The De La Salle Green Archers have been ready for life without big men Arnold Van Opstal and Benoit Mbala ever since the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premiere Cup tournament last April.
With news coming out last Monday that Mbala must sit out another UAAP season, a repercussion of him playing in a “ligang libas”, it was actually the team’s head coach, Juno Sauler, who broke the bad news to the 20-year-old center. Also being the team’s father figure, Sauler told Mbala to keep his head up and continue working hard even if the next tournament he might play in is during the Filoil tournament April next year.
Business as usual
It was business as usual for the Green Archers Wednesday night as the green-and-white squad played a tune-up game at the Filoil Flying V Arena. “We just have to continue our business and keep on practicing,” Sauler told Tiebreaker Times early Wednesday evening. There was no time to sulk over the decision as it was beyond anyone’s control. “We cannot do anything about it. It’s not something in our control. We just have to focus on what we have to do,” he added.
Even with the loss of Van Opstal and Mbala, the champion coach believes that Abu Tratter, Larry Muyang, JBoy Gob, Daryl Pascual, and Leo Joson should not be pressured to replicate the production Van Opstal or Mbala gives the team. “We are not asking them to play like Ben or AVO, we’re just asking them to play their roles [in the system].”
Assessing the current frontline
DLSU assistant coach and PBA legend Jun Limpot told Tiebreaker Times that the team’s outing during the Filoil Flying V Premiere Cup gave Tratter, Muyang, and Gob playing time to develop their craft and, at the same time, face formidable opposition. “Lahat ng big men nabigyan ng magandang playing time nung Filoil. Maganda ang naging effect nito sa development nila dahil lahat ng playing time na para kay Ben and kay Arnold, napunta sa kanila. Hopefully, makita ito sa UAAP,” Limpot recalled.
Moreover, in watching Abu Tratter’s game during the Filoil tournament and in tune-up games, the Filipino-American is more active in boxing out and crashing the boards compared to last season. Limpot assessed that this was due to the logjam the team had at the five-spot a season ago. “Sa tingin ko ang naging problema niya last year is lack of exposure. Nakuha niya ito nung Filoil and then yung confidence level niya tumaas.”
Another player that has been a revelation for the Green Archers is San Sebastian-transferee Larry Muyang. “Si Larry naman malaki ang development niya as a player. Skills-wise advanced siya,” Limpot said about their young big. Moreover Limpot commended Muyang’s unselfishness on offense. “Ang bilis niya na-adopt yung concept ng team.”
The big man coach added that the loss of Mbala and Van Opstal motivated their big men to work harder in the gym that translated well during their tune-up games. “Yun ang good sign sa isang player na kapag nabigyan ka ng chance, you have to grab that opportunity,” he proudly said of his wards. “Nung nawala si Arnold and Ben, naging malaking motivating factor sa kanila yun. Naging positive iyon at naging malaking tulong sa team.”
However, do not be surprised if, at certain stretches, the Green Archers fields a small lineup with Jason Perkins or Prince Rivero manning the five while Jeron Teng plays the four spot. “Marami pa [who could play center] kaso magsmall-lineup nga lang. Marami e. Nanalo nga yung Golden State [Warriors] na maliliit lang,” the PBA legend quipped.
Abu Tratter, Larry Muyang, and the rest of the Green Archers will open their UAAP Season 78 campaign against the National University Bulldogs on Sunday, September 6 at 2:00pm.