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Despite coaching change, La Salle remains a contender

By Donjie Carreon Posted Jun 24th 2013

De La Salle University is hoping that a sudden coaching change will not prevent the Green Archers from winning their first title since 2007.

Less than a month before the UAAP season begins, and De La Salle University is already generating buzz among observers, but for a different reason.

While in the thick of preparations for the upcoming tournament, La Salle decided to replace Gee Abanilla, the man who led the team to Final Four appearance last season, with one of his deputies. The school said the decision was prompted by the request from Abanilla’s team from the professional league for the coach to be released given its own re-organization efforts.

The development surprised many in the UAAP community, but for Juno Sauler, the person picked to step in for Abanilla, dwelling on the situation is not an option. He has to continue preparations for the Archers’ campaign.

It helps that Sauler is an old La Salle hand. He played for the school in the 90s, served as assistant to multi-titled former head coach Franz Pumaren and even headed the women’s team. 

La Salle’s fans may also find comfort on Sauler’s reputation for thoroughness, with the incoming coach known for using game footage to analyze opponents.

“Mahilig ako manood ng game film, and I also want the coaching staff and the players to try it. It’s making use of technology so they can see for themselves what they can improve on and another way to give feedback,” he said.

But given the short lead time and his familiarity with the players and Abanilla’s program, don’t expect any drastic changes.

“We’re trying to improve on things. Little changes lang. Yung mga stuff na maganda, we’ll continue and improve some details on those that are not so good,” he said.

One of the areas Sauler won’t have to do much tweaking will be on defense. The Archers were last season’s toughest defensive team, as they yielded the lowest field goal percentage and surrendered the least points to opponents. With La Salle’s approach to defense effective, Sauler said he doesn’t plan to revive the Pumaren strategy of unleashing a full court press throughout a game, preferring to use it only once in a while.

Sauler, however, has some ideas to improve the offense. Sauler plans to run simple plays to make it easier for players to execute, and he wants a more balanced attack, which means that sophomore Jeron Teng, who led La Salle in scoring last year, won’t be the focal point. 

“I’m not just looking at just one player. Everyone has to do their role. If one player does not fulfill that, mahihirapan yung apat. (On any given night,) it can be (Arnold) Van Opstal, (Norbert) Torres or Teng (carrying the offense,)” he said.  

Sauler understands the challenge that the sudden change brings. He is upfront that the team needs to work doubly hard to catch-up. So far he is satisfied that his boys have been receptive to his message of patience and discipline.

“Sabi ko sa mga players what’s more important than focusing on the results is what we give during practice. I’m very high on discipline. As long as we do what we have to do then the results will follow,” he said. 

The schedule is expected to bring some relief to Sauler as well. The league will go on a two-week break to give way to the FIBA tournament and the La Salle coach plans to use the time off to work out the kinks of his system with team.

Sauler better make the adjustments quickly given expectation that the Green Archers, with its intact core, will again make it to the Final Four and maybe even the Finals. Heaping such expectations on a man who just got the job a few weeks ago may be unfair, but such demands are common especially from La Salle’s fans and backers, who’ve long been used to success. 

Sauler did not commit to any such goals for the season but promised one thing: La Salle will give its all. Hopefully that will be enough to ensure the Archers will deliver an even bigger surprise than the one they had before the season begins.


UAAP Season 76 Lineup:

Bolick, Robert Lee Jr.
De La Paz, Luis Alfonso
Montalbo, Kirell Brahndon
Perkins, Jason Andre
Revilla, Luis Alfonso
Reyes, Gabriel
Salem, Matthew David
Tampus, Jarelan
Teng, Jeron Alvin
Torres, Thomas Christopher
Torres, Norberto
Van Opstal, Arnold Raymund
Vosotros, Almond