De La Salle University is looking to get over the drastic changes it underwent in the recent past and remain a powerhouse as it heads into Season 81 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.
Shortly after surrendering the title to archrival Ateneo De Manila University last season, two-time UAAP MVP Ben Mbala, arguably the best collegiate player the country has seen, decided to turn pro while coach Aldin Ayo left for University of Santo Tomas just weeks later.
Months later, another stalwart in Ricci Rivero moved out of Taft to Diliman and joined University of the Philippines. Rivero, along with brother Prince and Brent Paraiso, initially took a leave of absence from La Salle after breaching a team policy on endorsements.
Despite all the departures they had witnessed, new head coach Louie Gonzales vows that the rebuilding Green Archers are out to still impose their grit and grind playstyle.
“We have the most rookies this year but you’ll be expecting the same animo spirit. We’ll fight until the end. Our players will do their best,” said Gonzales, an assistant mentor to Ayo since their championship year in Letran in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
This approaching UAAP basketball wars, La Salle’s frontline will boast of a triple tower in 6-foot-8 New Zealander rookie Taane Samuel, 6-foot-8 Filipino-Australian greenhorn Brandon Bates and 6-foot-7 holdover Justine Baltazar.
Gonzales will also have young mainstays Kib Montalbo, Aljun Melecio, Santi Santillan and Andrei Caracut while Mark Dyke will mark his UAAP return and former high school sensation Encho Serrano will seek redemption after two years of playing in commercial leagues.
With a young team full of potential, maturity will be the cause of concern for Gonzales and his coaching staff. The former deputy though expressed optimism that the Archers can easily adjust.
“Our biggest concern here is more on maturity. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time,” said Gonzales.
“But I’m confident because my players are committed to the system and with that the process of maturing will be faster,” he was quick to add.
After all the big changes, Gonzales is hoping that his young Archers can still find a way back to the Final Four and the UAAP throne.
“All the teams this year are very much competitive. I hope we can make it.”