MANILA, Philippines – In Philippine collegiate sports, foreign student-athletes are expected to greatly boost a team.
So when the exact opposite happens, things can get ugly quickly.
That’s exactly the predicament that La Salle head coach Louie Gonzalez finds himself in after his Green Archers were at the receiving end of an 81-97 blowout against the peaking UP Fighting Maroons.
As a result, the Maroons (8-6) advanced to the Final Four for the first time in 21 years while the Archers (8-6) suddenly found themselves in playoff purgatory.
If FEU (7-6) defeats Adamson (10-3) on Sunday, November 18, they still have a chance to boot out the Archers in a do-or-die knockout for the last Final Four spot. But if Adamson wins, then La Salle marches on to the playoffs without any more hitches.
According to Gonzalez, their touted Kiwi reinforcement Taane Samuel might be the root of their newfound problems. Not Samuel, per se, but rather his late inclusion to the rotation after sitting out 12 elimination round games due to a leg injury.
“Titignan ko ano ba nangyari sa last two games namin at nagiging problema compared dun sa previous games namin na we were doing everything right,” he said after a lengthy coaches’ meeting. “Kahit na wala kaming [foreign player], nagko-compete yung team ko. Dapat ngayong may [foreigner] na ako, dapat mas lumakas. Di ko alam kung ano nangyayari.”
(I’ll see what happened in our last two games and what went wrong compared to the previous games where we were doing everything right. Even though we didn’t have a foreign player, my team competed. We should be stronger now that I have a foreigner back. I don’t know what’s happening.)
Furthermore, Gonzalez is not ruling out a scale-down of Samuel’s minutes or sitting him out completely during their next game, which could be against FEU or directly against defending champion Ateneo in case of an Adamson win over FEU. But he’ll only do it on the recommendation of his other wards.
“I’ll sit down with my team tomorrow. I’m gonna talk to them and ask them because their input is important. Then I’ll figure it out. I know if that’s the case, if I need to slightly rein in Taane for us to get better, he won’t have a problem with that. He knows what his situation is now.”
Gonzalez is not denying the 6-foot-8 big man’s skills, but he thinks that his inclusion messed up the flow that his team has been used to since the start of the season.
Since Samuel returned, the Archers have lost two straight games.
“We need to integrate Taane and use it to our advantage, not to our disadvantage. Once he’s playing, he should be stronger. The 4 guys around him need to figure out also what are the adjustments. Taane is unlimited. He can do a lot of things but the one thing that we need to figure out is what’s the best he can do for our team.”
Even without Samuel, however, La Salle still has a formidable big man lineup of Justine Baltazar, Santi Santillan and Brandon Bates. – Rappler.com