Simple questions tend to require nuanced answers and no other question exemplifies that than the matter of “what makes a champion”.
Could it be talent?
How about a combination of the aforementioned words?
It’s easy to say yes to any of those responses, but the DLSU Green Archers would like to add something of their own: Maturity.
Heading into Season 86, the Green Archers of recent times had a reputation of late-game meltdowns, slow starts, and inconsistent performances that left the Lasallian community scratching their heads and rivals feeling relieved that they could not maximize their perennial title window.
The inconsistent start to La Salle’s Season 86 campaign raised some fears within the Lasallian community. There were those that called for DLSU head coach Topex Robinson’s head, while others preached patience and instead focused on what needed to be fixed rather than blowing things up again. Thankfully, the Green Archers focused on the latter.
After starting 3-3, La Salle would go on to win eight straight games (technically nine, but we’ll get to that later) and these victories came thanks to some changes. Robinson made tweaks to his rotation and adjusted his system, giving more opportunities to the likes of Raven Cortez and JC Macalalag, while finding the right balance in terms of letting either MVP Kevin Quiambao or Evan Nelle run the offense. Along the way, the likes of Jonnel Policarpio and Francis Escandor grew more confident in their own skillsets and it translated into big games from them in certain parts of the season.
The Final Four matchup against the NU Bulldogs was a quick assignment and the bigger test came in the UAAP Finals, where the vaunted UP Fighting Maroons were waiting. Game 1 was a record-breaking loss for DLSU and how they would respond to a defeat of that magnitude would define their season. The Green Archers’ response? Give the Fighting Maroons a taste of their medicine. UP tried to be physical with La Salle, but DLSU dove for loose balls and knocked down their shots, stunning the Fighting Maroons and setting everyone’s sights to Game 3.
Game 3 of the UAAP Season 86 Finals had everything you expected from a game where both teams were fighting for all the marbles: a slow-scoring affair with players diving and hustling on the floor while both crowds were going at it.
Things looked a bit shaky for the Green Archers as their 11 turnovers in the first half ruined any chances of La Salle sustaining the momentum needed to get past UP. The Fighting Maroons were happy to feast on DLSU’s miscues, converting them into 14 first-half fastbreak points. Moreover, UP was capitalizing on the Green Archers’ quick reactions on defense, drawing defenders before feeding rolling big men and scoring on patient baskets after eager La Salle defenders flew by.
The Fighting Maroons, however, could not build on their lead. DLSU was persistent in its efforts, staying within striking distance to give themselves a puncher’s chance. Gone were the times when the Green Archers would fold in the face of adversity. Replacing it was a La Salle squad that stuck to their system and adjusted by playing harder and smarter. DLSU kept the ball moving on offense, while their defensive coverages focused on the greater whole rather than the sum of its parts.
The result? UP’s offense got cold in the final six minutes of the game, and Quiambao willed the Green Archers to the championship and ending La Salle’s championship dry spell.
There’s a thing with title droughts, regardless of how long they last. The pent-up energy is obvious within the community, but more than that, it was pure elation of being back at the summit.
The seven years DLSU went through without winning a UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship is the third-shortest in the league, longer that the likes of the Fighting Maroons and the defending champion ADMU Blue Eagles, but far shorter than the likes of the AdU Soaring Falcons and the UE Red Warriors.
Nonetheless, the joy was evident within the Lasallian community in the Smart-Araneta Coliseum and those following through various channels. The crowd did not let up and the signing of the alma mater hymn was at its loudest, at least in the last five years. This kind of vibe was something members of other schools took note of.
As has often been mentioned, there were parallels to this current edition of the Green Archers with that of the team a decade ago. Both had middling records by the end of the first round, but then they both went on nine-game winning streaks to reach the UAAP Finals. Each had embarrassing Game 1 losses and both stormed back to win the next two games and clinch the title after droughts of more than five years.
Many will point to various reasons as to why the DLSU Green Archers won it all in UAAP Season 86. Kevin Quiambao will often be mentioned, while the rise of some players and better cohesion with the Green Archers will definitely be raised. All of them, however, can be tied to one thing: La Salle’s in-season growth brought out the best in them and helped them finish at the top when it mattered the most.