Boy Sablan remains light-hearted amid UST's decade-worst 0-5 start

MANILA, Philippines - In any sport, a coach of a struggling team would more often than not appear demoralized after consecutive losses. It’s a natural response, especially after losing neck-and-neck contests which could have easily been victories.

But not UST Growling Tigers head coach Boy Sablan. After losing another relatively close game against undefeated Ateneo, 94-84, Sablan was in high spirits after exiting the locker room, even joking and bursting with laughter with UST campus journalists. By stark contrast, it was Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga who was disappointed with the Blue Eagles’ victory, especially since the team gave up a massive 26-7 run that saw their 20-point (74-54) lead evaporate to a single mark, 81-80, at one point in the fourth quarter. 

Maybe the adrenaline rush of that unprecedented UST rally was the reason why Coach Sablan was so upbeat after the 10-point loss. Even before he took questions, he kept repeating “22 points! 22 points!” – referring to Ateneo’s lead before UST erased almost all of it.

Never mind that UST has fallen to its worst start in 12 years. Never mind that for 3 straight close games, they were outscored by double-digits in the last quarter. Never mind that fan attendance has been significantly reduced to the point where almost no one chants along to their drum beats.

No, for Boy Sablan, it all boils down to the single, unifying trait that has made UST what is today, 406 years later: faith. Despite the growing discontent, petitions for his removal and “Boy Sablay” comments from the once-rabid fan base, he knows that his Tigers are just cubs, and that they are growing quite nicely.

“Sure, there are 5 losses, but still we keep on fighting, even this one [versus Ateneo]. This is the hardest game we fought back from, 22 points down. Siguro lumamang pa kami kung di lang nag-turnover si Jeepy Faundo during that stretch eh!” (“Maybe we even took the lead if Jeepy Faundo did not commit a turnover during that stretch!”)

When asked if he is panicking after a 0-5 start, he quickly cut off the reporter, saying, “Hindi. Kasi yung development ng mga players ko – yung improvement na ginawa namin from last year’s team, napakalaki. Hindi lang naman ako ang nagsasabi. From other teams and other coaches, sinabi na nila yan.” (“No, because my players’ development – the improvement we’ve done from last year’s team, it’s huge. I’m not the only one saying it. From other teams and other coaches, they’ve already said it too.”)

Sablan even emphasized how young his squad is: “These are second, third year players and rookies. Walang ga-graduate dito except Jeepy Faundo.” (“No one will graduate here [this year] except Jeepy Faundo.”)

“Eight rookies. Di mo agad makukuha ang maturity niyan. It takes time,” he added. (“You won’t get their maturity immediately.”)

For a school synonymous with winning – having a league-best 40 basketball titles to show for it – a rebuild can take a while to get used to. But for Boy Sablan, he believes that everything good will come “at the right time.”

He’s not even worried for their next matchup against champion DLSU on Saturday. 

“Okay lang," he said, cutting off another reporter mid-question. "Mabigat din yung Ateneo – walang talo yun eh. Muntik na.” (“It’s okay. Ateneo is also strong – they haven’t lost. They almost did.”)

And he burst out laughing again. –