The first thing that always catches my eye each time I step out of the elevator on the 9th floor of the Enrique Razon Sports Center and head towards the basketball court are the banners honoring all the past triumphs of the Green Archers and the individuals who have fully exemplified the traits of a Lasallian champion.
The constant pursuit of excellence. The glory won all in the name of a proud institution. The dedication and long hours of hard work exerted for the larger prize. And the dignified grace in both triumph and defeat. Each unequalled marks of a true Lasallian.
I find comfort in knowing that all the courage, effort and talents I was given the pleasure of witnessing on any given game day by the Season 77 De La Salle Green Archers were ceaselessly honed under those same banners. Away from the eyes of external scrutiny, nurtured by nothing more than quiet, burning commitment and solidarity.
These banners do more than serve as hallmarks of past glory and a reminder of the pride we must all carry through any circumstance. They act as constant symbols of a standard to measure up against; a bar set by our alma mater in all disciplines through the rigors of academics, utmost tutelage and a responsibility to give back a hundredfold that which we have been privileged to receive. On a larger scale, it is a burden of the past–of more than a hundred years of storied existence–created by all the captains of industry, beacons of the arts, and pillars in the realm of athletics that came before us. A burden handed and which in turn we all gladly take on.
Inasmuch as this ensures there is no reason to be blinded by the successes we achieve, we can also find no shame in losing to a worthy opponent and fighting the good fight. So that at the end of the day, it is this relentless pursuit along with all the hard work and dedication that truly define us and set us apart.
While it is truly a painful time for both the Green Archers and the Lasallian faithful, more than the strong words of encouragement and comfort we find in each other, it is this drive within, that inextinguishable fire in our hearts sparked by the values espoused by our alma mater which allows us to transcend momentary adversity. Always certain that because this fire never goes out, our better days are always ahead of us. Whether in victory or defeat.
But even before starting to look ahead or find refuge in past success, it is in the present where I can fully appreciate what has been achieved by this La Salle team. While falling short in reaching for the immediate goal set, they remain champions in our eyes. Men amongst boys, giants among men, for always placing character and values ahead of all else.
It all begins with the management that put this team together, and has given us just the beginnings of an era of La Salle basketball which has already produced prestige to equal the amount of support the rest of us bring to every game. Support that is never without the tinge of bravery, always led by our resourceful and ever potent Animo Squad which concretized on Wednesday beyond the banging of drums it is the heart within that proves most deafening.
More than providing resources and attending to every need, the distinguished people that make up the management are the visionary architects who first set the culture of this team of substance, and more than any of us are the first ones to voice encouragement and faith especially during moments of struggle.
By handing the leadership role to Coach Juno Sauler, thereby setting the foundation of a true championship team driven by much more than the pursuit of tangible gains, I know this is a team I can always count on to do us all proud. His relentless pursuit of excellence, which unjustly remains media fodder for those who may not fully understand its context, has been the truest mark of an honorable Lasallian- one whose lead we all find easy to follow even through the most stringent of trials. Harmoniously melding mind and heart, labouring for the perfection of fundamentals that arm his boys for battles waged even outside the confines of the hardcourt, I cannot imagine any other person ably leading us all in our collective chase for continued glory. Even before clinching last year’s title, he already won my unconditional respect.
A respect I also generously have for Jeron Teng, who has not only evolved into a complete player and true oncourt leader in his third year, but also imbibed the deeper team values imparted by his head coach. Brandishing the key lines from Invictus on the eve of what would be this season’s final game–the same lines wielded by Coach Sauler to motivate his boys the previous season in critical stages of the tournament–Teng’s Lasallian character is largely defined by how he complements his athletic growth with metaphysical nurturing. Definitely not just another basketball superstar settling for what is at hand, but reaching for the greater intangibles lacking in most of his type.
With the incalculable trust given to Almond Vosotros who played valiantly all the same whether through hot streaks or shooting slumps in each of his playing years, he more than repaid his alma mater in full by having given so much of himself to this team and the community. Thus, the lasting image he leaves us will not be of him sitting on court in tears after Wednesday’s final buzzer, but of all the gutsy shots he has taken for this team with head forever unbowed. Along with the quiet leadership role he admittedly took on at the start of this season. Ensuring that the remaining players understand that honourable burden to be carried and character required before wearing a La Salle jersey.
The silent dedication and ferocity of Norbert Torres that never waned from first year to last are traits that I also can only admire. Never allowing himself to be counted out, only defined by the hard work and quiet passion he has brought to every game; gradually taking on responsibility and accepting challenges, from his rookie year as one who preferred taking outside shots to this current season, being one of the more consistent contributors safeguarding the team’s brand of inside toughness. Lingering to take one last glance back at the stands as the rest of the team entered the dugout, I know he is one player who has relished every single moment as a Green Archer and lived up to all the larger than life challenges being a member of this team inevitably entails.
In the same manner, I can only appreciate all the raw energy and passion displayed by Arnold Van Opstal, as he prepares to become one of the prominent leaders of this team. Also relentlessly improving his game every single year, more than his work ethic it is his unbridled energy that is integral to the character of this team. While falling short of expectations this season, he has never lost the trust of his teammates, which he extends as well. Knowing that the team always comes first, I am assured that under the close guidance of Coach Sauler his development will remain on the upswing.
In Jason Perkins I see not only the emerging anchor of this team because of his athleticism that has necessitated frustrated opponents from last season to always try and counter with more than overly physical play, but an essential, graceful quality of leadership unbecoming of his physique. Always being the first to pick up fallen comrades and heartily encourage slumping teammates, the foundation of this team will remain secure in the same manner he claims his sweet spots on the floor against opponents who have learned they will always have their hands full in more ways than one when he is around.
Through the steady emergence of Kib Montalbo, gradually sharpening his shot with self-trust in taking each one coupled with defensive toughness, I see traces of Thomas Torres. With the latter choosing to spend his time healing wisely by taking the former under his wing not only with pointers on how to run the offense but also the true grit needed in taking on even the most highly touted scorers on opposing teams; the very same characteristics that endeared the injured point guard to all of us in the first place.
We all have also remained victors through Yutien Andrada’s resiliency, whose dedication in going through the many elaborate conditioning exercises under the close eye and guiding hand of Assistant Coach Marlon Celis may have largely gone unseen. How these players can continue to give it their all no matter how battered and bruised is a testament to the contributions of that man, the team’s conditioning coach.
Andrada’s discipline shows that there are more than a few ways to act as a leader on this La Salle team. Never leaving in doubt whether he would resume his career, his comeback in itself has served as inspiration and reminder enough for any other player who may be tempted to count himself out. His legacy will be making sure that undertaking the hard work and all the grueling things behind the scenes should, and always will be, the easy choice to make.
The heady play of Julian Sargent and Prince Rivero not only give us something to look forward to, but showed us that the future is now. Already owning permanent places in our hearts for courage that belies their combined playing experience. Along with Robert Bolick, Matt Salem, Terence Mustre and Abu Tratter, all as of yet raw talents poised to be the eventual cogs of this La Salle team, fully understanding with no reprehension that serving a greater purpose means something more than filling up the bench and acting as cheerleaders, and in fact lend invaluable strength to the team’s harmony. Because patience and acceptance of roles then don’t at all diminish from the hard work required especially during practice sessions to give the veterans a run for their money.
Guided by Assistant Coaches Allan Caidic and Jun Limpot, both towers of the game, who provide not only indispensible lessons in honing basketball skills but precise wisdom for these young men duly aspiring for greater things, the core and heart of this team will always be secure, as it has been from day one. And with the resourceful Paolo Sauler rounding out the coaching staff by helming all the game tape preparations for thoroughly dissected plays–an integral part of Coach Juno’s system anchored on discipline and taking utmost care of all the little things including each other–focused and meticulously studied greatness will always remain at an arm’s length for whomever dons the Green and White.
With the heartbreak and all the basketball plays we can either choose to dissect, analyze or shrug off from Wednesday’s final game, my vision extends just like my reach beyond all that is eventually rendered insubstantial and fleeting—the cheering and the jeering, the euphoria and the agony. And along with my fellow Lasallians who voluntarily labor under the burden of past greatness bestowed by our alma mater, armed with a distinct standard of excellence against which the manner we define our own character and ambitions is set, it becomes quite easy to understand one thing: all that is truly essential, really, remains invisible to the naked eye.
This is who we are, and who we remain to be. Lasallians striving for uncanny greatness, with the dignity of whatever outcome solely reliant on the honor we manage to keep intact during the pursuit. That is the De La Salle way.
Maybe the optimal level of desire wasn’t consistently there, the glaring truth now being it takes a different kind of hunger to retain a title. Or maybe the influx of new talent needed a little more time to be harnessed. Or maybe we all rushed to mistakenly underestimate what we though would be a relatively weaker field of competition.
But with all the harsh, necessary lessons to be learned and taken to heart, it is the little rewards garnered along the way that prove to be the lasting achievements of this particular La Salle team and the community that stands behind it: brotherhood, hard work, courage, faith, and passion.
If the only way to remain a lasting champion is to have ensured you fought and acted like one, even long after the final buzzer, then for every single one of us I’d say mission accomplished.
If in my own struggles I am able to see further, if I am capable of digging deeper, and if I continue to reach beyond that of which others may only dare dream, it is largely because I stand on the shoulders of these giants among men. These champions of our institution and our collective pride.
To the Season 77 De La Salle Green Archers, who have proven beyond doubt to be much greater than 14-strong, I proudly raise my right fist one more time.
Animo La Salle.