UAAP Basketball

How the La Salle-Schonny Winston drama unfolded

Naveen Ganglani
How the La Salle-Schonny Winston drama unfolded

TOP GUN. Schonny Winston led the UAAP Most Valuable race midseason.

UAAP

Here’s a look at the once promising Schonny Winston-La Salle partnership that wound up in shambles by the end of their UAAP campaign

MANILA, Philippines – Schonny Winston, La Salle’s electric superstar in UAAP Season 85, looked poised to capture the league MVP by midseason after averaging a league-best 21.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 3 steals. 

But how quickly everything changed.

A reported calf strain sidelined Winston early in the second round. And on La Salle’s most crucial game of the season, he was not on the team bench at all. Instead, Winston was spotted in the stands, along with the La Salle fans, when the Green Archers absorbed a heartbreaking loss to the Adamson Falcons, 80-76, in their knockout match for the last Final Four spot last Sunday, December 4.

Fans’ curiosity got even more stoked  when La Salle head coach Derrick Pumaren alleged after the contest that Winston got “cleared to train without restrictions” but opted not to suit up for the Green Archers.

What happened before the game?

Laurian Watkins, the stepfather and manager of Winston, said the 24-year-old guard suffered multiple tears in his calf – not just a strain – with the diagnosis coming out largely as a gastrocnemius tear.

On Thursday, December 1, a day after La Salle defeated UST to stay alive in the Final Four chase, Winston was cleared by a doctor to “train without restrictions.”

But from the perspective of Watkins, that meant “to move to the next phase” of training, which didn’t necessarily mean playing in actual games.

“He was doing mobilities, one-area stuff, no explosives, no lateral movement,” Watkins shared.

Winston was a semi-active participant in practice on Friday, according to his stepdad, particularly during a 3-vs-3-vs-3 drill, but felt pain and tightness in the injured calf right after, and thus backed off from further participation.

On Saturday – a day before La Salle’s do-or-die game with Adamson – Winston was under the impression that he wouldn’t play significant minutes in the knockout game, but wanted to be available for a short spurt in case Pumaren would insert him. 

“He was definitely going to make himself available,” said Watkins. 

On game day, as Winston was getting ready for the match, he was told not to join the team. 

“They (La Salle team officials) said they felt like Schonny wasn’t giving a strong enough effort to recover,” said Watkins.

Still, Winston wanted to support the Green Archers.

Watkins was able to watch the contest against Adamson because of the ticket his stepson provided him prior. But he claims Winston had to buy his own ticket at the Mall of Asia Arena booth to enter.

What happened after the game?

When Winston approached La Salle’s locker room after the dispiriting loss to Adamson, Watkins said the young player was “cursed out,” but didn’t specify by whom, even if their former team star was just intending to speak with his teammates.

“He wasn’t wanted in the locker room. I don’t want to point names, but everybody in there – coaches and players – heard him,” said Watkins. 

Winston was reportedly called a “loser” and a “quitter,” and when Rappler asked Watkins if it really happened, the stepdad claimed it was true. 

He added: “Yeah, and some other choice words. I don’t want to get into that.” 

“Schonny went and consoled his teammates and told them, ‘Hey, man, good game, sorry I wasn’t out there,’ and he left at his own pace. He didn’t get rattled by that.”

Watkins also claimed “that same guy cursed out another kid on the team for just saying hi to Schonny.” 

When Rappler reached out to a La Salle team official to confirm Watkins’ claims, he politely declined to comment.

“It’s not worth the time to talk about it,” he said.

But others who witnessed the incident confirmed that it did happen, and told Rappler that what was said to Winston was even worse than what’s being reported.

What’s the exact injury?

Watkins said Winston got hurt in the first-round ender against Adamson, an 86-84 overtime thriller in Antipolo that La Salle lost.

The team initially said Winston suffered a calf strain, but specifics of his injury were only disclosed after La Salle’s campaign – a gastrocnemius tear or multiple tears in the calf.

Watkins said his stepson’s calf was showing signs of discomfort prior to suffering the injury.

“His calves were so tight game after game because they press full-court, he plays the most minutes, he’s got to guard whoever’s scoring, he has to score, they have four-hour practices, plus they’ve played all summer (preseason tournaments). His body has to recover,” Watkins told Rappler.

Basketball standouts overseas who wind up playing in the Philippines are often surprised by the duration of daily practice sessions in the country. Local hoopers, on the other hand, have grown accustomed to it.

Winston would go on to essentially miss the rest of the season, save for a few seconds of playing time in each game of the latter half of the second round, providing a somber ending to what was a promising swan song of his UAAP career.

“I think their thing was they tried to show a commitment to Deschon in the event he might be up for certain awards that he needed 10 games to qualify for,” Watkins said of the MVP race that’s now poised to be won by UP’s Malick Diouf.

“That was them, that wasn’t Deschon. He could care less about that,” he said.

Watkins claimed that Winston made an effort to return to help his teammates secure a spot in the Final Four, even if the injury typically takes up half a year to completely heal, based on his estimation. 

He also said Winston opted to do his physical therapy simultaneously as his teammates practiced, even if his stepdad insisted on getting outside help to remedy the issue.

Other sources from La Salle told Rappler during the elimination round that the team’s strength and conditioning staff exerted multiple efforts to help Winston return to playing at the pace which was best for his recovery. 

There were rumors during last Sunday’s big game, though, that Winston opted not to further risk injuring his calf because he already has plans to play for a particular professional basketball team abroad.

Watkins vehemently denied this, saying: “We don’t function like that.”

What’s next for Schonny?

The plan for Winston and his camp is to now focus on fully rehabilitating his calf, with the goal of getting him ready in case he’s called up by the Gilas national program to play as a local in time for the next window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in February, to be held in Manila. 

Watkins, though, shared some concerns: “Ultimately, we don’t know if this stuff is going to affect his opportunity with Gilas.”

Still, Watkins said he’s thankful that La Salle gave his stepson the chance to showcase his abilities.

“I want to make it clear that I will always be grateful to the La Salle community for the support that they have extended to us,” he said. 

As far as the complicated way things ended with the Green Archers, Watkins doesn’t seem to have any regrets.

“We walked in here and we want to walk out of here the same way, we don’t want to limp out of here,” he said. 

Ultimately, it looks like both sides wound up with the short end of the stick – Winston unable to end his collegiate career in his terms, and La Salle unable to fulfill their preseason goals of contending for a championship.

A partnership which at one point seemed destined for greatness wound up in shambles. – Rappler.com 

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