By Gio Gloria
If the UAAP offseason were a competition, the DLSU Green Archers would have been in the Finals by now against the UP Fighting Maroons. From blue-chip recruits to veterans looking for greener pastures, team management has crossed continents to find talents in an effort to end the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ stranglehold on the actual competition.
The fresh additions of Mark Nonoy and Deo Cuajao further prove that the Green Archers are continuing to build on the future and the plans of head coach Derrick Pumaren. Even with more than a handful of recruits entering in the next two years, the addition of both former Growling Tigers goes to show that their recruiting prowess remains strong even if roster spots are scarce. While both will sit out for a year and only have three playing years left, they add to what is a promising core that can contend for the next few years.
Nonoy is pegged by many as a future star and any college program would be more than happy to have him. His averages of 10.0 points, 3.86 rebounds, and 2.29 assists through the preliminary round were otherwise solid considering that he played with Season 82 MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo and Rhenz Abando, but he elevated his play in the finals against Ateneo. The Season 82 Rookie of the Year averaged 20 points in both games and the Blue Eagles had to refocus their defensive game plan to force him to take ill-advised shots.
He will form an interesting backcourt with fellow transferee Evan Nelle. Both are capable point guards who can take turns leading the offense while the other work off-the-ball. Their redshirt year together would be the perfect time to learn Derrick Pumaren’s system and develop chemistry with the team, especially considering the fact that they will be Pumaren’s extensions on the court.
Meanwhile, Cuajao played in 11 games in the elimination round of Season 82 but scored only 1.18 points in those games. He showed signs of improvement in the PBA D-League, but it will be interesting to see how he will fare in a new environment.
Stockpiling recruits and winning titles are two different things and having a coaching carousel never helps. Derrick Pumaren and the rest of the coaching staff have continued to lay the foundation of the program they want for a squad that has failed to make the Final Four for the past two years. What remains to be seen is if the program can finally find some consistency moving forward.
La Salle’s incoming recruits for Season 83 include Kameron Vales, Jeromy Hughes, Ice Blanco-Hontiveros, Amadou N‘Diaye, and brothers Michael and Benjamin Phillips, all of whom will join holdovers Justine Baltazar, Aljun Melecio, Encho Serrano, Joaqui Manuel, Brandon Bates, Kurt Lojera, Jordan Bartlett, Tyrus Hill, Donn Lim, Ralph Cu, and Francis Escandor. Joshua David, who did not make the UAAP squad last season, is slated to move up and has become a fixture in Derrick Pumaren’s rotation during La Salle’s short PBA D-League stint.
This doesn’t include the likes of Season 84 recruits Nelle, Kevin Quiambao, Jonnel Policarpio, Emman Galman, CJ Austria, Paul Turco, Warren Calara, and Luke Sese, who in normal times would have to sit out one season before playing in the UAAP.
Some of these names may not even make the lineup in Season 83 and may move on to other opportunities. Others could remain with the team but remain buried on the bench. Joshua Ramirez, who initially committed to DLSU earlier this year, has opted to leave the team before even suiting up for them. Expectations must remain tempered but fans of the team should find solace in the fact that compared to other programs, LaSalle remains a marquee destination.
News of Nonoy and Cuajao’s addition is definitely good news for the Lasallian community but work still needs to be done before the UAAP title returns to Taft Avenue. Having the players is half the battle, putting them together to build a championship contender is the more difficult half.