MANILA, Philippines – Defending champions De La Salle University raised a few eyebrows shortly before the start of the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament when it was revealed that they were fielding in only a 14-man line-up for the competition.
Among those 14 players are four rookies – Julian Sargent, Abu Tratter, Prince Rivero and Terrence Mustre – while veterans like Jarelan Tampus and Luigi Dela Paz, who did play some role in last season's title run, are out of the line-up.
"I just want to come up with the best team that we can," said DLSU head coach Juno Sauler. "Whether it be 12, 15, if we can come up with 16 or even eight, if we feel that's the best team, then that's what we'll put in the line-up."
With La Salle the consensus favorites for the UAAP Season 77 championship, the rookies said they are ready and excited to help the Green Archers in their title-retention bid despite the pressure that comes with it.
"I think since we won the championship last year, that's a given," Sargent said of the targets on their back as defending champions. "I think it will add a lot of pressure, but we just have to go out there and continue to work hard every day."
Tratter, a big man who will be a tremendous addition to La Salle's already formidable frontline, said they are not even focusing on whatever the pundits or the other UAAP coaches think of their team.
"We're just really focused on being able to defend our title, to be honest," he said.
Rivero, the NCAA juniors Most Valuable Player who made the leap from Greenhills agreed that defending the championship is "a huge challenge for us."
"All we have to do is just work hard and just play our hearts out every game, and then whoever wants it the most is going to be on top," he said.
Sauler is pleased with his current crop of rookies, noting that they can help the Green Archers in different ways.
"What's nice about the rookies is they play different positions. Sargent plays the two, Prince Rivero plays the three, Terrence plays the one, and Abu can play the four and the five," he said. "So medyo versatile 'yung group ng rookies."
"They're saying La Salle has a really good rookie class," Sargent said. "So me and the other rookies, we just have to work hard every day and get better."