Originally posted at (September 11, 2003)

So here we are, in this uneasy place.
On Saturday, it’ll be another foot in the door – or another foot in the mouth.

And it is the hour of decision.

But the choice is not going to be about whether to keep pressing or not. It’s not going to be about whether TY or JV should handle the ball, whether Mark B or Manny should log the minutes, whether Mike or PJ should be first off the bench. It’s not going to be about whether Mac-Mac should be the take-charge shooter or the drop-passing decoy. In fact, it isn’t going to be about anyone on the floor.

The big decision is going to be about what we choose to do in the stands.

I’ve been content to hear people out in the threads here, game after game, and, sure, it’s been insightful. You get a couple of new ideas every so often from the folks who fancy themselves basketball junkies and you get to air a few of your own. It’s been a good give and take and I’ve enjoyed it. But as the season’s curdled, as we have entered this undiscovered country of Final Four limbo, perhaps more than any other time, a scourge has come upon us:

When we win, everyone is a die-hard; when we lose, everyone is a coach.

No, it’s worse than that. When we play well, everyone is a fan. When we play badly, the team “has no heart”.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit too old to still be hung-over on “Boy’s Lit”. You know very well of what I’m talking about – those stories you read as a kid in which the beleaguered and scrawny geek always ends up beating the big bully by the sheer force of his will; his indomitable heart. And, of course, when you’ve been weaned on success the way we have…well, you know how it is.

Sometimes though, I think we’re asking this team to do more than just play “with heart”. We’re asking them to bend some immutable laws of nature – laws that decree rooks will be rooks and sophs will be sophs. We expect TY to run the team on the floor well because he’s a “veteran”. What we forget is that he’s only a veteran in the sense that he was around last year. We expect JoYeo and Mac-Mac to take over as 3rd-year superstars. What we forget is that even Ren-Ren in his 3rd year – a player for the ages, and we’ve only had two of them – still needed Don and Dino’s formidable talent and experience to give us the crown. We expect Manny and Carlo to be dominating since it’s their last playing year. We tend to forget that for each of their glory games in that four-peat year (Game 1 for Manny and Game 3 for Carlo), we had to endure a whole season of plodding, insufferable play from them.

We want them to write history, the way the rookie-laden ’77-78 Duke “Forever’s Team” did – while forgetting how that story actually played out.

Does this mean we ought not to expect more from them? Does this mean raising the white flag? Does this mean using this team’s youth as some kind of excuse? Does this mean settling for a moral victory and a season of empty-handed over-achievement?

Far from it. But watch them for 5 minutes and you can tell – they’re still learning to play alongside each other. The plays don’t vary too much, not because the staff is inept, but because the passing intuition of our boys is still under-developed. The excruciating ball paralysis at the “elbow”, the mixed signals while pressing, the flubbed fastbreak passes. This stuttering mess versus the fluid ball movement you see from the other top teams. Our boys don’t lack quality, they lack the kind of panache, the passing wit, that teams get from players being able to read each other.

You pay for that lack of experience with the half-second longer it takes to make a pass to a cutter on a broken play, by the second-guessing on a double-team gamble, wondering if the switch will come. “Heart” is, in large part, not raw blind emotion. It is an evolved team intelligence. And this batch, God bless ‘em, is still struggling to get it together.

But for this to flourish, they need confidence. Which brings us to the point of this piece. The boys need confidence, and the simple fact is that they just aren’t going to get it with us dogging them every mistake they make. They aren’t going to get it with us insisting they take whatever we feel like dishing out – harsh online opinions or lower box apathy dahil ang sakit sa mata ng laro nila. We act sometimes like they don’t have coaches that drill them on these things twice every single day – and get on their cases about it during half-time.

At a time when they need to play loose and find their connections, we insist on being task-masters, and justify it by saying they should quickly learn what it means to play for LaSalle. We take it upon ourselves to bear down hard because we don’t want them “babied”. Well, let’s put it this way. How else are they ever going to grow those stout “hearts” we demand, that desire to overcome immaturity or limited physical gifts, except through the sheer joy of playing for us?

So I’ve thought about it and have decided. This is the deal: the harder it gets, the louder I’ll cheer. The more they struggle, the greater the solidarity they’ll get from me.

Because if the unthinkable should happen, I don’t want to look back and realise I spent the year whining about missed free throws, dodgy shot selection, the return of the Back-Court Fumble, iffy substitution patterns, gulaman defence, absent leadership, and forty minutes of purgatory. I don’t want to remember this as the year I spent marvelling at Tyrone one game and needling him the next. I don’t want to remember this as the year I spent wondering whether the spell of Pumaren Magic has finally been broken. Most of all, I don’t want to remember this as the year I spent questioning this team’s heart while I sat there cross-legged, shaking my head, and deathly f*cking mute during the last minutes of that NU game.

Because if that’s the deal, then I ain’t no die-hard. I ain’t of the Faithful, either. I’m just another basketball pundit in a country that’s, quite frankly, choking to death on them.

Never mind whether our boys are mice or men – let Coach worry about that. What are we? More importantly, what will we be doing should the lead balloon hopelessly and the team runs on empty and stops hustling?

It is the hour of decision. And if you know any of the 2003 Green Archers (I don’t), tell them this: I choose to end this season behind their backs – not in their faces. All the way. And just in case you’re wondering, I’ll say it out loud: No. Matter. How. Badly. They. Play.

Forza LaSalle.