MANILA, Philippines – When the De La Salle Green Archers begin their quest to win a second consecutive college basketball championship this July in the UAAP’s 77th season, it’ll be no secret what their main strength will be.
For all the greatness of Jeron Teng, the incredible clutch-shooting prowess of Almond Vosotros, and collection of playmakers at Coach Juno Sauler’s disposal, La Salle’s offense plays through its collection of big men.
It’s because of guys like Most Improved Player of the Year Arnold Van Opstal, Mythical Five selectee Jason Perkins, the returning Yutien Andrada, captain-ball Norbert Torres, and the sweet-shooting Matt Salem that La Salle found its way back to the top of the UAAP basketball echelon last season.
Make no mistake about it, Teng, the Finals MVP, and Vosotros, the guy who hit the series-defining shot against UST in Game 3, played gigantic roles in the Green Archers’ bid back atop the league. Though, Sauler’s arsenal of bigs is the reason why the guys from Taft were the best rebounding squad in Season 76, and why its adversaries feared La Salle’s defense, and why they were crowned champions when the dust cleared.
With that said, you can only imagine how many of DLSU’s rivals could just close their eyes in disbelief when hearing that Prince Rivero, one of the most sought-after bigs in Philippine high school ball, declared his intention to play his collegiate career at the heart of Vito Cruz, Taft, Manila.
“First of all, sobrang thankful ako kay Boss Danding [Cojuangco]”, said the six-foot-three forward during yesterday’s SLAM Rising Stars Classic at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Shaw Boulevard, Mandaulyong City. “Kasi, nung umalis kami nang NU, siya yung isa sa tumangap saamin sa La Salle Greenhills, kaya ako nag La Salle.”
(First of all, I’m very thankful to Boss Danding Cojuango. Because, when we left NU, he was the one who accepted us into La Salle Greenhills, which is why I chose La Salle.)
He continued, “So, duon palang, yung heart ko nasa La Salle na.”
(So from that moment on, my heart was already in La Salle.)
Along with guys like Arvin Tolentino, Thirdy Ravena, Hubert Cani (the game’s MVP), and many other top high school ballers in the country today, Rivero displayed his skills in front of the media, some onlookers, and a number of PBA players in attendance. Though he didn’t play a huge chunk of minutes, it’s no question that Rivero managed to entice those present with his incredible footwork in the post, long-range shooting ability, and the other weapons that define his game.
Rivero, along with Cani’s 19 markers, helped their squad – Team Hype – get by Team Punks, 93-90, after a late Ravena turnover.
As Rivero’s squad prepared for yesterday’s would-be triumph, the 19-year-old recalled how difficult it was to have a complete practice with the rest of the team, due to a number of conflicts in schedule.
“First of all, sobrang blessed namin na naging part kami dito,” said the guy who averaged 22.7PPG on 68% shooting, 16.3RPG, 2.5APG, 1SPG, and 1BPG during his senior year while playing for La Salle Greenhills in the NCAA’s junior division. “Yung preparation namin for this game, mahirap eh. Kasi, magkaroon kami nang practice during the weekends, tapos some of our teammates, hindi makakaattend. May times na nacacancel yung practice.”
(First of all, we’re very blessed to be a part of this. The preparation for this game was hard, because, whenever we would have practices, some of our teammates couldn’t attend. There were times practices were cancelled.)
He added: “Pinagusapan nalang namin na, ‘Guys, hindi tayo nakapagpractice, so let’s just play our best. We need to communicate more inside the court.’”
(We just talked about it and said, ‘Guys, we weren’t able to practice, so let’s just play our best.)
Though Cani’s crafty showmanship and Ravena’s all-around performance stole the show, it wasn’t hard to lose sight of Rivero, who displayed why DLSU fans are ecstatic about what the former La Salle Greenie can bring to the table once he reaches the college ranks. Without a doubt, Rivero will be a force in the UAAP – maybe not right away, but definitely in the long-term – and according to him, the Green Archers environment is the perfect place to develop his potential.
“Sobrang ganda nang ambiance at pag-tangap saakin nang mga Lasallians,” noted Rivero, who won both the Defensive Player of the Year and MVP Awards in NCAA 89. “Parang kapatid ko sila, so parang family nila na ako. So, duon palang, I took that as a ‘yes’ na, so first choice ko talaga DLSU.”
(The ambiance in DLSU is really nice, and they way they accepted me was really great.)
(It was like they were all my brothers and sisters, like I was their family. So from there on out, I took that as a ‘yes’ already, so my first choice was really DLSU.)
As previously mentioned, Rivero displayed a very mature game last night, consisting of incredible patience, unbelievable footwork in the post for a high school player, and the ability to knock down shots from beyond the three-point line.
In the long run, Prince wants to capitalize more on his advantage in the post, and further develop his shot from the outside. But in the meantime, as Rivero works his way up DLSU’s frontline rotation, the 180-pounder is looking to slim down to get ready for the grind of the UAAP, and do whatever it takes to help his university win its second straight title, starting a potential dynasty.
“I need to trim down a bit as well so that I can move faster,” Rivero mentioned in an interview with Slam Philippines prior to the Rising Stars Classic.
“Right now, I’m working on perimeter [play], and I’m still improving on my post [game]. So, ang maeexpect saakin is, gagawin ko yung role ko and kung ano yung gusto nang coach ko para makatulong ako sa team. Yun muna, cause rookie ako ngayon. So, kailangan ko muna makatulong sa team,” he said last night, when I asked what Coach Sauler and the rest of the team can expect out of him this upcoming UAAP season.
(They can expect me to play my role and whatever else coach wants me to do to help the team. I’ll do that first, since I’m a rookie now. I need to help the team.)
And with the way things are currently going, it seems like Rivero is getting quickly acquainted with his future teammates.
“Tinutulungan nila ako, especially saloob nang court,” the former La Salle Greenhills superstar revealed about his practices with the defending champions of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
(They’re helping me out, especially on the playing court.)
“For example, may mga maliliit ako na lapses, yung mga veterans sa team, tinutulungan nila ako na, ‘Hey, bro, dapat nandito ka, ha? Dapat next time, pag ganito nangyari, you should be here, para hindi tayo maipit.’ So, tinutulungan nila ako based on their experience, para yung team maangat nang sabay-sabay.”
(For example, when I have small lapses, the veterans in the team go like, ‘Hey, bro, you should be here, okay? Next time, when this happens, you should be here, so we won’t get scattered.’ So, they help me out based on their experience, so that the team rises as a whole.)
Besides his abilities on both offense and defense, Rivero also delivers some of the qualities of the court that every basketball coach loves: the willingness to learn, understanding short-term goals and being patient about the future, the fire needed inside every competitor to be victorious, and a humble personality that will help him fit right in with his co-students inside the walls of one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
Rivero already has the skills to compete with anyone on the basketball court, but it’s his desire to get better and take one for the team that will make him a lethal weapon for La Salle.
“Most probably, marami ako matutunan from them (his teammates), and siguro, may matutunan din sila from me. So, magtutulungan nalang kami, para sabay-sabay kami umangat. Pag sabay-sabay kami mag tulungan, yung team yung aangat, hindi individual,” mentioned Rivero, who’s still deciding between a major on Interdisciplinary Studies or a degree in Management.
(I will learn a lot from them, and, maybe, they’ll learn something from me too. We’re just going to help each other out, so we all rise at the same time. When we help each other out, the team play will improve, not the individual.)
When asked if playing for a team with a mission of winning a second straight title is something that pressures him, the confident rookie gave an answer that should further excite La Salle students and alumni.
“Actually, may pressure siya talaga,” he said. “And yung pressure na yun, tinatake ko siya as a challenge and as an inspiration for me to help them, kung ano yung gusto nila itulong ko sakanila and kung ano sa tingin nila kaya ko magawa para sa team.”
(Actually, there really is pressure. And that pressure is something I look at as a challenge and inspiration for me to help the team in whatever way possible.)
“Para mabigyan sila nang isa pang championship.”
(So that I can help deliver them another championship.)
Watch out, UAAP. The reigning titleholders just added even more bulk. And this one’s got the potential to be a superstar. – Rappler.com
Naveen Ganglani is a part-time businessman and a part-time sports writer, who has covered collegiate sports in the Philippines for The Lasallian (DLSU’s official publication), the NBA for Basketball TV, the Philippine Superliga for Solar Sports, and others. A die-hard Miami Heat, New England Patriots, and DLSU sports fan, Naveen religiously follows a variety of sports both international and local, and considers sports as his first love. Follow him on Twitter: @naveenganglani