The downs and ups of the Green Archers’ preseason

The Green Archers finished 4th in the 2018 Asia Pacific Universities Basketball Challenge (APUBC) held for the whole of last week in Seoul, South Korea. As part of their continued preparation for this year’s UAAP wars, the team arrived several days ahead of the 6-team tournament to train and play a couple of tune-up matches with local squads.

La Salle fielded in a 13-man line-up which includes new addition Encho Serrano. The 5’11 guard from Pampanga, who previously played for the Adamson Baby Falcons two seasons ago onboarded just last month.

The team thrashed Japan 89-65 to open the tournament and followed it up with a come-from-behind 94-90 victory over Chinese Taipei the following day. Things went south from there for the Green Archers starting with a 44-point beating from UC Irvine-USA on Wednesday. They hung tough against Russia last Friday, but the eventual champion’s height and athleticism was just too much for them to overcome as they went on to lose by 12.

With a chance to clinch third place in the tournament, La Salle faced host team Yonsei University last Saturday. Unlike their previous outings, they started strong in this one, lead by nine after the opening quarter and was still in command at halftime. Yonsei, a team that La Salle defeated in one of their tune-ups, caught fire to start the third period to seize control of the match. The Green Archers hopes for a comeback were all but wiped out late in the contest as the Koreans kept firing from all cylinders to hand them their third-straight setback 80-92.

While a podium finish would have been great, the team more or less achieved what was expected from them. More than just winning, it is the exposure of playing against some of the best programs in the world is something that will definitely help the players in the long run.

As this will most likely be their final preseason tournament, we can now make our overall assessment.

There is no denying the fact that even if there are just about 3 weeks left until the new UAAP season starts, this team remains to be a work in progress. Let’s not forget that they lost a lot of key players, including their head coach from last season. While they managed to find suitable replacements, there is that thing called chemistry. The reality is that they are nowhere near championship contenders just yet.

The team’s play in the Fil-Oil, BLIA and APUBC exposed some areas that they need to improve on. The biggest one is on defense, where they appear to be giving too much space for the opposing team to score from the perimeter. This has already been a concern last year but until now, we don’t see yet any adjustments. This glaring problem was very much evident when they played against Korea.

On offense, while the team has shown the ability to score from inside and out, let’s hope they can address their overpassing and overdribbling tendencies which, in most instances would lead to taking hurried, ill-advised attempts with the shot clock running down.

While there remains to be some aspects in their game that need attention, there is of course a tremendous upside as well. It appears clear that the team has not yet peaked so the window of opportunity to get better remains big. One thing to note too is that La Salle was not able to compete in all the preseason tournaments at full strength. Team captain Kib Montalbo was injured for the most part of the FilOil and did not see action in the BLIA. Santi Santillan sustained a foot injury that kept him sidelined in the playoffs of the FilOil and the entire BLIA. And in the just concluded APUBC, Andrei Caracut did not play due to a sprain.

With Serrano coming in late, he still has to learn the team’s system. But no doubt, he will be a big help as he solves the need for a player that can create his own shots and can take it strong to the rim. He was impressive in the APUBC.

Let’s not forget to mention the remarkable improvement of veterans Justine Baltazar and Jollo Go. Balti, together with rookies Taane Samuel and Brandon Bates held their own against the taller teams in the overseas tournaments. If they all click, our frontline can pose matchup problems for the opposition in the UAAP. Jollo on the other hand has built upon his breakout from last season, establishing himself as a legit threat from the outside.

Overall, this is not yet the best we have seen for this year’s Green Archers. They may not be in top form yet come September but we can expect them to improve as the season goes along.

Some have already written this team off based on their player losses and preseason performance. Well, we will soon see if they would be able to defy all naysayers. For now, let us manage our expectations and give them a chance to show their stuff in the tournament that matters the most.

As they say, Trust the Process.

Image from Taane Samuel’s Instagram