(Photo by Pauline Recto) The roads had never been any smoother for the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers as they entered the post-Mayhem era in the UAAP Season 81.
DLSU Green Archers in Season 81: finished the eliminations 8-6 (tied with FEU at 4th place), lost to FEU in playoff game to finish 5th place
The Green Archers lost former head coach Aldin Ayo and key cogs Ricci Rivero and two-time MVP Ben Mbala. From contending for the Season 80 title, the boys finished Season 81 one basket shy of a third straight Final Four appearance. This forced the Taft-based squad to a major overhaul in the offseason.
We take a look at what else we can expect from the Green Archers, who will be entering Season 82 full of motivation.
Almost a year after Arvin Tolentino knocked down that cold-blooded triple that ousted the Green Archers from the Final Four race, memories of that heartbreak remain vivid not only for the athletes but also to the Lasallian community.
Then third year guard and now co-captain Aljun Melecio noted that even though they were not able to secure the last ticket to the semis, the experience they gained was helpful. “Konti lang yung mga seniors last season, so marami kaming na-gain na experience coming through this season,” he shared.
Injuries also took a toll on the Taft-based squad with last season’s team captain Kib Montalbo fracturing his thumb and Taane Samuel almost missing the entire season after injuring his foot in just his first game. With just 13 players on board, the team struggled to find the right formula.
MAJOR OVERHAUL (PLAYERS)
La Salle will be bannering a lineup looking to turn heads as they play in Season 82. While almost half of the squad will be representing the Green-and-White for the first time, need not be scared as they know for sure how to handle the pressure.
Additions: Jordan Bartlett, Joel Cagulangan, Ralph Cu, Francis Escandor, Tyrus Hill, Donn Lim, Kurt Lojera, Jamie Malonzo, Keyshawn Meeker, James Pado
La Salle made silent waves in the offseason by acquiring the services of Jamie Malonzo, Keyshawn Meeker, and James Pado. With four years of experience of USA collegiate basketball on board, they are expected to showcase maturity and leadership in their one-and-done season for the Green Archers.
Suiting up from high school, on the other hand, is Joel Cagulangan. Arguably the best point guard in their class, Cagulangan committed to the Green Archers even before graduating from La Salle Greenhills.
Eager to rock the stage in the seniors division, the former NCAA Season 94 Juniors MVP expressed that there will be a huge transition from high school to college ball. “Back to zero. Lahat ng na-achieve mo nung high school, hindi mo na mapapakinabangan sa college.” He added, “Kailangan triplehin mo effort mo. Mahirap talaga.”
Completing the Green Archers overhaul are Jordan Bartlett, Tyrus Hill, and Kurt Lojera, who all have finished serving residency and are ready to don the green and white jerseys. Known as a defensive specialist, Bartlett expressed, “Personally, I believe I can lift this team up on the defensive end. I take pride in my ability to pressure the ball, to defend 90 feet.” Moreover, he also boasts his ability to make plays as the playmaker. Nevertheless, he is ready to help in the aspects the team needs him. He assured, “In any way or any role the coach or the team needs me, I am ready to contribute.”
Holdovers: Justine Baltazar, Brandon Bates, Andrei Caracut, Joaqui Manuel, Aljun Melecio, Encho Serrano
Melecio will be joined by graduating guard and team captain Andrei Caracut and Season 81 Mythical Five member Justine Baltazar. The trio, remnants of the Green Archers team who won the Season 79 title in 2016, will be taking on a huge task to lead the troops this time.
Down to his final playing year with the team and the UAAP stage, now is the time for seasoned veteran Caracut to show what he has got. The former San Beda Red Cub standout won the Rookie of the Year award in his first year with La Salle. However, he had failed to find his groove and live up to expectations in Season 81. Given the load on his shoulders, Caracut vowed to be a good leader to his squad. He mentioned, “Kung paano ako gumalaw, kailangan maayos ako at may disiplina. Kailangan gayahin nila ako, kumbaga good example.” Off the court, he shares his championship stint to inspire his younger teammates. “Lagi kong sinasabi sa kanila na yung championship naging life-changing sa akin, kahit limited time lang akong naglaro sa Finals.”
Meanwhile, Baltazar never really got to show his abilities when he played alongside fellow center Mbala. However, he got his biggest break when he became the team’s main big man, producing consistent figures en route to his Mythical Team recognition.
Melecio will continue to boast his shooting ability as the team’s main gunner. The fourth-year scoring machine looks to provide quick points and clutch baskets down the stretch. The confidence Melecio possesses will definitely be a key factor for the Green Archers’ campaign.
Departures: Mark Dyke, Jollo Go, Kib Montalbo, Taane Samuel, Leonard Santillan
MAJOR OVERHAUL (COACHING STAFF)
Not only are the Green Archers set to parade a new group of players, but also some fresh faces on their bench. Even the coaching staff were not exempted from the team’s major overhaul during the offseason, causing headlines barely months after La Salle’s elimination.
Taking the head coaching duties for the Green Archers in Season 82 is Gian Nazario, a long-time deputy at De La Salle Zobel. He will be partnered by former NBA G-League coach Jermaine Byrd as the team’s active consultant.
Nazario noted that the boys spent time adjusting to his system at first. “(It) took them a while, but we had to show them videos and kinda made comparisons with the players on how we want them to be,” he shared. “It wasn’t really difficult. We just had to keep reminding them kung anong kailangan gawin and what is expected of them.”
Nevertheless, these efforts blossomed into something positive. “I think it showed during the Filoil (Flying V Preseason Premier Cup). We were able to play in the Finals, although we came out short. Afterwards, it as just a matter of everyday, we try to get better. Every practice, we try to get better, and we’re all on the same page. The players are all on the same page in terms of improving their skills.”
On the other hand, thanks to the great acceptance of the team, it became easy for Byrd to adjust with the boys. “The new players, along with the new high school players, they allowed me to coach them. As a group, we are doing better every day, every practice, and every warm up game.”
Byrd takes pride of the Green Archers’ depth. “We have 16 guys who can play. This team, the way I constructed it, the way I built it, the way I wanted it to be built, it is not about one player. It is about the team. If one guy is not getting it done that night, we have another guy at that position whose night it might be.” He continued, “I think we are three or four deep at every position, and all guys know if they do not have it going that night, the other guy will get the opportunity to play.”
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT
With pretty much new faces making up the entire squad, it will be difficult to predict what may happen. However, Byrd promised a Green Archers team not to sleep on. “They can expect a team that has a lot of enjoyment, a fun-paced team, a team that’s gonna get up and down and score a lot of points, but a team that is also going to play together and also going to play defense.”
Compared with the previous season, Melecio noted that the Green Archers are now more complete in terms of chemistry, players, and coaching staff, making them more versatile to play what style would be effective. He claimed, “We can play fast. We can play slow. Also, yung defense namin, complete na yung materials for our bigs.”
Caracut vowed as he starts his senior year, “We’ll give our best. We’ll play with pride and attitude ng pagiging Lasallian. Nagta-trabaho kami sa practice for the institution, hindi lang para sa sarili namin. Mag-eenjoy sila.”
The DLSU Green Archers look to storm the UAAP community as they open their Season 82 campaign against their archrivals and two-time defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles tomorrow, September 8, 4 PM at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.