UAAP 78 Preview: DLSU Green Archers
"For me, I see it as a new start. Not really to redeem ourselves, but to get back on top." - Jason Perkins
Critical losses: Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, Almond Vosotros, Kib Montalbo (torn ACL injury)
Vital returnees: Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Prince Rivero, Thomas Torres
Notable additions: Andrei Caracut, Jollo Go, John Gob, Joshua Torralba (out 4-6 weeks dur to hand injury)
Head coach: Juno Sauler
Last title: 2013
Style of play: Conservative and physical defense, isolation, pick-and-roll
Last season’s record: 10-4 (3rd)
MANILA, Philippines – As terrific an ending it was for the De La Salle Green Archers in the 2013 UAAP season - with their hands raised as victors, confetti falling on the floor, a won championship about to be celebrated - it was the exact opposite a year later on a rainy evening on October 1, 2014.
In what’s arguably the most heartbreaking fashion to see your title defense come to a close, La Salle’s players, alumni, and fans witnessed their chance at a repeat erased the moment Mac Belo released a 3-pointer from the right corner floor of the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net, and thus, what was supposed to be the second step to a dynasty turned in a nasty corner.
That kind of agony in basketball can demoralize a team or further motivate them once a chance at retribution becomes available. But for Coach Juno Sauler’s 2015 Green Archers, the events of that stormy night is a thing of the past.
“For me, I see it as a new start,” said a lighter Jason Perkins, La Salle’s incoming third-year big man who says he has lost 20 pounds by trimming beef out of his diet. “Not really to redeem ourselves, but to get back on top.”
La Salle has no time to dwell on the past. Not when the present presents new challenges and new opportunities, but more importantly, new faces that need to be incorporated in the team’s system as soon as possible, if the Green Archers, who again face the usual title-or-bust expectations from critics and some alumni, want a crack at regaining their seat atop the food chain.
Gone is the bruising Norbert Torres, post presence of Arnold Van Opstal, streaky shooting of designated crunch-time sniper Almond Vosotros, and even the clips of Yutien Andrada - a team favorite - cheering on the bench.
In come new long-range shooters Andrei Caracut and Jollo Go; the dynamic Joshua Torralba; big men Larry Muyang, Daryl Pascual, and John Gob; speedy point guard Lorenzo Navarro; and unkown Filipino-Americans Andrew Langston and Leo Joson.
“This year, there are a lot of rookies coming in. There are more rookies than the veterans,” Sauler stated the most obvious difference between his team from the last two seasons to Rappler.
“We got 9 rookies in our team and we just expect those rookies to really step up and have more responsibilities for the team,” said Teng, who after putting up career averages in 2014, comes into his fourth season not only a leader in terms of his performance, but also as a guiding voice for the newcomers.
“That’s why we have even our 6 holdovers from last year showing great leadership and they’re guiding the younger guys, so it’s easier for them to adjust,” said Sauler, who’s about to enter his third year as DLSU’s head coach.
“Well not really to carry them, but just to guide them, cause I’ve been with Coach Juno for two, 3 years already and we just have to be all in one page, and that’s just what I tell the rookies,” said Teng, who put up 17.6 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists a game last season while coming in second to Kiefer Ravena in the MVP race.
“I’m confident with the team, cause, 9 rookies, but these rookies are really the top recruits of this year and I think they’ll be able to contribute already as fast this year.”
Perkins, a Mythical 5 awardee of the UAAP in 2013, knows he has the same veteran responsibilities on his plate, but looks forward to the task at hand.
“I’m hoping it just comes naturally by my work ethic and by my attitude, try to work hard so everyone else sees the tone, so hopefully they’ll follow,” he said, before later adding:
“… it’s just a big puzzle and it’s just a couple of pieces and those other guys, we need them to finish the puzzle so they’re going to be a big deal.”
“Kailangan namin talagang mag-mature (we really need to mature),” admitted Caracut, who wowed many spectators with his double-digit scoring performances in the FilOil summer tournament. “Ayun, sa dorm palang, nag start na kami magsama-sama para may matutunan kami sakanila. And sa practice, ganun din. Ginu-guide nila kami para mas maganda yung bonding namin, maging mature yung laro namin, ang mag stick kami sa pinapagawa ni coach.”
(In our dorms, we've already started hanging with each other so we can get used to our veterans. It's the same during practice. They guide us so our bond is stronger, our games become mature, and we stick to coach's gameplan.)
Sauler acknowledges that he doesn’t keep up with the expectations hovering above his team, but prefers it that way. “Win a title!” some fans of the Green Archers might demand. Although as he sees it, the goal is different.
“I don’t know what the expectations of others are,” he said. “My expectation for the team is to outdo themselves.”
By cutting down his weight and easing tension on his knees, Perkins is closing in on that goal. Teng, on the other hands, continues to add attributes to his game which he hopes will make him tougher to guard.
“I’ve tried to improve my shooting,” said this team’s co-captain, who spent hours during the offseason working with former La Salle player Renren Ritualo, whose DLSU jersey hangs on the rafters of the Green Archer gym and is recognized as the greatest shooter to ever put on a La Salle jersey. “I try to play inside and out so… it will be harder for me to be scouted.”
“Mentally-wise, I am [a better player]. I thought last year I was a little too immature,” admitted Perkins. “My work ethic wasn’t where I should have been. I worked hard but I thought I could have done a lot more.”
The duo have legitimate chances to be MVP contenders this season with more shots coming their way as veterans have departed. But the award is far from their mind.
“Personally, I really don’t care about stats. All that matters to me is the championship,” said Teng.
Perkins echoed the same sentiment: “I haven’t really thought about it at all because… it’s not about me, it’s about team. It’s not golf, it’s not track. Basketball is a team sport, so we gotta get there together.”
Their way of thinking, it seems, has already rubbed off on Caracut, who in his own right is entering as a favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award thanks to the minutes he's going to get due to the injury Montalbo suffered in the offseason.
“Saakin naman, basta bibigay ko lang yung best ko sa UAAP. Basta gusto ko lang manalo talaga, and hindi ko naman goal yung rookie of the year. Goal ko yung manalo, and mag-champion.”
(On my part, I'm going to give my all in the UAAP. I just really want to win, and it's not my goal to win rookie of the year. My goal is to win, become a champion.)
Doing that, however, will be far from easy. It’s hard enough to win with so many rookies in your lineup, but that’s not the only issue La Salle faces. From being a post-oriented team in the past two seasons, the Green Archers’ roster is now heavily laden with guards.
That could mean more 3-pointers and penetration through pick-and-roll calls, which could wind up a good thing seeing how the FEU Tamaraws impressively scouted La Salle’s post attack in last year’s Final Four round, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that the team will have the same kind of success.
Second-year bigs Abu Tratter and Prince Rivero will also have to prove they can carry a heavier burden as they'll be tasked with guarding the other centers and power forwards the UAAP has to offer.
The competition they’re going to face will be tough to overcome as well. Ateneo has Ravena returning with an improved Pessumal and their own batch of talented rookies - the Nieto brothers, Hubert Cani, Isaac Go, and Jerie Pingoy, to name a few. The NU Bulldogs have their lethal duo of Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga set to come back, even hungrier for another championship. The FEU Tamaraws have both Belo and Mike Tolomia returning, with a bigger, better foreign student-athlete in 6-foot-10 Prince Orizu also in uniform to strengthen their defense by patrolling the paint.
Nonetheless, the Green Archers’ confidence level, with just a few days to go before they open their season against the defending champion Bulldogs, is high - many newbies or not.
“You can expect La Salle to be really competitive every yeah, so no matter who the lineup is, we’re still going to fight and we’re going to put our best effort here in UAAP,” said Teng.
“The nice thing about the rookie batch this year is they all have different attributes that they bring to the team. We got rebounders, shooters, passers,” said Perkins, who later added about his new teammates: “They’re here for a reason, so I think we have a good chance.”
To win the championship?
“We’ll see. We’re going to try our best.”
“Pag tratrabuhan namin yan,” said Caracut. “Yun yung magiging inspiration, motivation namin, yung yes talaga na mag champion kami, and yung focus lang kami every game, every practice, makukuha namin yun.”
(We're going to work for it. That's going to be our inspiration, motivation, to become champions. If we focus every game and every practice, we can get it.)
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