With all the preseason hype now muted and all the revelry from last season’s championship run all packed up and left in the past, we find the defending UAAP men’s basketball champions in a 0-2 hole to open this season’s hoop wars.
I’m not quite certain, but that hole just feels a bit wider and deeper with the second loss coming against the Ateneo Blue Eagles. But after all, this is UAAP men’s basketball. Where in the eyes of fans and pundits alike, hardcourt gods can turn into flawed mortals–and back again–all in a span of a week.
There’s really not much more to contribute to all the buzz and noise that is generated by back-to-back losses to start the season. Lack of character, team play and cohesive effort; in addition to the puzzling absence of all the fundamentally sound and intangible traits that have endeared this particular set of champions to many. The only thing louder than all that noise is the crashing of unbelievably great expectations back to the ground. All in less than two weeks.
Having gotten a more insightful and relatively close hand look into the inner workings of this team as early as last season’s prolonged break in between elimination rounds, I will be the last one to offer up excuses for this team. Because that’s really not in the character of this particular set of Green Archers, helmed by a man that has not let anything outside of the quest for excellence define them collectively.
But back-to-back losses to start a season are still exactly that. Back-to-back losses against teams that are arguably weaker on paper. While the Green Archers looked sharp for most of the opening day game against the FEU Tamaraws, they looked out of it for majority of yesterday’s match against the Blue Eagles. Or as Coach Juno Sauler himself puts it, they looked lost.
In the loss against FEU, I could still see consistent chinks in the armor similarly prevalent in the few losses suffered by the team in preseason tournaments. The drop in intensity and energy when the bench is tapped to take over whatever momentum the starters have initiated. Defensive lapses, most curiously when someone from the opposing team gets hot from the outside. Unfamiliarity with new rotations that result in disorganized play on both ends.
And most importantly, the killer instinct which isn’t there yet. The one that makes a team play with the same intensity whether the game is tied or while enjoying an 8-10 point lead and momnetum is still in hand.
Given all that, then add lack of aggression and the more frequent tendencies to make individual plays as we saw in yesterday’s loss, a 0-2 start to the season shouldn’t be that surprising at all.
It would be wise to note the thin line between making excuses and keeping the faith. The former makes losing and mediocrity okay. Just dust yourself off, keep your chin up and hope for the best. The latter keeps one lucid and self-aware, hungry and focused. Resolved not to repeat the same mistakes.
The Lasallian faithful is a proud, zealous community. We are bred to live up to a high standard of excellence. Which is why the anguish that characterizes losing is not merely about pouting or whining because we have to endure others celebrating at our expense. It’s something more substantial than that.
It’s about living up to the potential and capabilities in one’s possession. Never settling for anything less than excellence. Allowing one’s grasp to exceed one’s reach. The only real stuff that true champions are made of.
Which is why from where I’m sitting, nearly drowning in the deafening cries of frustration that a 0-2 record in the UAAP necessarily generates, the glass is half full. And it always will be when it comes to the matter of supporting this team helmed by a man with an unyielding standard of excellence cultivated by his alma mater.
Dating back to the opening game of season 76, when Coach Sauler’s boys suffered a grinding loss against the UST Growling Tigers, I knew this was a team out to make us all proud. The team looked awkward and extremely out of sorts then. But isn’t that the case when a higher, unfamiliar standard is being set? It is virtually a shock to a formerly complacent system. I’m fighting the urge to delve into a Dead Poets Society analogy right now, because that’s exactly what it is. With both the ends and means bearing equal value.
Coach Sauler may seem to take things in stride. Always the trait of individuals who ardently remain unfazed and untainted by all the exterior hype and noise, whether good or bad. Fluff will always be fluff. Something that needs to be shrugged off. Because this man responds to a higher, more personal bar than all of us combined can set on his shoulders. Of which winning is merely one of the by-products.
It will always inevitably be a futile endeavor to engage in debate what a diehard Lasallian really is. It manifests in different forms, notably in moments of adversity. And especially when it comes to our sports teams. Anger. Exasperation. Tough love. Pure faith. Unconditional, grounded loyalty. But as I mentioned, one thing we can all agree on is we hate losing. We despise it. It is as undesirable a habit as any. I am one with all the calls for better performance, a return to form. And maybe just some swagger and assertion on both ends of the court, from start to finish, from every single player given even a minute of playing time, won’t hurt at all.
I am not sure what cards or tricks need to be pulled out of Coach Sauler’s sleeve–whether a shake up in the starting line up and the bench rotations, new offensive schemes, more gritty and flexible defense—but with Thomas Torres out for the rest of the season, the sense of urgency is thicker than ever.
Adversity should breed character, not animosity nor spite. It’s a pretty high bar. But we are Lasallians after all. And looking to the next game against a National University squad that is playing cohesive and efficient basketball, the uphill climb has grown just a little bit steeper. It can remain unsaid, but remaining champions will be much harder than becoming ones the first time around.
Like many, my faith remains unwavering. Along with my lofty expectations. Because my support is in good hands. A sense of purpose. Character. Excellence. And the many other things I can only surmise make up the blueprint of the world of Juno Sauler. My only job is to sit back, cheer on, with a glass half full always in hand.