September 21, 2019
The struggles of De La Salle University early in Season 82 of the UAAP would have been dismissed as having a tough schedule, but losses to UE and FEU have shown that there may really be a problem.
DLSU is a proud program with many achievements. They come from the same bloodline as the San Miguel Beermen, the most successful PBA program in recent history. SMB are the lone Filipino survivors of the East Asia Terrific 12, and they just dethroned the defending champions of that invitational league.
Ateneo and La Salle have a virtual arms race in the UAAP that has gone on for almost two decades now, and when one has the advantage, the other would scramble to match—and the Green Archers really got scrambled this time.
Archers “bust-ing” out?
La Salle is parading three Fil-foreign players. Keyshawn Evans-Meeker, a six-foot guard from Illinois State, Jamie Orme-Malonzo of Portland State University and James Laput of Young Harris College will be taking their master’s degree courses at Taft Ave, while donning the green and white in Season 82.
They were supposed to be the team that could take down the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The team from Katipunan looks formidable as ever with one more year of experience tucked under their belts. The core group got stronger even if some have departed. It is also the last tour of duty for Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go and the Nieto twins, which gives them more motivation to end their UAAP careers with a crown.
The Archers thought they did not have the firepower in their roster to thwart the storybook ending of their archrivals. The acquisition of these three Fil-foreigners along with the insertion of Jermaine Byrd as new head coach gave them a new hope.
The UAAP did not waste any time on offering a sneak preview by scheduling the rivalry match right on the second game day. It was a good fight but the Eagles pulled away for the victory. That was understandable. La Salle had all the adjustments to make, Ateneo had their core players together for four years. Even with a talented team, the experience would just pull through.
However, the next three-game stretch saw the Archers out of target. They managed to survive a heroic effort from Dave Ildefonso and the NU Bulldogs, but their next two losses to UE and FEU were quite revealing. Perhaps the three new recruits, and even Coach Byrd, were overhyped?
The harvest is plentiful
The contrast of UST’s impressive start with their recruits from the provinces and DLSU’s disappointing outings may be an eye-opener for the recruitment efforts. Schools with funding and connections (like ADMU and DLSU) concentrated their efforts on Fil-foreigners in America and Europe.
It’s hard to blame them considering the success of America and Europe in the World Cup. No Asian or African team made it to the second round. There is reason to believe that the best basketball training programs are in those countries. Also, how many Fil-foreigners have had stellar careers in the PBA?
However, we should not ignore our homegrown talent. We should remember the last time a Fil-foreigner and a homegrown talent went toe-to-toe, inch for inch. Greg Slaughter vs June Mar Fajardo (although both were discovered in CESAFI) was a classic match, and while we cannot generalize them as representatives of their roots, we should dispel the notion that Fil-foreigners are the only hope, or that they will always be better.
If we are still committed to the national cause, we should actually pursue efforts to developing grassroots talent since they would not have eligibility issues. At the same time, the SBP should still continue to seek young prospects in the international field — but we’re no longer looking for our basketball “savior.”
Next generation and the search for the big men
We have a lot of 6’7 to 6’8 big men in the collegiate ranks and even as young as high school. The past World Cup has shown that while having height matters, skill can offset slight disadvantages. Even our 6’8” players can be relevant international players. We’ll explore that next column.
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