When the smoke cleared, the UAAP world looks exactly the way it should be looking – with the mighty Green Archers as Season 79 men’s basketball kings. The only surprise was the scare given by the gallant Ateneo Blue Eagles to their arch rivals in the best-of-three finals. Without a doubt, the Eagles overachieved this year after heralded coach Tab Baldwin was able to turn things around in the second round despite a relatively inexperienced roster.
But just as most expected, the year belonged to La Salle and the Green Archers after a dominating performance. Gang Green tasted defeat only once throughout the season. Thanks largely to the incomparable Season MVP Ben Mbala, who is a match-up headache for anyone, and Finals MVP Jeron Teng, who is arguably the best collegiate local player in the land today. Add to this tandem the sensational rookie Aljun Melecio, who instantly turned into Aldin Ayo’s new version of Mark Cruz. Ayo’s relentless trapping defense, fondly called “mayhem”, wreaked havoc for most of the tournament. The final outcome was something many considered as destined from the get go. And the Archers made sure of it even after sailing though rough waters late in the second round. Kudos to all La Sallians for a job well done.
Immediately after the Archers’ triumph last Wednesday, there’s already talk of a La Salle dynasty in the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball event, as the jubilant squad remains formidable in the coming years. Even with the graduation of Teng, Thomas Torres, Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent, the Green Archers are just as imposing next year with a line-up that’s deep in talent. La Salle is known for it’s A-1 recruitment program. Apart from Melecio and Andrei Caracut, the back-to-back UAAP top rookies in 2016 and 2015 respectively, Kib Montalbo, Prince Rivero, Abu Tratter, Jollo Go, and an exceptional band of high school recruits in 6’8” Justine Baltazar, Ricci Rivero, Mark Dyke and Brent Paraiso will be returning in Season 80 to defend their title. And of course, there’s still Mbala, who the rest of the UAAP is still trying to figure out how to stop. So this early, La Salle looks to be the team to beat in 2017. Then there’s talk of a possible transfer of Perpetual Help U’s super import Bright Akhuetie, who should be Mbala’s successor in 2018. Dawn of the Green Dynasty? Perhaps. But Ateneo, Adamson and Far Eastern U are rising as well.
The National University (NU) recently bid farewell to six-year Bulldogs coach Eric Altamirano. Coach E led the school to the 2014 conquest of the UAAP men’s basketball crown. But this year, the Bulldogs fell short in their campaign, finishing at fifth spot. Before the season opened, they were believed to be La Salle’s closest challenger, especially after a 16-point shellacking of the Green Archers in a pre-season tune up game. But as NU missed the Final Four boat this year, the community started a clamor for a coaching change that must have prompted Altamirano’s courtesy resignation.
Being a hoops coach is one of the toughest jobs in the world. It’s a thankless job that’s only great while you’re winning. When you start losing, everybody wants your head. That’s just the way it is.
But there should be no question that Coach E has done a stellar job for this Bulldogs team, which not too long ago was a perennial league bottom dweller. Altamirano and his staff turned the Bulldogs from whipping boys to a respectable unit and title-contender in a span of a few years. His tenure as coach surely gave the school’s recruitment program a slingshot to becoming one of the best in the country. But most importantly, under Altamirano’s watch, the team’s image made a quantum leap for the better. One of the most amiable coaches you’ll ever meet, Coach E brought discipline, respect and prestige to the NU basketball program that has long been craving for a change.
Several names have been reported as Altamirano’s replacement, all accomplished coaches. But whoever gets the post will have an easier job because of his work.
So take a bow, Coach E.