team had been sporting fresh time off the season, Aytona and Vito were instantly hurdled with injuries to rehabilitate. Aytona and Vito entered the offseason with a mission to build back the team before the team could work on themselves, and it was far from smooth sailing at first. While there were players who consistently followed the program, some wouldn’t show up. However, as the program began to bear results, it started alluring players to attend. “It did take time for some guys to show up consistently, but eventually they did.” says Aytona. 

Along with the changes that came with the shift of system under Head Coach Robinson was the preparation for the mentor’s physically demanding run-and-gun offensive and defensive trap. Beyond working on their fundamentals, such as speed, agility, and power endurance, it was also crucial for the team to work on longevity. “[It’s] very important to work on their durability, because the system that Coach Topex wants to play is ‘yung fast-paced system, it’s a double-edged sword. If you try and play like this for a whole season, you’ll definitely dominate. But since you’re playing so fast for a long period [of time], you’re gonna be more prone to getting hurt,” explains Aytona.  

Also fondly known by the Green Archers as “Coach Migs,” Aytona puts emphasis that his ability to plan and organize training sessions is what brings his program to full effect. He credits Robinson—whom he had worked with at the professional level—for giving him the power to dictate practice intensity and duration. “Without Coach Topex, my strength and conditioning program wouldn’t be as successful as it is. He gives me the power to dictate practice duration and intensities, so that helps me plan when to do weights [and] when to do conditioning,” he acknowledges.

In contrast to that of many peers in the local scene, Aytona’s program emphasizes the vital role of load management, which he defines as pulling out players from training or cutting down their training time to prevent getting burned out. He notes instances wherein he would pull players out of scrimmages to do indoor cycling exercises as a form of low-impact work. The players are pulled out to reduce injury risk, while simultaneously keeping just enough energy to prevent them from being left behind in terms of their progress.

Following this, Vito cites his experience with Season 85 Rookie of the Year Quiambao, as he described him as a “workhorse” in the gym. The Season 86 MVP would get into work six to seven times a week on top of having challenging practices. He also mentioned that the players follow the S&C coaches right away when they’re being pulled out of practice for the day. 

Ultimately, the reciprocated efforts on both ends came to fruition with the Taft-based side’s strength and conditioning showing notable signs of improvement as early during the preseason. As opposed to the formerly once-a-week lift, the Green Archers saw that number move up to around three or four times a week. Aytona also shares that some players had difficulty transitioning from the old program into the new one but persevered and followed through with it. “I’m happy that the guys embraced the grind. They [knew that they] need this to be champions.” 

The team also does monthly testing to assess and reassess their growth and performance in the program. Vito shares that monitoring is also meant for them to see if the program that they’re doing is aligned with Coach Topex’s system. He notes that “We’ve seen so much growth [in] the past few months that we’ve been in La Salle.” Along with the team’s physical therapists and nutritionist, they work hand in hand to tie everything up to ensure that the team’s synergy is up to par. 

At the time of the interview, Aytona was asked about the future of the team as they were heading to the last three months of preparation prior to the commencement of their Season 86 campaign. He advised the coaching staff to take recuperated pauses: “Let’s take a step back first from basketball and a lot of running, and we’re gonna have to reset and build from zero again to make sure that they won’t get burned out,” as to avoid peaking in the preseason and losing steam in vital moments. Eventually, the Performance Head Coach’s vision came to fruition as the Green Archers outlasted the rest of the league to sweep the second round and grind out a Finals come-from-behind victory over the UP Fighting Maroons to reclaim the crown.

Health is wealth

While doing everything in their power to get as close as possible to the perfect basketball shape, it was the Green Archers’ responsibility to maintain good health from the inside. In other words, the team needed good nutrition to complement their strength and conditioning program and to prevent any further injuries. A common advice one could hear within the sports industry is that exercise is only 30 percent training. The 70 percent comes from fundamental dietary changes to boost energy, fortify bones and muscles, and draw focus and motivation.

Timothy Ting, better known as Coach Tim, is in charge of the team’s nutrition program. Stepping foot as the nutritionist around the same time Coach Topex, Aytona, and Vito started to work for La Salle, he shares similar sentiments with the Strength and Conditioning trainers. Coach Tim had to adjust from the previous program. While DLSU provided the necessary facilities and resources for him to work with, the nutritionist noticed that despite the team’s access to these advantages, they were not maximized.

The team’s Head Nutritionist had to begin with educating the players first with food items–to understand which of their foods were fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and the like. According to him, “We’re starting to build [a system] because the thing with nutrition is that it takes time to change someone’s eating habits…And, working with a range of players that are very health-conscious, we really had to start with foundational knowledge and habit-based items.”

Introducing the nutrition program required help from the strength and conditioning side of things. Before gaining the team’s full trust and discipline, Ting had to show results. He started with the seniors, with Green Archers Team Captain Ben Phillips being the veteran lead for his teammates to follow the recommended nutrition plan. The nutritionist also mentions Quiambao as one of the first to get positive results in the offseason, having been able to build his ideal body for better on-court performance. Once the players saw the eventual MVP’s improved physique, the entire team passionately followed the program including Coach Tim’s recommended diet and eating habits. “Every single day is a constant tug-of-war…[but] it’s all about creating a certain plan wherein the players are able to try it and get immediate results so that they stay motivated to keep going,” he adds.

Tying it all together, Ting indicates that it is the mindset that fortifies the culture that Robinson and the rest of the staff are trying to build. The team nutritionist told the story of his first day with the Green Archers that enforced an important precedent: the new head coach told the players that it is not mandatory to follow any of the coaches and trainers. “Nothing is forced upon you…At the end of the day, the bus will keep rolling with or without you,” Robinson supposedly said. With the La Salle mastermind holding every player accountable with their own S&C and nutrition plans, he was able to set the tone for the team to be responsible enough and make the necessary sacrifices for success.

In the end, Coach Tim says, “There’s only one of me against a pool of 30 players, but what we do is we educate and empower the players to make good decisions themselves, so we don’t have to keep tabs on them as much.”

Running it back 

The Green Archers’ effort and dedication eventually paid off with what they had shown in their Finals bout against the UP Fighting Maroons being the ultimate testament to embracing the grind. After putting in all the hard work they could give and believing in themselves as they trusted their individual capabilities, their S&C have proved that they can match the physicality of their opponents and are able to turn things around in their favor. 

The job is done for now, and the team is able to take a step back and relish the championship high before going back to the drawing board in an attempt to secure back-to-back wins. After having bought into the program and reaping its rewards, the now-defending champions know what it takes. With UAAP Season 86 MVP and Finals MVP Quiambao returning for another year after a historic sophomore season, the Green Archers are now gearing up to regroup and prepare for the long battle they will have to conquer on their own terms.

Gab Ortiz

By Gab Ortiz

Mikaela Vallesteros

By Mikaela Vallesteros

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