By: Tony Lebron Atayde, Jr.
It definitely was a painful loss, especially against archrival Ateneo! However, let’s look at the positives of the game and the season so far.
Defending champion DLSU, lost 4 major players in Jeron Teng, Tomas Torres, Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent. Also gone was Mark Dyke. Losing this caliber of players would shatter any team. Ateneo, last season’s runner-up, lost 2 role players in Wong and Babylonia.
The only reason La Salle was touted as the team to beat was because we have reigning MVP Ben Mbala. DLSU had no high profile rookies that came in and the holdovers were not really seen by many as equal replacements for the graduating players.
Then Ricci Rivero started showing his ware. Aljun Melecio just got better. Prince Rivero became a vital cog. Abu Tratter just kept getting better. Kib Montalbo beame a more versatile point guard. Andrei Caracut matured. The other returnees, Balti Baltazar, Brent Paraiso, and Jollo Go, began making their presence felt.
Our newcomers have also not disappointed, especially Santi Santillan. Tero, Capacio and Gonzalez can be counted on for quality minutes, as shown in previous games.
In the game against Ateneo, it was obvious from the tip-off to the ending buzzer that they came prepared and hungry. Though playing what I believe was their best game of the first round, they could not just blow by La Salle.
The first quarter was blue all the way. They stamped their game with all the treys made. However La Salle stuck close until the 3rd quarter. Then they began their comeback. Brothers Prince and Ricci Rivero were in stride. Brent Paraiso played great defense, especially on Thirdy Ravena. Jollo Go waxed hot. Caracut was moving the ball or taking good shots. Tratter was hustling. Kib Montalbo became pesky. Then of course there was the power of Ben Mbala.
The 4th quarter rally was furious until La Salle finally had a 1 point lead going to the final seconds. Then tragedy strikes. With La Salle having possession with less than 10 seconds to play, a turnover followed by a foul on Ateneo costs the Green Archers the game.
Blame can be pointed to many people, places or events. I believe that there were many contributors to the loss. The horrendous foul shooting, the unforced turnovers, the absence of Aljun Melecio, and a very slow start that gave Ateneo momentum, were more glaring than that one endgame turnover. I am not saying that the last turnover was not the last straw that lost DLSU the game. There was a lot more they could have done better during the game and I am sure that they will definitely work on these.
Looking at the game in a 2nd round perspective, I saw some positive signs. First, with Ateneo playing their best and DLSU not playing its best, the Green Archers were so close to victory. If that’s all Ateneo can give us, then I believe we have so much room for improvement for the 2nd round. If you look at all of DLSU’s 1st round games, there really still was not a single one that showed the potency of this team (remember Taiwan).
With DLSU’s current roster, there seems to be more options than people would care to acknowledge. Ben Mbala cannot do it alone. Someone needs to get the ball inside for him to be most effective. He needs a power forward that can get the rebounds when he shoots. He needs help in scoring from very capable players. He may be the central figure on the team, but the rest need to step up to use his other talents other than scoring and rebounding.
Our small ball of Montalbo, Caracut, Melecio, Go and Ricci Rivero form a formidable group. Our big men Mbala, Tratter, Prince Rivero, Santillan and Baltazar are ready to take anyone on. Brent Paraiso is slowly becoming the latest version of Jerwin Gaco or Ryan Araña with his defense and hustle.
I was honestly hoping that the first 6 games of La Salle were not all that the team had to show. It would be extremely difficult to repeat if that was all they had.
However, the game against Ateneo has made me a believer that a repeat is very possible. I saw a team whose main obstacle is itself. Playing at only about 70% of their capability, they still have a 5-2 record. They just have to work, breath, think and play as one cohesive unit. Team chemistry has to be at its optimum as Coach Aldin tends to change his combination. Every player should be able to adjust to different combinations fast. From small ball to big ball and everything in between, Coach Aldin continue to implement because he has the talents on the team.
Defensively, La Salle is definitely much better than their stats show. This is the single biggest area of improvement that the Green Archers have to work on. With Big Ben in the middle, DLSU has to rejuvenate the vaunted defense many expected them to have.
Lastly, a leader has to emerge. It is necessary to have that one player in the mold of a Jeron Teng, TY Tang or Cholo Villanueva who will encourage the team to work within the system. It needs to be someone who can stand up for the befit of the team to achieve the ultimate goal. Coaches can only do so much, a true leader does the rest,
In short, the whole team needs to play within the system at all times. Trust it and DLSU will be unstoppable. One player who veers away will greatly affect the entire team. The strength of this team will be measured by their unity.
A record of 10-4 will get us to the top 2. But hey, why not aim higher? Let’s look forward to a more powerful DLSU squad. We, the fans, will be there until the last “HAIL” of the last game of the season. That’s the Lasallian/Lasalite way.