Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Green Archers: Freedom from the Press. by Nikko Ramos.

By Nikko Ramos (@NikkoRMS)

The Pumarens are gone. All of them. No more Dindo pacing the sidelines, no more Derek sitting conveniently behind the bench on the first row “watching.” No more Franz three rows behind him, the mystique of his four-peat radiating to the players. No more full court press. Now it’s not guaranteed that new head honcho Gee Abanilla won’t raise two fists to call out the familiar stifling Archer backcourt trap every now and then. But as far as running it for the full 40 minutes? Those days are done.

It stopped working last year. No final four for DLSU. Season wasted. Alumni disappointed. Fanbase hungry for change. Enter Gee, Jun Limpot and a brand-new staff, brand-new mentality and brand-new jolt of hope. Granted, last year’s lineup might not have been the best group to run the Pumaren system.

La Salle waited years for Norbert Torres to be eligible. They anticipated Arnold Van Opstal’s high school graduation since he was in Grade 7. Those two big men were too different from the usual La Salle big men, but were too good, too hyped, and frankly, too big to pass up. These two talented, athletic prospects often looked Javale-esque in their rookie year, lost in a system that was never designed for guys their size.

This year, if the preseason tournament is any indication, those bigs finally have a coach and a system that are prioritizing entry passes to the post. Torres has been straight up beasting on the block for La Salle, looking like Mr. Hyde compared to the jumpshot-settling Dr. Jekyll of last season. Arnold Van Opsta a.k.a. AVO, they say, has improved his back-to-the-basket game as well and will see more touches than his pulot-mintis campaign in Season 74.

Come to think of it, aside from last year’s Ateneo Blue Eagles (who, honestly, could beat that pioneer Shopinas team), La Salle has the most complete-looking roster in recent history. On paper, some UAAP teams might be willing to trade their starters for DLSU’s second five: Vosotros, Tampus, Webb, Mendoza and Paredes. That group will be backing up Revilla, Dela Paz, Teng, Torres and Van Opstal. Add rookie Tallo in the mix and swingman Marata and you have 12 guys who can start (It is worth noting however that you probably won’t see Joseph Marata in a La Salle jersey this season unless he wears it to the mall or something. Why? Don’t know either).

But as we all know, rosters don’t win UAAP titles. Coaches do. Yup. Over the past four seasons, Norman Black has had star players, but his system made so-so role players play huge. This is the challenge La Salle faces. They now have their trusted veterans, their big name sophomores, and another pair of heralded rookies. They finally have a coaching style that matches their players’ styles and skills. Will it translate to wins? Or will they choke and frantically scan the room, search to see if that poor old scapegoat “adjustment period” is around and blame it for another substandard season?

In all fairness to Coach Gee Abanilla, if he’s able to lead La Salle to a winning record, he should consider it mission accomplished. That would mean a Final Four spot, maybe a four-seed at the least. For a first-year coach, that should be commended. Unfortunately, it won’t be. La Salle demands more. And for good reason. They have a complete team. They have a pro-level coach. They also however, are still enchanted, maybe even mortified, by that mystique Franz Pumaren and his clan radiates.

Yet La Salle is now Abanilla’s team. They’re a perfect match. Gee is motivated, everything to gain, everything to lose. La Salle is hungry, excited, driven again.

These Archers are now free from the press. But they’re now bound by the pressure, imprisoned by expectations, full court trapped by ambition. Maybe this new situation finally lights the fuse. Maybe this uncertainty finally launches the title drive of the decade. With Ateneo threatening to trump the Archers’ Four-Peat with a fifth straight chip this season, Taft is anxious. For another championship. For a return to dominance. For four straight of their own. NR

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