MANILA, Philippines – They’ll never admit it, but actions always speak louder than words. That’s why when you look at the result of each DLSU Green Archers game in the UAAP this season, it’s no surprise that their two most dominant victories have come against the team that their old mentor – to some of them, a former big brother and father figure – now handles.
No, each La Salle game against UST in UAAP Season 81 hasn’t been played with the purpose of sending Aldin Ayo a message. After DLSU’s demolition of the Growling Tigers this past weekend in Antipolo, Aljun Melecio explained it best: Ayo or not, he’ll always go all out for the green and white. Likewise, with the rest of the roster.
But there must be some sense of satisfaction for these Green Archers with the way they’ve swept the Growling Tigers, especially this past Saturday, 110-69. At one point, DLSU led by as much as 48. As Justine Baltazar threw down dunks, Jollo Go hit consecutive three-pointers, and Mark Dyke silenced alleged bigots in the crowd, some alumni in green couldn’t help but smile.
Success. There’s no better type of payback.
Not long after the final buzzer, DLSU head coach Louie Gonzalez was in the lockers, a wide smile on his face. “Oi, partner!” he said as he was approached by a familiar face. Positivity was radiant in his actions. Could you blame him? La Salle has now won 4 of its last 5 games since that blowout loss to Ateneo. In that span, they’ve defeated Final Four contenders in Adamson, FEU, and UST, plus UE.
Suddenly, the Green Archers are once again resembling the successful basketball program we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing over the past decades. The anxious looks of Gonzalez during games have been replaced by self-assurance. Players are more confident, which is apparent with how aggressive they’ve become. Just ask Go, Dyke, and Andrei Caracut.
The best part? It feels like La Salle is only beginning to hit their peak.
“We’re peaking pa. Ako naman, simula nung nag start yung UAAP, ang goal ko talaga is my team is to be the best at getting better,” Gonzalez said during a private chat with Rappler.
“Improve, improve every game. We spend a lot of time watching games. Katulad nito, when we get home, i-breakdown namin yung game na ito. Even if it’s a good win already, hindi kami mag stop.”
(We’re still peaking. Since the UAAP started, my goal really is to mold this team to be the best at getting better. We have to improve every game. We spend a lot of time watching games. Like this one, when get home, we’ll break this game down. Even if it’s a good win already, we won’t stop.)
What makes DLSU’s performance more impressive is that they’ve amassed their victories without Taane Samuel, the team’s 6-foot-9 Kiwi center replacement for Ben Mbala who was also the Green Archers’ double-double machine in the preseason. To put things in perspective, UE is the only other team in the UAAP who has played the entire season without a foreign recruit. They’ve won once in 11 games despite having the best scorer in the league.
Samuel, who suffered a Jones Fracture on his right foot, is set to return in the next week or two, which could give him time to get some run with his teammates before the Final Four, where La Salle will have to deal with the likes of Angelo Kouame, Bright Akhuetie, Papi Sarr, or Prince Orizu.
“That’s another 6-9 body na marunong mag basketball. Siyempre, sino bang coach hindi magugustuhan may ganoon presence naglalaro?” said Gonzalez.
(That’s another 6-foot-9 who knows how to play basketball. Is there any coach who wouldn’t want that in the game?)
What also needs to be noted, however, is that Samuel’s injury has been a blessing in disguise. Forced to play bigger roles, guys like Baltazar, Santi Santillan, and Brandon Bates have stepped up to the call and garnered adoration from the DLSU community with their play. Add Samuel to that mix, and the Green Archers will soon be the type of physical team that beats up their opponents in the paint while having outside gunners with the green light to let it fly.
The perfect in-and-out combination, one that may very well catapult them back to the finals, where it’s likely a trilogy conclusion against their arch nemesis awaits.
“Kasama sa programa yan. It’s not Taane’s team. It’s everyone’s team. Very evident sa campaign sa season na ito, iba-iba yung nag ste-step up,” said Gonzalez.
(That’s part of the program. It’s not Taane’s team. It’s everyone’s team. It’s very evident in this season’s campaign that different players step up.)
“We’re not going to rely on one player. We’re going to rely on each other.”
That last sentence is very crucial. What suddenly clicked for DLSU? How did a team who struggled to a middle of the pack record in the first half of Season 81 turn things around? Sure, the injuries were a big factor that messed up the rotations, but the talent was never in question.
How do the individuals in the roster improve in such a short amount of time?
For Gonzalez, it’s got everything to do with the team’s off-court relationships.
“Siguro mas nakakaspend ng time na kami na mas matagal pa, doon especially sa court, tapos their activities off the court na alam ko na malaki na bagay kung bakit nag i-improve,” he said.
“Like how Aljun set up Jollo, like how Aljun set up Baltazar. Kung papaano nila i-involve si Encho [Serrano] sa offense namin. To me that’s more on relationship. We’re just running the same play. Pero nag papaganda doon yung relationship nila.”
(Maybe because we’re spending more time together, especially on court, then their activities off the court also help improve their relationships. Like how Aljun set up Jollo, like how Aljun set up Baltazar. How they involve Encho in our offense. To me that’s more on relationship. We’re just running the same play. But it has become better because of their relationship.)
Togetherness. It’s what Gonzalez has been preaching since the start of training camp. It’s why he’s taken a more disciplined approach with his boys, both on and off the court.
The Green Archers bought into his belief and then executed his principles.
Now, the promise of an even better La Salle is on the horizon.
Before heading back to locker room, Gonzalez was asked if this was what he envisioned when he took over the Green Archers.
“Yes,” he quickly answered.
He then looked up for a moment, nodded his head, and smiled.
“Yes,” he said again. – Rappler.com
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