The University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 76 basketball championship this week is not an Ateneo-La Salle tussle. An Ateneo-La Salle game always fills any arena to the rafters with a noisy unruly Prada and Gucci crowd on both sides. There must be something in the school spirit of these two fabled universities that animate their students and their alumni for them to invariably show up whenever the enemy is the other university.
The matchup is the animo of La Salle and the intellectual spirit of Ateneo. If you want to be good at English and the humanities and be cultured as well, go to Ateneo. If you want to learn business, even if your English is less than perfect, go to La Salle.
Still, the championship series between University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University (DLSU) which kicked off yesterday promises to be one for the record books.
Disclosure: I finished college at UST and took up three semesters of MBA at Ateneo. Four kids went to La Salle in high school and all four finished college at Ateneo. A daughter, Ivy, is Ateneo Law. I have kin studying at La Salle and UST.
To me, the La Salle and UST tossup exemplifies teams with vastly different backgrounds and bases of support. La Salle is cash-rich and heavily supported by Big Business biggies.
The likes of a Danding Cojuangco who virtually donated a prime residential backlot to La Salle and built housing where for the playing season the Green Archers must live and play together.
A La Salle high school alumnus, ECJ attends the training sessions and all the games of La Salle and brings the players to a blowout after each game, win or lose. He also hired training coaches to polish the shooting skills of star players. Since ECJ’s total support, the Green Archers have gradually improved their rankings each year, from No. 5, then No. 4, and now No. 2 or possibly a champion. A championship trophy was not envisioned as early as this year. It was supposed to come next year yet.
Managing a team is just like managing a business. You assemble the team and personnel. Reinforce it with imports. Make a budget. Allocate logistics. Hire coaches and trainers. Design the strategy and execute well. That is exactly what La Salle has done with marvelous results. The Archers have won nine of their last nine games, topping the elimination, 10-4 and leading them to the best-of-three championship series with UST.
The Growling Tigers, on the other hand, are an example of a team left to their own devices. They don’t have a Danding Cojuangco although I feel billionaire Andrew Tan should pitch in once in a while. The Tigers run on sheer talent and a good coach, Pido Jarencio who is very intense and very good at people skills. UST has won 18 UAAP crowns in the past.
The Tigers also have what they think is the better Teng, Jeric, older brother of La Salle’s Jeron who the Archers believe is the more polished player. The Tigers of España also have the best import in the towering Karim Abdul who is very versatile, being a very good rebounder, scorer, interior defender and team player.
Last year, the Growling Tigers were runners-up to the Ateneo Blue Eagles which made legend by bagging their fifth crown. UST made up for that loss by winning the championship between the UAAP and NCAA top teams.
This year, the Tigers humiliated Ateneo by eliminating them from the Top Four. From No. 1 to No 5 can be a precipitous drop. La Salle, meanwhile, trounced an equally strong team in FEU, 74-69 and 71-68 for the Final Four.
In the eliminations, it’s even between UST and La Salle. UST beat DLSU 63-58 but DLSU came back with a 69-65 score.
This year, UST, as Seed No. 4, made history by defeating the No. 1 seed, National University, twice in a row, 71-62 and 76-69.
Overall, UST has the better and stronger players but La Salle’s animo and a Danding Cojuangco for a backer can be like scaling Mount Everest at the North Face.
My prediction: UST by Game Three.
Whoever wins the UAAP hoop crown this year will be deserving of the plum. Congrats to UST and La Salle.