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Should La Salle retire Jeron Teng’s jersey?

MANILA, Philippines – The celebration of Jeron Teng’s finest UAAP masterpiece was also the final image of his reign as King Archer: legs straddled atop a ladder, index fingers pointed to the sky, a basketball net hanging around his neck, and a smile flashed for the cameras to capture in perpetuity. 

When the hotshot out of Xavier first arrived in the tough streets of Taft, he was more than just the hyped prospect who scored 104 points in a high school game. He was also the savior, whether fair or not, tasked to lead a struggling basketball program out of its “dark ages” and back to prosperity. 

Teng succeeded in his mission. 

“JT,” as his brothers-in-green used to call him, was a superstar fitting of his title in the modern era of college basketball. 

He had sufficient help along the way, but the burden – and to be fair, the honor – fell across his broad shoulders. 

Like most teens turning into young adults while dealing with fame and admiration, he made mistakes. 

But like only few other legends who have carried the same responsibility bestowed to him, he galvanized a Lasallian community with unforgettable theatrics. 

So now, the question begs to be asked: should his cape live forever, too?

Work ethic

The ninth floor of De La Salle University’s Enrique Razon Sports Complex houses an attractive training ground for varsity teams. 

Banners of the school’s basketball conquests surround the court from all 4 corners, reminding each generation of Green Archers what’s at stake when they wear “La Salle” across their chests.

There’s also a reminder how at DLSU, one’s accomplishments can turn into the tale of legends. 

Jerseys of basketball stars Kurt Bachmann, Lim Eng Beng, and Ren Ren Ritualo, volleyball icon Manilla Santos, and a banner of late table tennis player Ian Lariba  all hang as retired relics – like a towering presence that reminds La Salle student-athletes of the footsteps they must follow. To say the standards of joining the club are high would be an understatement.

But does Teng have a case?

It helps that one of them thinks so. 

“Yes, because he represented the school very well,” argued Ritualo, who is a mentor to Teng. 

“He’s a good role model. As a student-athlete he even became a Dean's Lister. I'm sure he would inspire many,” he added in an exclusive with Rappler.

Merit in addition to basketball holds significance when determining an honor of this magnitude. 

As early as his freshman year, Teng was lauded around campus for his work ethic. It was also apparent in his physical built, which was advanced for his age. 

There were early concerns about his ability to uplift teammates, but it was a responsibility he grew better at in succeeding years. 

“I set an example to my teammates by spending extra hours in the gym and court before and after training,” Teng reminisced. 

It was a habit also performed by Ritualo during his collegiate heyday.

As the leader, Teng wanted to send a message: “Do whatever you can in your ways, to help the team achieve what it wants to achieve.”

“Deserving for Jeron,” was the response of Aljun Melecio when asked if Teng’s jersey should be retired. Melecio was a rookie in Teng’s final campaign in 2016.

Juno Sauler, who was Teng’s longest coach at La Salle (2013-2015), said: “It would be great for Jeron.”

Do his accomplishments stack up? 

At first glance, Teng’s UAAP resume stands out: two championships, two finals MVPs, the Mythical Five, and Rookie of the Year. He is also one of the feared clutch performers college basketball has seen.

In comparison, Ritualo and Santos won 4 championships each; Lariba went undefeated in her five-year career and became the first Filipina to qualify for the Olympics at her sport; the late great Lim Eng Beng won two titles, smashed NCAA scoring records, and was one of the most beloved figured in the DLSU community; and the late Bachmann’s success was highlighted by one NCAA title followed by international stints in the late ‘50s. 

“Yes, because I know I really gave my best during my La Salle days,” Teng told Rappler when asked if he finds pride in his accomplishments. 

“Coming from high school, I just really wanted to bring back the glory days of La Salle.”

Successful run

Jeron’s first splash came at a preseason game in 2012, when he scored a clutch deep ball to lift La Salle past Ateneo in a preview of what was to come from the son of former PBA bruiser Alvin Teng. 

In the UAAP, he had a memorable showcase against Bobby Ray Parks’ NU Bulldogs in a double OT thriller which the rebuilding La Salle won, 87-86. 

The rookie scored 35 points, the highest by a Green Archer since Joseph Yeo’s 33 in 2003. Yeo was Teng’s idol.

That same season, Teng hit his first game-winner against his older brother, Jeric, and the UST Tigers. The Archers’ run ended in the Final Four against the Blue Eagles, but following years of turmoil, the DLSU program seemed back on track, driven by the UAAP’s new superstar.

“Knowing that people believed in me, I just wanted to prove myself and make the university proud,” Teng recalled.

The 2013 season provided the breakthrough as La Salle won its first title since 2007 by beating UST in a three-game thriller, which remains one of college basketball’s finest hours. 

The final image of Jeron raising the arm of the graduating Jeric after the Archers’ rally will be recounted for years.

“It really tested our brotherhood,” Jeron admitted. “I think that experience really gave us a bond that we’ll never forget.”

La Salle started slow in its championship defense of 2014 as the DLSU community didn’t notice the same fire from the previous year’s squad. Injuries were a factor, too. 

The Archers eventually racked up wins but found themselves at a twice-to-win disadvantage in the Final Four after falling to FEU in the playoff for the second seed. 

This was when Teng faced criticism for his role in The Naked Truth, a fashion show by apparel brand Bench where Jeron, Jeric, and La Salle’s Arnold Van Opstal were models. The event was rescheduled to the night before the playoff due to a typhoon. Days beforehand, Teng was recovering from dengue fever. 

Many alumni argued he should have rested instead.

La Salle forced a knockout match thanks to a terrific performance by Teng, but then fell victim to a Mac Belo game-winner which ended their title defense in a heartbreaker. 

Ben Mbala was expected to strengthen the Archers in 2015, but his violation of residency rules delayed his debut a year. 

Young, undermanned, and undersized, DLSU would fail to make the Final Four. Sauler resigned after.

All of a sudden, Teng had only one year left to bolster his case as King Archer.

At this point, the nitpicking reached an all-time high. He was criticized for being a subpar free throw and jump shooter, and there was still talk that he didn’t do a good enough job of empowering teammates. Pundits near and far thought he was too individualistic. 

“I just used it to fuel myself to work harder,” he said.

La Salle formed a powerhouse in 2016. Fresh off his notorious NCAA championship run with Letran, Aldin Ayo was brought to coach Teng, Melecio, a humbled Mbala, and a veteran lineup.

They went 13-1 before the Final Four, losing only to Ateneo, but looked vulnerable against upstart Adamson with a trip to the finals on the line. 

Teng came to the rescue before the Archers could collapse. 

However, a collapse was imminent again when Ateneo erased a double-digit La Salle lead in Game 1 of the finals.

With the Blue Eagles in the driver’s seat and time melting away, Teng came to the rescue and delivered another game-winner. Mbala was named league MVP, but JT was still the most lethal Archer. 

Then in the clincher, Teng emptied the tank. 

They said he couldn’t shoot, so he buried Ateneo in an avalanche of jump shots. They said he didn’t pass, so he provided daggers for teammates to stick. They said he couldn’t make free throws, so that’s how he put the icing on the cake. 

Time will tell

Miguel Santos is such a die-hard Lasallian that he might as well bleed green. Before going to Taft for college, he was educated by La Salle Greenhills. When the Archers returned from suspension to win the 2007 title, he savored every second. He barely misses a La Salle game.

Does he think Teng deserves a jersey retirement?

“While admittedly, his play and position as the team’s best player stakes claim as one of the best players during his tenure, I believe it was the sum of all the parts which truly powered those La Salle teams to winning the championships,” Miguel said. 

“Teng was instrumental and great at most times, even putting the whole team on his back during pivotal games and moments, but I feel that even as a remarkable player, he falls a bit short of making it into the pantheon of De La Salle legends because he had such great support from the teams he played in.”

Here are notable teammates Teng had: Mbala, Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, LA Revilla, Almond Vosotros (who hit the championship-winner against UST), Jason Perkins, Kib Montalbo, and Melecio. 

Some might argue there are other Archers who deserve a jersey retirement before Teng. The name of Don Allado usually comes up. 

Here’s an argument for Teng: when he arrived, La Salle missed the Final Four twice in the previous 3 years; the season after he graduated, the Archers failed to defend their title against Ateneo, then missed the next two Final Fours.  

Teng also didn’t get enough credit for being durable. With the exception of a brief injury in his final year, he was constantly available to play, and given his aggressive style of play, that was quite a feat. 

In college basketball, good systems provide consistent success, but a superstar is required to seal championships.

Teng was reliable – someone who more often than not saved the day. 

“(Jeron) led the team to two championships. That alone , he’s deserving,” Ritualo said.

How about Teng himself? What does he think?

“If ever that happens, I’d be super honored and happy, because I really enjoyed playing for the Green and White. It brought me so much pride and honor. I really embraced being a Lasallian.

“And in the future, hopefully I’ll pass on what Ren Ren did for me… because that’s what being a Lasallian is about: helping out your fellow brothers.”

So now the question is: what do you think? –