When one chapter ends, another is set to begin.
The collegiate careers of Kib Montalbo and Santi Santillan came to a heartbreaking end last Wednesday as the Green Archers were eliminated from Final Four contention.
If they had their way, of course they would have wanted a much better exit, maybe at the very least fighting it out in the semis. But that’s how it is. Both players have already accepted their fate and are all set to move on to the next stage of their basketball journey.
Their paths to where they are now are almost the same. Both were born and grew up down south with dreams of one day playing hoops in the big leagues in Manila.
Coming from St. John Institute in Bacolod, Kib never expected that he would eventually play for La Salle, more so become the leader of the team.
“I was just a boy who dreamed of playing with drums, yun lang.
“Back in Bacolod, sabi ko gusto pumunta ng Maynila para maglaro kasi may drums dito. Bacolod wala eh, walang crowd eh. I didn’t expect that I will be a captain of La Salle and to lead the team. I never expected that in my wildest dreams,”
We’re forever grateful for that opportunity kasi being in La Salle is a blessing, but also a privilege na makalaro sa La Salle. Makapasok lang sa La Salle is hard. Being here, being in our position, we’re only boys who dreamed of being here.”
It was an up-and-down road for Kib when he entered La Salle as a freshman in 2013. Playing behind LA Revilla, Almond Vosotros and Thomas Torres, he got limited minutes in his rookie season wherein the team took the championship in a hard-fought finals series with UST.
After a brilliant sophomore year, he sustained an ACL injury which caused him to miss the entire 2015 UAAP Season.
His game changed significantly when he returned the following year. In line with Coach Aldin Ayo’s “Mayhem”, he transitioned to being a defensive stopper. His grind-out mentality earned him the nickname “The Man of Steal”. He averaged 3 swipes per game in their 2016 championship run.
Unfortunately, injuries started to bother him again in the next two years. In 2017 he missed a lot of preseason matches due to knee problems. This year, he sat out almost the entire FilOil tournament and did not play in the BLIA Cup in Taiwan due to surgery to remove bone spurs on his right ankle.
And just this season and in only their third game, he injured his thumb. Despite still hurting, he came back sooner than expected.
The kid is a fighter. He has battled through adversity in all of his of years with La Salle. Playing under 4 head coaches, he experienced a lot of changes within the team. Many left to play elsewhere because of these changes but he chose to stay and instead reinvent his game. He is just one of very few players since the start of this decade to play five seasons with the Green Archers.
For Santi, his stint with the team is a short one having played three years with the University of Visayas in Cebu.
“Di ko ito ine-expect, na mag-Maynila ako,” said Santillan, who played two seasons for La Salle. “Iniisip ko lang, nasa Cebu lang ako. That time na nakalaro ko ‘yung La Salle, kinuha nila ako.”
“Hindi ko inasahan ‘yung opportunity sa La Salle,” he admitted. “Nagpapasalamat din ako sa mga coaches na naniwala sa akin at sa mga teammates ko na naging kapatid ko.”
“Syempre malayo ka sa pamilya, ‘yun lang. Alam nila lahat ng pinaghirapan ko, sakripisyo ko. And’yan sila parati para sa akin.”
With the exit of Ben Mbala, Abu Tratter and Prince Rivero from last year, this season is where Santi got to really showcase his underrated all-around game.
And that near game-winning shot he took with 3 seconds left in the clock, had it went in, would have cemented his place as one of the team’s best clutch performers.
“Yung last shot ko naman talagang sure ball na yun eh. Wala eh, hindi pumasok. Ganoon ang laro,” he said. “May nananalo, may natatalo. Ginawa namin ang lahat ng makakaya namin para makapasok sa Final Four.”
But nevertheless, we still consider Santi as a hero for his tireless work ethic on the court. He gave it his all in his brief but meaningful stay with the Green Archers.
Both players shall now enter the D-League next year which is the entry point for getting drafted in the PBA.
Thanks Kib and Santi and good luck!