Animus Part 1: Five Searing Memories in La Salle Basketball

Contributed by Absolut Verde

It is impossible to define the spirit of La Salle Basketball. Many thousands of tiny events and a few large ones come together over the years to build up a sense of culture. Yet the spirit and the culture aren’t in the facts. They’re in the uniquely personal meanings that those who support the Green Archers bind to these experiences. Two people will wear the same coloured shirt, watch the same game, bless and curse the same players, sing the same songs, and drink the same kind of beer before during and after. But they’ll never tell the same story.

During the four-peat years, younger members of the Debate Society would watch the games, not just to support as fellow students did, but to learn what it meant to be both relentless and disciplined, and to play with controlled aggression. So completely did they identify with the Green Archers that in February 2003, when they faced their opponents from Ateneo in the grand final of the first National Debating Championships, they had captain Willy Wilson’s jersey #5 draped over the front of their table.

In 2001, one of those DebSoc newbies, an ex-high school volleyball player named Agnes Tapia, was taken to her first game in which a highly recruited but struggling rookie named Pocholo Villanueva played. We refuse to speculate on what she thought about the experience, but the following season Agnes left debating to do courtside reporting, and in December this year, the two will step onto a court again – this time to exchange vows. There is no doubt their offspring will be abundantly talented; but this early, let us all pray that any sons are luckier with injuries.

Ten years ago, I met a man who could have been cheering next to me during those campaigns in the early to mid-90s, and who would be a constant at most UAAP sports after 2002. But he spent the four-peat years away from the games, caring for his ailing father who was wracked by cancer. After the chemotherapy sessions, he and his kids would come home late at night, hold off the urge to sleep, and put the VHS on to watch the taped replays, a moment’s respite before the next day’s anguish. In those four years they would come to know, only by God’s awful grace, the following truth: the Animo you give, you may also someday receive.

As players and coaches on the front lines, I can only imagine what a burden it must be for you at times. It’s not even the poison from the online forums, or the unintended obligation you might feel from stories like these. It’s simply that everything at La Salle is much harder now, much more intense. The coursework, the extra-curricular work, the training of varsity teams. For every convenience you enjoy now, there are an equal number of distractions and pressures older Lasallites simply didn’t have to put up with then.

Coach Sauler’s paper vied for Best Thesis in Economics in 1994, the year he captained the Green Archers. Now Juno’s younger sister Rica has just joined us and she’s finishing her Ph.D from NUS, doing important game-theoretic work on overlapping-generations migration models. I’ll put it to you straight: I’m not sure he would survive her class today (although I’m sure his wife Agnes would).

For profs, for students, for administrators, secretaries and security guards, everything at La Salle is much much harder now. If only the girls were easier.

But here’s the thing: whether it’s fair or not, whether you like it or not, whether you asked for it or not, what you do on and off the court matters to people because La Salle Basketball matters to people. And La Salle Basketball matters to people because La Salle matters to people.

I have 25 slides I’d like to share with you; one personal moment for each year I’ve been privileged to support the Green Archers live. Counting them down is a bit tedious, so I broke them up into five groups of five, organised around the words of my favourite La Salle cheer, the Victory Song (it sounds like a drinking song; it’s by Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, what can you do?).

WAKE UP THE ECHOES (five searing memories)

5. Casio’s shock three, 2004
The most recent of the lot. No photograph of the shot exists because we have it on good information that La Salle’s most reliable photographer stopped to pray at that very moment. There’s no longer a trophy for it on campus either, but fate cannot steal what the mind won’t forget.

4. Storming the court at Araneta, 1998
We all thought it would happen the previous year, when Tyrone Bautista helped slay the ghost of all those bitter Finals losses to UST. But even with the arrival of Ren-Ren Ritualo that season and new confidence in the Finals against FEU, we found we would have to wait some more. But good things – a Ritualo clutch three and steal, an Orfrecio defensive clinic, a ball flung straight into the stands by Aldeguer before the buzzer, and a chance to berserk the Araneta floor one last time before they put in stewards and security – well, they come to those who wait.

3. Cardel’s breakaway swooping layup, 1989
You never forget your first championship. You never forget the moment your team first took the lead for good in the second half of that championship game. You never forget because your arm still bears the scar of the cut you got in the General Admission section of Rizal Coliseum as a frenzied, heaving, yearning crowd crushed you against the chicken wire screen while you hugged a large brass horn and tried to play “Push It”.

2. Three open misses, 1994
Seventeen seconds to go against UST in the Final. Captain Juno Sauler fires his last shot as a Green Archer and misses. Bal David gets the rebound and is fouled, puts his team up by one. Six seconds left, La Salle pushes it up and Mark Telan the centre chooses a long two with no one on him. He misses. Elmer Lago gets the rebound alone in the paint, tries a put-back uncontested, a second uncontested… Almost 20 years later, I still can’t say much more.

1. Shot by Aldeguer, 1999
If you count the number of La Salle alumni who claim they were there, you’ll think the game was at the Camp Nou instead of the Cuneta Astrodome. But perhaps nobody’s version matters more than Dino’s, which he recounted with wonderful clarity and undiminished pride exactly ten years later. But watch the game tonight. We still needed Mac Cuan to make a free throw to complete a memory for the ages. To clinch its greatest ever victory, La Salle still needed a free throw.