From today’s issue of the Philippine Star By Quinito Henson
While conceding that archrival Ateneo is the team-to-beat in the coming UAAP men’s senior basketball hostilities, La Salle coach Dindo Pumaren said the other day he expects the Green Archers to be contenders with a roster that’s as quick and bigger than last season’s Final Four lineup.
At the moment, there are 24 players vying for 16 slots in the La Salle cast that won’t be firmed up until shortly before the season starts in July. Among those trying out are rookies Arnold Van Opstal of La Salle Zobel, Dan Sara of San Beda High School and Norbert Torres of Mother Teresa High School in Toronto.
“We’ve retained the quickness of last year’s team and added height,” said Pumaren. “Now, we can play big or small. I’m optimistic of making it to the Final Four again and who knows what will happen on the way to the finals? Ateneo is tough and they’re bringing in new players like (Greg) Slaughter and (Kiefer) Ravena. They’re a three-peat team so they’ve got championship experience.”
Pumaren said the Archers may tap three more rookies but declined to name them.
“It’s a challenge recruiting the top high school players,” said Pumaren. “But I’m happy that the players are responding positively to our pitch that we don’t only offer a way to a basketball career but also a solid academic program. Our managers are offering incentives for good grades and the players realize the value of a good education.”
La Salle will play Ateneo in an exhibition game in Dubai in April then the Archers fly to Chicago for a 10-day training program, the third straight year they’ll work out at the Attack Athletics Center with Michael Jordan’s trainer Tim Grover.
Pumaren said nobody is guaranteed a spot in the roster. “Everyone’s battling to make the team, even our veterans,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve played two, three or four years with the team. We want all the guys to compete.”
A player whom Pumaren said has shown a lot of spunk in the tryouts is returnee L. A. Revilla, a 5-7 guard who played on La Salle’s runner-up squad as a rookie in 2008. Revilla, 21, sat out the last two seasons to recover from hyperthyroidism, dengue and ailments related to diabetes. If he makes the team, Revilla will bring instant maturity and depth to the backcourt where Simon Atkins is the primary point guard.
Van Opstal, 18, and Torres, 21, have also been impressive at practice. Van Opstal is 6-9 and Torres, 6-6. Together, they form a Twin Towers combination that Pumaren said he hopes will neutralize the 6-11 Slaughter. Torres has played for the Philippines’ under-18 team and established residency for three years at La Salle after transferring from Toronto. Another rookie aspirant, Sara, is from Cagayan de Oro and has suited up for the national under-16 and under-18 squads.
“It’ll be a very competitive season,” said La Salle vice chancellor and UAAP president Br. Bernie Oca. “The Ateneo crowd is very supportive and expects nothing less than a four-peat. FEU remains formidable with R. R. Garcia. UE has a new coach in Jerry Codinera, NU with Eric Altamirano and UP with Ricky Dandan. Then, there’s Adamson which you can’t discount. And UST is tough, too, and motivated to win during its 400th year anniversary.”
Br. Bernie said the Archers will stick to Pumaren’s philosophy of defense as the best offense. “The team is very fit,” he said. “They’ll do a lot of running – I expect 40 minutes of running every game and our conditioning coach Dan Rose is making sure of that. If we showed a lot of spirit last season, expect the spirit to go up several levels this season. The team has good chemistry, the players enjoy playing as a unit, they like each other and they respect coach Dindo. I sense a great deal of warmth within the team and that’s a positive. We’ll definitely be much more competitive with the experience from last year’s rookies and sophomores.”
La Salle wasn’t expected to make it to the Final Four last season with five rookies but overachieved and barged into the semifinals only to lose a 69-59 overtime decision to FEU. Among the veterans tipped to return are 6-3 Maui Villanueva, 6-3 Gab Banal, Atkins, 6-4 Jovet Mendoza, 5-9 Nico Elorde, 6-3 Joshua Webb, 6-2 Martin Reyes, 6-2 Sam Marata, 5-10 Almond Vosotros, 6-6 Papot Paredes, 6-5 Yulien Andrada, 5-11 Jarelan Tampus, 5-11 Luigi de la Paz, 6-5 Ferdinand and 6-3 Aiki Herrera.
Pumaren will continue to lean on assistants Tonichi Yturri, Jack Santiago and Lawrence Yulo. Older brothers Derick and Franz, both top-notch coaches in their own right, are his expert advisers.