Even as La Salle was celebrating its return to the top of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament, Coach Juno Sauler could only think of how his team can do better.
“It’s not about winning the ball game. What’s more important is how we improve on a daily basis. Make sure everyday in practice we keep on better and better,” said Sauler who was drenched by his jubilant players.
“I’m just looking forward to what we can improve on next season and not make the same mistakes,” said the La Salle coach who bagged his first title on his rookie year.
The Archers went from a subpar 3-4 squad in the first round of eliminations to an indomitable team the rest of the way — losing just one game in the second round.
“I’ts been a season of constant improvement. Even for next year, that’s what we’ll try to focus on. We’ll try to improve and be better than what we showed this year,” Sauler said.
It was no doubt an impressive run to the crown spearheaded by the stoic Sauler, who came in as head coach just weeks before tipoff.
“It’s the players following the system and being consistent about it. We don’t change anything. What was important was we know what we’re doing,” he said.
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De La Salle’s storybook finish, in a way, mirrored the rags-to-riches career of its coach, a self-described “slow, unathletic” player for the school during the nineties who rose to become its biggest hero.
Sauler, in fact, wasn’t even in the picture just weeks before the season until officials decided to make a coaching change after an alarming performance by the Archers under Gee Abanilla in the Filoil Cup preseason tournament.
The Green Archers struggled early in the season and their coach took some flak not only from fans but also from the media for his curt, dull replies during interviews which were often interpreted as a sign of aloofness.
Sauler, however, remained true to himself throughout as he stuck to his theme of “constant improvement” for the Green Archers from Day One.
“This was a season of constant improvement even for next year. We will try to focus on that,” said Sauler, an honor student during his time with the Archers who became the first coach since Pido Jarencio in 2006 to win a championship in his rookie season.
“We don’t want to change anything. What is important is they we know what we are doing and trying to be better.”
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As the confetti fell, igniting the Lasallian celebration, Torres was handed a graduation cap by a DLSU photographer. The big man beamed as he put it on.
“It was great. Also having the accomplishment of graduating, having that feeling for about ten seconds wearing the hat was good enough for me.”
Torres knew beforehand that he might just miss the important ceremony.
“[I knew] a week before,” Torres said. “It was sad on my part; I really wanted to attend coz its a big accomplishment for me, but you have to make sacrifices for that.”
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The young Teng struggled to put into words his jumbled feelings at the end of the game.
“After the game, I don’t know what to feel,” said the Archers star. “Part of me wanted me to celebrate but the other, siyempre I felt the loss of my brother.
“Mahirap talaga sa akin.”
Jeric finished the game with 24 points but couldn’t lift the Tigers to victory as his team lost the last two games of the best-of-three series, finishing runner-up for the second straight year.
Jeron felt that Jeric deserved the Finals MVP for his Game Three output.
“For me, he is the deserving to be the Finals MVP,” he said.
After the game, Jeron tried to console his brother, hugging him at mid-court.
“I just said that he really did his best talaga, all hard work talaga. I told him he has nothing to worry because he has a bright future. He did his best,” said Jeron.
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DE La Salle coach Juno Sauler may have led the Green Archers to a UAAP Season 76 seniors basketball crown but the rookie coach also gave credit to his predecessor, Gee Abanilla, for the team’s rise to the top.
Sauler took over the team three weeks before the start of the season after Abanilla was moved to Petron in the PBA after a re-organization among coaches of San Miguel Corporation ballclubs in the pro league.
Abanilla’s transfer also proved to be a success as the Blaze Boosters reached the finals of the PBA Governors’ Cup.
But Sauler also gave praise to the work that Abanilla put in during the preseason and even in 2012 where he took over the Green Archers squad.
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We hope that next season will be another exciting one, and filled with surprises.
UST vowed to return stronger next year with an almost intact roster. I also saw some promising players in the training teams of Ateneo, UE, FEU and NU.
But wait. I learned that none of the current UAAP champs is leaving the team. This means all 13 Green Archers will be back next year, plus some prized recruits.
Could this be the start of a Green Dynasty?
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For Mbala, it has become an excruciating wait.
“I’m really excited,” said Mbala, minutes after the Green Archers win the series over UST 2-1 on Saturday. “I have to get ready. My team is waiting for me so I have to work hard.”
Mbala, currently playing for La Salle’s Team B, vowed to help Archers continue to become title contenders for years to come.
“I’m really happy for them. I hope we can reach five- or six-peat,” said Mbala
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One can feel the excitement of every possession and basket, and the pain of a costly turnover. Like Jeron Teng’s two bad passes to Van Opstal, almost turning himself into a goat. Like Aljon Mariano, and that bad pass to Ferrer with 26.7 secs. left in overtime. To many among UST supporters, both online and offline, the off-form Mariano became UST’s “heel”.
“I take responsibility for the loss,” UST coach Pido Jarencio told reporters, visibly disappointed that he let assistant coach and former UAAP champion Ernest Ballesteros talk to the news media.
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“God made it happen,” said La Salle’s No. 1 patron and San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco, referring to the victory in Game 3. “When UST opened a 15-point lead in the third quarter, I prayed so hard to give us strength. We wouldn’t have won if the Man upstairs didn’t call it.” La Salle president Br. Ricky Laguda said it was God’s gift to Cojuangco who attended to the team’s necessities like a father caring for 13 sons.
The future looks even brighter for La Salle as not a single player is graduating. Jeron Teng, Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, Almond Vosotros, Thomas Torres, L. A. Revilla, Oda Tampus, Luigi de la Paz, Gabby Reyes and the four rookies will be back. Lined up to join the squad are in-residence players Terrence Mustre, Abu Tratter and Julian Sargent plus the comebacking Andrada. Sauler also has some blue-chip rookies from high school he intends to enlist.
Looking forward, Cojuangco will send Sauler, Caidic and Limpot to attend the San Antonio Spurs training camp on assistant coach Chip Engelland’s invitation this Saturday and the same three coaches to Sydney for a five-day specialized development program next month.
“This is a miracle team,” said Fr. Faller. “La Salle won with Divine Intervention. Nobody expected La Salle to go all the way except one man with the strongest faith – Ambassador Danding.” The improbable journey to the top is a reminder that anything is possible if you work hard and place your trust in God.
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