MANILA, Philippines – De La Salle head coach Juno Sauler finally cracked a smile after the Green Archers were crowned the UAAP Season 76 champions following their 71-69 overtime victory over the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers in Game 3 last Saturday.
But even after being showered with confetti and Gatorade, Sauler remained calm and stoic, only somewhat betraying his emotions when he shouted “Animo!” at the end of an interview with TJ Manotoc of ABS-CBN News.
Later, Sauler told reporters that he still hoping to see more improvement from the Green Archers once they kick off their title defense next year.
“It’s been a season of constant improvement. That’s what we try to harp on,” said Sauler. “Even for next year, that will be what we’ll try to focus on. We’ll try to improve and be better than what we showed this year.”
La Salle’s improvement was showcased in overtime, when they showed poise in finally beating a veteran UST team that had gone through three do-or-die games en route to the Finals.
“They players were just being disciplined, I guess,” Sauler answered when asked about the Archers’ execution in the extra period. “They knew what we were trying to achieve on the offensive and the defensive end.”
“It’s more of the discipline. It seemed that we showed poise, but it’s just the players being very disciplined in trying to execute what we needed to do,” he added.
The season has also been a learning experience for Sauler, who has won a title with the La Salle women’s basketball team and was a longtime assistant coach, but was coaching at the seniors for the first time.
“It’s a great learning experience, not just for me I guess but for the whole team,” he said. “There were lots of lessons to be learned. Before the Finals, I watched our very first game against UST in the first round, and I was laughing at how we played.”
“So I said, that’s not how we play now, but how we started was comedic,” he added. “Lots of learnings for me.”
Next season, in what will only be his second year of handling the Green Archers, Sauler hopes that he can continue to help his players progress and make the most of their talent.
“There’s something more important than (winning),” Sauler said, explaining his philosophy. “Which is, keep on improving on a daily basis. You might be champions, but if you don’t get to your best, that’s nothing to me.”
“I’d rather be the best at what I do, and not be the champion, as long as I know that that’s my true and best potential,” he added.