MANILA, Philippines – Deschon “Schonny” Winston is the image of a calm, cool, and collected player. He’s not often rattled, whether that’s with each dribble or when making decisions away from the bright lights, where consequences hold greater weight. There’s a Tim Duncan-like stoic demeanor; a young man who seems to move at his own speed.
Once in a while, he’ll display light-hearted moments that aren’t often noticeable behind his unflappable exterior.
“I’ve got the shorter [Jordan] Clarkson braids now,” he jested over Zoom – part of an ongoing trend in both style and fashion, avenues which have grown closely attached to modern basketball.
“We’ll see if it makes it to the UAAP season,” he said quite unsure.
The starting guard for De La Salle Green Archers is intriguing. In his first UAAP season, he sparkled with a blistering debut, followed with up-and-down scoring performances, and ended looking like a player who finally figured out where he fits in this country’s obstreperous style of play.
Unfortunately for his team, their growth halted with a collapse that manifested in a way that’s become customary for the last decade of the Green Archers’ campaigns. Blowing a ticket to the UAAP finals against University of the Philippines, who would go on to win the title, was like icing on the cake.
Seconds after the final buzzer sounded at the Mall of Asia Arena, Evan Nelle dropped to both knees and bowed his head to the floor, an image of how quickly emotions can run rampant in the UAAP, while mimicking the sentiments of a stunned La Salle crowd.
Winston approached Nelle, consoling him, before eventually leaving his teammate to his solitude. He then walked chin up to their despondent bench, a microcosm of his philosophy: to not get too high or too low, and move on to what’s next.
Does that mean Winston doesn’t care enough? Or he believes there are no significant lessons from the past? Not at all. Those assumptions sound like Twitter-fingers at work. It’s a portrayal of how basketball players have different approaches to their craft.
As Deschon put it, “I have my emotions and allow myself to choose whether or not to react to these emotions.”
That same night, Winston did what he does after every game – watch the tape. In his eyes, “basketball is a game of runs.” UP’s final run was the knockout haymaker, albeit guided by La Salle’s miscues, a common theme during the Green Archers’ entire season which was never remedied.
“When you’re in the game, it’s just like, it’s happening so fast that you really can’t get an understanding,” he explained, eyes darting up the ceiling, recalling every critical possession.
“It’s like, alright, somebody came down and made a three. Oh, came down, scored again… these points add up quickly. And then all of a sudden, you look up at the scoreboard – you’re like, oh, alright, they’re here again.”
La Salle led UP by 14 with under seven minutes to go. In totality, the Green Archers were ahead for all but a minute in the Final Four series. Winston’s 26 points, although impressive as he converted jumper after another, went for naught.
“And then they have the momentum. And then now you’re playing not to lose anymore,” Winston said.
“That’s when you lose,” he regretted.
That was then. Now is different.
Winston acknowledges he could have made better decisions in preventing La Salle’s collapse, which abruptly ended the collegiate careers of Justine Baltazar and Kurt Lojera, two well-liked veterans on the team whose contributions will be a challenge to replicate.
Could La Salle have legitimately challenged for the title against the legendary Ateneo Blue Eagles, whom they haven’t defeated since 2017? At least Nelle believes so.
But Winston, a Masters student who has one year of eligibility left, had little time to reminisce on what he called a “mental strain” of a defeat, which was magnified by the challenges of the bubble setup and compressed schedule.
There was an important career decision he had to make, on whether or not to declare for the PBA Draft, which took place two days following the conclusion of UAAP Season 84. Winston only had a day to decide if he would enter his name after learning of the deadline for applications.
That wasn’t the end of it; the Draft Combine and workouts with PBA teams would follow, and following the draft would be training for the Philippine Cup conference. In the blink of an eye, his college career would have arrived with exciting potential, only to end with a sudden shut of the door.
“I was like, ‘Alright, like, I really might go,'” he admitted thinking at one point.
Ironically what pulled him back was an assist from a former Green Archers captain.
Rain or Shine youngling Andrei Caracut is carving a respectable career in the pros, but even that doesn’t stop him from expressing that life in the UAAP is incomparable to anywhere else.
“[Caracut was] like, ‘Dude, I miss the UAAP. I’m in the PBA now, but I miss the UAAP experience. There’s nothing like it, right?’”
An hour before the deadline, Winston made his choice to return for a last foray with La Salle.
The Season 85 Green Archers roster is stacked.
Michael Phillips will be an MVP candidate as a sophomore. His brother Benjamin has made developmental strides in the offseason. Joaqui Manuel and CJ Austria look like a natural fit in the wings. Nelle and Mark Nonoy are back. They have a deep core of big men, including an improved Bright Nwankwo, the debuting Raven Cortez and Aaron Buensalida, and of course, Kevin Quiambao, who needs no introduction at this point.
Quiambao is a magician with the basketball – a rare mix of size, control, fancy, smarts, and skill. A 6-foot-8 standout, he can execute all the traits you’d expect from a center, forward, or guard, acting as the prototype of what position-less, versatile, and modern basketball is now developing into.
“Kevin’s passing and court vision are really elite. It kind of changes the dynamic to the team. So, I wouldn’t even say he’s sliding into Balti’s spot. He is. He’s filling Balti’s shoes, but like in a different way if that kind of makes sense,” Winston said.
This season’s La Salle roster has more lineup versatility than a few months ago as the Green Archers unlocked their new recruit who, ridiculous or not, has been mentioned in the same sentence as NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
They had time to learn Derrick Pumaren’s coaching philosophies. They established familiarity by competing in the PBA D-League (which they won), FilOil Preseason tournament, and pickup games in Nagoya, Japan.
Look close enough, and you’ll notice a bit of a mean streak in some of their players, particularly Phillips and Austria.
“It’s funny you notice that,” Winston said, “because we’re coming in with kind of a different energy this year, a little bit.”
Why is that?
“Because we’ve already been through it,” he explained.
“The mindset’s a little different. You already been through it, so, you’re like, ‘Alright, I know what’s up now.’”
Pressure-packed battles harden sporting individuals. It was critical that days after blowing their FilOil semis against FEU, La Salle vindicated itself by completing a 2-1 finals victory over Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League, despite the opponent having league MVP Juan Gomez de Liaño and Kemark Cariño.
That type of winning execution needs to marinate within a team before manifesting, which the Green Archers are now developing.
“[We’re] definitely coming in with more aggressiveness,” Winston said.
The first opportunity to put that to the test will be against the very same heartbreakers at the exact scene of their last downfall.
Winston may or may not have a different look from the last time he walked away from the court, uncertain of his return.
Now he’s back. The same person – still never too high or too low – but perhaps a better player. – Rappler.com