After 2 months of turbulence, Green Archers finally have positive outlook
MANILA, Philippines – It’s hard to imagine a more difficult period than what the De La Salle basketball program had to endure from the first week of December last year until the end of this past January.
Let’s recap: on December 3, La Salle lost its crown to its biggest rival, Ateneo, in heartbreaking fashion during Game 3 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals. Thanks, Isaac Go.
A week later, two-time league MVP Ben Mbala turned pro by taking an offer to play in Mexico, leaving DLSU with the goal of having to reclaim the UAAP title in 2018 without its best player. Thanks, UAAP board.
A few weeks following that, after the school came out with a statement that the team was moving forward under the leadership of a committed Aldin Ayo, he made a U-turn and decided to move to UST. Thanks, coach.
And then just recently, La Salle announced that 3 players - Brent Paraiso, Prince Rivero, and Ricci Rivero (the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year) – were taking a leave of absence from the team due to their endorsement responsibilities. Thanks, uhm, commercialism?
The point is, DLSU has had to deal with more questions than solutions as of late with the basketball program trying to move forward into the future. That everything came crashing down to earth at the same time did not make matters easier.
But with the dust having settled, La Salle finds itself in a position to rally from the obstacles thrown its way over the last two months. Sure, not all issues are solved and the club is nowhere near the situation where it was just this past September – when they looked like they were in the middle of a college sports dynasty – but there is positivity in Taft for the first time in a long time.
“Everybody’s adjusting well, adjusting with the new system of Coach Louie. I think people are hearing that everything’s in flux but it’s been the opposite, really. The players are very positive with the new system. Everyone’s getting along,” said a source close to the team who requested to remain anonymous.
After Ayo’s sudden departure, La Salle brass appointed his chief assistant Louie Gonzales to take over head coaching duties. The news came as a bit of a shock to many, given reports of more high-profile head coaches being considered for the position and DLSU’s history of fishing for big names.
But logically speaking, giving the reins to Gonzales makes sense. While Ayo was the unquestioned leader of the team the past two seasons, Gonzales also played a major role in shaping the roster that went 30-5 overall, won a title, and made two finals appearances during that span. According to reports, it was even Gonzales who handled some of DLSU’s practice sessions while Ayo was the coach.
La Salle is currently practicing every morning from 9 am until 12 noon. The team has a rule that all players must stay at the dormitory (at least on weeknights) with curfew being at 10 pm and lights out an hour later.
Every first Friday of the month, the team has mass which is also sometimes attended by chief patron Danding Cojuangco. After practices on Mondays, all Green Archers have lunch together followed by a Bible study group led by coach Siot Tanquingcen, where the team has discussions that the source described as “life talk.”
“It’s to build the character of the players,” he said.
As DLSU goes through a transition period, the basketball program elected not to send its main team to the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) and instead fielded La Salle’s Team B. But the Green Archers will be back in action in this year’s Filoil preseason tournament and will probably participate in an off-season tourney in Taiwan. The source said La Salle would also like to compete in the next PBA D-League conference, but admits its a long shot given schedule constraints.
Reinforcements on the way
There’s no way to overestimate the loss of Mbala, a force unlike any other before in the UAAP. La Salle, however, is hoping that can be compensated for by the insertion of New Zealander Taane Samuel, a 6-foot-8 big man who played for his national team’s Under-19 team in the 2016 FIBA World Cup.
“He’s still young, 18 years old,” the source said about Samuel, who can play 5 years for DLSU as a foreign student-athlete and has served his residency while training with the Green Archers’ Team B roster. “He played for the New Zealand national team. He’s bigger than Ben, but they’re different. They have different styles of game
“Ben is pure power. He’ll dominate inside, get those offensive rebounds. This guy is more all-around - from the outside, he can rebound the ball, he’s good in the post, great passer. Not as good a rebounder as Ben. For me, he’s more of a Ben Simmons type. He can really do everything. His basketball IQ is really high. The expectations for him are high this year.”
Samuel, who was born in Wellington, New Zealand, averaged 11.2 points and 3.4 boards a game in the aforementioned World Cup and will be a new addition along with Fil-Aussie player Brandon Bates who’s a 6-foot-8 center and rim protector.
Bates, whose mother is Filipina, was described by the source as “still raw.” Though despite having played only 5 years of basketball, the potential he possesses is promising.
“Offensively-speaking, I don’t think his contribution will be big, but it will be on defense,” said the source.
Former La Salle Green Hills standout G-Boy Gob is also expected to make his return from a two-year absence (torn ACL) in Season 81, providing more depth to a La Salle frontcourt that also lost Abu Tratter but will retain the likes of Santi Santillan, Justine Baltazar, and maybe Prince Rivero.
Smoke and Mirrors?
While La Salle has started to turn the corner on dealing with the issues that have affected the team, it’s no secret the situation involving the Rivero Brothers and Paraiso remains dumbfounding.
Back on February 2, DLSU’s Office of Sports and Development (OSD) announced that the trio requested to take a leave of absence to fulfil contractual obligations with regards to their endorsement responsibilities, which has been prohibited by the office for the goal of having the Green Archers concentrate on their practices and games instead.
La Salle resumed training on January 16. After attending for a week, the Rivero Brothers and Paraiso took their leave of absence and haven’t been back since. During that span, there have been reports of them - particularly Ricci - being recruited by other schools. The reigning Most Improved Player of the Year, who to the eyes of many is one of the rising stars of Philippine basketball, has also started training with the Gilas pool but did confirm he and his brother are still enrolled at DLSU.
“There’s a written rule that any endorsement has to be screened by the school,” the source said about the stipulation at La Salle.
“Of course, in any school or university the officials need to know what you’re endorsing. They have to go through the process to screen it, but it’s not true they’re not allowed to endorse products,” he said.
There have been whispers of the trio breaking school policies which were the real reasons for their withdrawal from the team. According to the source, “Obviously they violated some rules that were instituted long ago, but they’re minor.”
The source also added that its questionable how their endorsement commitments are the sole reason for their absence, given that many of the players currently practicing also have their own commercial responsibilities.
Bearing in mind that the Riveros (Prince was last year’s co-captain) play a big role for this DLSU roster and they’ve been in the Lasallian system of education from a young age, it’s no secret that’s one issue La Salle will have to solve in order to completely move forward to the next era of the basketball program.
But at the least, management has come up with a plan to move forward to that next stage. All is not completely well with the Green Archers just yet, but it’s closer to that than it’s been in quite some time. – Rappler.com