But Sauler quick to downplay favorites tag
De La Salle University head coach Juno Sauler. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – De La Salle University head coach Juno Sauler downplayed the "favorites" tag that has been bestowed upon the Green Archers even as his coaching peers in the UAAP agree that they are the "team to beat" in the Season 77 men's basketball tournament.
La Salle, the defending men’s basketball champions, is fielding a 14-man line-up this season, which features last year’s Finals MVP, Jeron Teng, and Most Improved Player, Arnold Van Opstal. Although veteran players like Jarelan Tampus and Luigi dela Paz are no longer in the line-up, they have been replaced by talented recruits like Julian Sargent, Abu Tratter, Prince Rivero, and Terence Mustre.
“Of course, La Salle will still be there,” said University of the East head coach Derrick Pumaren, himself a former La Salle coach. “They still have an intact line-up that won the championship last year.”
“La Salle is still the heavy favorites, and I think they have a better line-up this year,” said Far Eastern University coach Nash Racela, whose Tamaraws lost to the Green Archers in the Final Four last season.
“It’s obvious that La Salle is the team to beat,” said National University coach Eric Altamirano. “They have the experience, they have the players who know how to win. So it’s still La Salle.”
“Plus, they have a good coach,” Altamirano added.
Adamson head coach Kenneth Duremdes and University of Santo Tomas head coach Bong dela Cruz agreed that the defending champions were, if anything, even stronger this year than they were last year.
“La Salle is gonna be the barometer this season,” noted Ateneo assistant coach Yuri Escueta, who represented the Blue Eagles in Monday’s press conference as Coach Bo Perasol and the rest of the team were still competing in a tournament in Korea.
Sauler took the coaches’ compliments in stride, but stressed that his team was not obsessing over their status coming into the season.
“I don’t focus too much on expectations and what the future is according to the opinion of others,” said Sauler. “Like what I stressed earlier, it’s day-by-day, and (it’s about) getting better every practice and performing every day.”
“That’s what’s most important, more than the expectations,” he said.
Still, all eyes will be on La Salle as they open their title-retention campaign on Saturday, July 12, against the FEU Tamaraws at the Araneta Coliseum.
“It’s gonna be a tough game,” Sauler said. “FEU has a deep bench. I know they lost two players (Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia), but what we’ve seen in the Filoil is that they’re playing more as a team, and they’re very well coached.”