Why the Dark Ages of Ateneo and of La Salle are Similar To Each Other?
On my very first blog post on this website, I would like to share something that happened to me on what was yesterday’s boring afternoon at home.
Boredom and the idea of not doing anything compelled me to turn on the TV set and do some channel surfing. I ended up being on Studio 23, with the UAAP men’s basketball game between La Salle and UST being shown during that time slot. Being a fan of the sport, I decided to stick with and see how things would turn out between the Green Archers and the Growling Tigers, who were erstwhile rivals during the 1990′s, and UST always ended up winning the UAAP men’s basketball championship title and La Salle being the consistent bridesmaid.
La Salle was coming into the game on a two-game losing streak- a loss at the hands of the FEU Tamaraws that was due to rookie errors on the part of certain Green Archers and a loss to their arch-nemesis, Ateneo. On the other hand, UST was enjoying a winning streak, starting when they upset the reigning champions, Ateneo, and a turnaround win against a hyped NU basketball team. Supporters of both La Salle and UST were passionate about that game, their faces being shown on TV with delight each time their respective squads scored and took the lead.
The Green Archers-Growling Tigers meeting turned to be a nailbiter, with UST emerging as victors after a double overtime period. I could see the frustration on the faces of the La Salle players, most especially their prized rookie, Jeron Teng, after the loss. La Salle tried their best but a lot of miscalculations on their part costed what was supposed to be a won game in their favor during regulation, allowing UST to take advantage of the situation and bring home the bacon after two grueling overtime periods.
The present-day La Salle team, which has been out of contention from the UAAP men’s basketball semifinals for the past three years after ending up as runners-up to Ateneo in 2008, seems to mirror that the post-1988 Ateneo men’s basketball team.
After winning the 1988 UAAP title, the Blue Eagles endured a long drought, as the likes of Adamson, FEU, La Salle and UE dominated the competitions. Things had become much worse for Ateneo when UST, then tapping the services of alumnus Aric del Rosario, who was notorious for being a strict and brutally frank disciplinarian, emerged as a new UAAP basketball powerhouse, enjoying a four-year championship run during the early to mid-1990′s. Ateneans, frustrated at how things turned out after 1988, fought with each other because of not only “competing stakes” on their basketball program but also due to the fact that they could not agree with each other on what measures to take to end the Blue Eagles’ dark ages.
Things eventually changed for Ateneo in 1999 when they finally decided to let go of their wrongly placed pride and tapping the services of a non-alumnus, legendary former UP Fighting Maroons champion mentor Joe Lipa, as the Blue Eagles’ new mentor. Lipa, who brought in a lot of his close associates from UP such as Ricky Dandan, who is currently the head coach of UP’s men’s basketball team, to help him out, was able to turn around what was once a non-contending Ateneo team, starting with him recruiting the likes of Enrico Villanueva and Larry Fonacier. Lipa’s first year on the job was a success, as the Blue Eagles were, for the first time in a very long time, was able to penetrate the UAAP men’s basketball semifinals.
In 2001, Lipa was able to steer the Blue Eagles into the UAAP big dance, meeting then reigning three-peat champions La Salle, which had Renren Ritualo as their main go-to guy, in the Finals. It was a dream match-up for the archetypal basketball fan since it was the first time since 1988 that Ateneo and La Salle would meet in the Finals. Joe Lipa and his wards were eventually defeated by the Green Archers, who won their fourth straight UAAP men’s basketball championship title. Bowing down to the pressure of internal politics and keeping the promise that he made, which was to resign his post if he would not be able to bring a UAAP title to Katipunan after three UAAP seasons, Lipa stepped down as Ateneo’s head coach.
Joe Lipa was replaced by another non-alumnus, Joel Banal, a Mapuan, as the Blue Eagles’ mentor. Banal was able to steer Ateneo towards winning the finals against La Salle and gaining their third UAAP men’s basketball championship title in 2002. Banal was lucky then because the fruits of the seeds that were planted during the Lipa’s tenure as head coach. Joel Banal’s luck eventually ran out when Ateneo was dethroned by the FEU Tamaraws, who were coached by his younger brother, Koy, in 2003, forcing him to, just like Lipa before him, quit his post.
2004 was more of a transition period for Ateneo. It was a time when Ateneo could not decide on who should take on the role of head coach and what program design must be adopted to bring back their title-winning ways. Sandy Arespacochaga, an alumnus, was tapped as transitional head coach, and he was able to bring the Blue Eagles to a decent third-place rostrum finish that year.
Arespacochaga was, indeed, a mere transitional mentor for Ateneo as the university and its benefactors, led by businessman Manny Pangilinan, decided to, once again, put aside their pride and bring in another non-alumnus, veteran PBA coach Norman Black, as the new head coach of the Blue Eagles in 2005. Serving merely as team consultant during the middle of the Arespacochaga era in 2004, Black brought to Ateneo a program that was meant to end years of title drought within a span of two to three years. His first year on the job resulted to another decent third-place rostrum finish but with lots of promise on what the future may bring for the team from Katipunan.
2006, the year that powerhouse La Salle was absent from the UAAP due to a league suspension slapped to it after fielding in non-eligible players, who were actually brought into their team by some of their scheming alumni, was Ateneo’s first crack towards basketball glory. Throughout much of the 69th season of the UAAP, Ateneo led over the other six teams and enjoyed the hype created by media, thanks to the presence of then mature players like JC Intal and Doug Kramer, and a promising guard named Chris Tiu. Ateneo ended up frustrated, as the Blue Eagles were defeated by a Pido Jarencio-coached UST team in the Finals. Some impatient Ateneo alumni, just like their fellow impatient and scheming counterparts from La Salle, wanted Black’s head but Pangilinan and the rest of the benefactors, and university officials did not kowtow to pressure and kept Black as head coach.
Ateneo had its chances in 2007, the year when La Salle returned to the UAAP after one-year suspension. The Blue Eagles swept the Green Archers during their regular season meetings, their first wins against La Salle in a span of several years. La Salle eventually got their bearings fixed by defeating Ateneo, who lost the opportunity to gain the important twice-to-beat advantage after being upset by the NU Bulldogs during the last days of the elimination round, during the stepladder semifinals and going on to win their seventh UAAP men’s basketball championship title at the expense of the UE Red Warriors. Again, Ateneo’s pride was bruised severely, especially after being humiliated by what was supposed to be a weaker La Salle team during the semifinals.
2008 was the year that Norman Black’s timetable for Ateneo was finally met. The Blue Eagles and the Green Archers had, once again, met in the Finals after six years. Ateneo, which led throughout much of the 71st season of the UAAP and defeated La Salle convincingly during the elimination round, swept La Salle in the finals to win the first of their four straight UAAP men’s basketball championship titles, thanks to dominating center Rabeh Al-Hussaini, transferee power forward Nonoy Baclao and the then graduating Chris Tiu. From then on, Ateneo’s success in UAAP basketball under Norman Black was unsnapped and, this year, the Blue Eagles are poised towards achieving a new feat: Winning their fifth straight UAAP men’s basketball championship title, something that was not done by the four-peat teams of the 1990′s and early 2000′s, UST Growling Tigers and the La Salle Green Archers.
Going back to La Salle, they now have a returning financier, business Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, who controls much of San Miguel Corporation’s basketball program alongside his close associate, Ramon Ang, and a new mentor in Petron assistant coach and one-time La Salle assistant coach (under Franz Pumaren during La Salle’s four-peat era) Gelacio “Gee” Abanilla. While I recognize Abanilla’s intention to slowly but surely bring back La Salle’s basketball glory via a Final four appearance this year, I am not totally convinced that it can be achieved because of a lot of wrong things that seem to be in place in La Salle- wrong players who seem to be “all porma but no ibubuga” and are not fit with each other, chemistry-wise; and the same old internal politics that was caused by meddling alumni who claim that they must have a say on things because of their “investments” in the program. The only things that could turn out right for La Salle are the possibility that their point guard, L.A. Revilla, currently the best point guard in Philippine collegiate basketball, can join this year’s Mythical Five and the possibility that their prized rookie, Xavier School alumnus Jeron Teng, who seems to have a notorious lack of shooting skills but is a brave kid, can win the Rookie of the Year plum.
I believe that Cojuangco and other benefactors and university officials of La Salle should do what the Ateneans did if they want to bring back the title-winning ways of the Green Archers. They must start it by having effective control of their program and not allowing so-called “stakeholders”, who are, in reality, just plain meddling moneyed alumni, to meddle in team affairs, especially in player recruitment. They must also start setting aside their pride and consider the idea of tapping a non-alumnus mentor for the Green Archers- a move that paid off very well for Ateneo.
Cojuangco is a brilliant and well-connected sportsman. Given that, I believe that he should bring in either Rajko Toroman, who now serves as team consultant of San Miguel Corporation basketball teams after his stint with Smart Gilas, or legendary Ginebra playing coach Robert “Sonny” Jaworski as the new head coach of the Green Archers but keep Abanilla and Jun Limpot, who I credit for the tremendous improvement of La Salle’s power forwards and centers, most especially Filipino-Canadian big man Norbert Torres, as assistant coaches. I see Abanilla is more of a transitional head coach material for La Salle just like what Sandy Arespacochaga was to Ateneo.
Toroman bears an impressive track record as a coach, having mentored a lot of foreign national teams, most especially that powerhouse Iranian team that he brought to prominence after successful appearances in FIBA and the Summer Olympic Games, and, of course, Smart Gilas, and his international experience and connections would prove to be beneficial for La Salle should he be chosen as the Green Archers’ new head coach. Although now being rumored as a possible replacement for Ato Agustin as Petron’s head coach, Toroman can bring in a very good, international-based program for La Salle. Depending on how much support he could get from Cojuangco, Toroman can even bring the Green Archers to international training with teams from the likes of Serbia, Iran, Lithuania, Spain and Greece given the connections that he has gained through the years.
Now, supposing Toroman gets hired for the job at Petron, the next best option for La Salle is to tap Jaworski, an alumnus of UE, as head coach. Yes, Jaworski does belong to the “old school” type of coaching but if there is one thing that he could contribute to La Salle, that is bringing back the team’s lost pride, for he is known and loved by everyone for his passionate, pride-filled tour of duty as a player and a coach of the Ginebra basketball team. Should Jaworski gets the job in La Salle, he should be assisted by capable assistant coaches with extensive knowledge of amateur and international basketball, and, of course, Abanilla and Limpot because Jaworski needs to re-orient himself on college basketball despite his extensive experience in the PBA. When pride and passion returns to La Salle after several seasons of being in the dark, the Green Archers, under a mentor in Jaworski, are going to regain their title-winning ways.
Ateneo and La Salle are definitely the best known rivals in Philippine collegiate sports. What is more unique about them is the way that they seem to mirror each other. The Ateneans and the Lasallians are very much alike and, just like their love for basketball, are successful in building the best college basketball teams in the land, the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the La Salle Green Archers. La Salle, just like Ateneo, would certainly go back to its title-winning ways if the people involved in their program plus their supporters and university officials would not be afraid to embrace change no matter how radical it could be, especially when it calls for them setting aside their pride and tapping non-alumni to help them out.
Well, that, my dear readers, is my first blog for this website. This is what a boring afternoon can do to a simpleng miron. Who thought that watching a UAAP game on TV would enable me to write this blog entry? *smiles*
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