By Frankie Serrano
One win. Three losses.
That’s the sad state of De La Salle University’s record in the ongoing UAAP wars. And the losses have been out of nowhere, with the Ateneo defeat the only one making sense. It doesn’t help that the win against NU was almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
It’s getting noisy and Jermaine Byrd seems to be as baffled as we are to what’s happening with his team. They should be at least 3-1 after the rivalry weekend bonanza yet here they are staring at the depths of darkness, worse than Manila traffic or the occasional flooding at Taft when it rains.
Before the season started, the Green Archers made noise in the offseason when they decided to parade Jermaine Byrd as the man in charge on the sidelines, and three one-and-dones in Keyshawn Meeker, Jaime Malonzo, and James Laput. So many articles were written about them that surely catapulted the guys from Taft into the Final Four talk and possible Finals contention.
Out of the four new guys being heralded by the fans of the Archers, only Byrd and Malonzo are living up to expectations. Especially Malonzo.
He introduced himself with a vicious hammer on Thirdy Ravena’s head that has been the talk of the town despite the loss, and put up a decent double-double job in their first assignment. But it feels empty.
But something clicked inside this silly head after re-watching the four games they have played. It seems we have stumbled upon the woes that have plagued the Green Archers, my friends. Getting thumped all game long by the UE Red Warriors’ Rey Suerte and Neil Tolentino, who were playing sans Alex Diakhite is one clue. Having to survive NU by a nailbiter is another. And the last piece to the puzzle, was getting absolutely ragdolled by Patrick Tchuente and the FEU Tamaraws.
Look beyond star big Justine Baltazar, you have a plethora of complimentary players who could boost their draft stocks had they decided to play somewhere else. There’s Malonzo, sophomore Encho Serrano, seniors Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut, Brandon Bates, Joaqui Manuel, Meeker, and Laput.
However, there’s one guy who they sorely miss and need right now: Leonard “Dodong” Santillan.
Yeah he’s long gone and will probably be seen in the PBA soon enough, but the point here is, having Santillan around let Baltazar do what he does best: smack people around for the guy is superbly talented. Without him, Baltazar is tasked to carry the offensive load AND anchor the De La Salle defense as its primary rim protector because 1.) Brandon Bates is looking like Enes Kanter and 2.) James Laput is playing like Jahlil Okafor…on defense.
Bates and Laput have some serious weight lifting to do and not just in the gym. Heck, I’d even say they recall Taane Samuel now just to give Balti a decent back-up. As an example, in times where FEU big Pat Tchuente got Balti on his back, he wasn’t able to score, getting stonewalled and even blocked by the superb defensive play of Baltazar. But when he saw Bates and Laput? Good Lord momma, I can tell you what ran through that young man’s head: “I SEE BBQ CHICKEN. I EAT BBQ CHICKEN.”
Compounding those problems for Baltazar are the inability of Caracut and Melecio to stay in front of guards who are faster than them (LJay Gonzales, Royce Alforque as an example), bigger than them (Matt Nieto, Rey Suerte, and Dave Ildefonso to name a few). It’s not that we’re calling these players out just to make them look bad, but watching the games actually make them look really bad especially on ball screen situations where they are either a step slow or just flat out beaten to the punch, which ultimately falls on Balti to cover their blown asses.
DLSU has to accept the fact that by housing more guards in Serrano, Joel Cagulangan, Jordan Bartlett, and Meeker, they’ll be totally beat when a team with a huge and skilled back court rolls along. And Lord God they have that coming with games against Adamson (Jerom Lastimosa, Jerrick Ahanmisi, Val Chauca, and AP Manlapaz); UP (Ricci Rivero, Juan GDL, Jun Manzo, and JD Tungcab); and UST (CJ Cansino, Rhenz Abando, Mark Nonoy, and Renzo Subido).
It’s like I’m looking at paper shredders where the DLSU guards are the paper and the shredders are the rest of the field. Only Encho Serrano is equipped to play two-way basketball but he’s being viewed as just an energy guy by some fans, totally disregarding the fact that he’s the Green Archers’ best, and most equipped, perimeter defender.
On the other side of the ball, the Green Archers tend to play by themselves. Foremost in this is Malonzo. Yes, his numbers are gaudy. He’s snatched three double-doubles and a couple of jackhammers on the rack in the three games he has played. But he only was able to get a W by the skin of the team’s teeth against the NU Bulldogs. He’s their next biggest offensive threat next to Baltazar but he’s forcing too many of his shots, case in point was the 24 attempts he threw against FEU. He made eight, finished with 20. But that’s very Kobe-esque (no not you Mr. Paras). What’s positive for Malonzo is his defense. He is a prototypical wing and his length alone will cause problems on the perimeter, which is DLSU’s weak link. It allows him to attack passing lanes and pick off opponent’s mistakes easily.
Baltazar on the other hand, fell in love with the jumpshot. While his shooting has vastly improved to the point where you have to step out on him, Balti’s strength still lies on putting a defender on his back and displaying off those polished post skills and sharp elbows. Having him attack from the top of the key coming off double stagger screen is a nice wrinkle but the screeners have to be quick on their feet to allow him the space he needs for some rack attack, and that hasn’t materialized (again, this is on Brandon Bates and James Laput).
The same can be said when they run the same action to get Serrano attacking downhill. Being their strongest guard out there, and really built like a tank to take the hits, having Serrano attack the rim opens better opportunities for Melecio and Caracut to find open spaces instead of having to jack up miserable midrangers.
Is it too late for DLSU to fix it and make their diehard supporters cry time and again? They showed promise during their season opener against Ateneo. But that nailbiter win against NU and losses to UE and FEU? Man that’s tough. They suddenly went from “oh they’ll make the rivalry game interesting again” to “welp we out of the Final Four again” in a blink of teary eyes.
It’ll be so deplorable I won’t be even able to muster any jokes that I have on them except that their arrows have really gone limp.