One-hundred six days after Ricci Rivero “asked for a leave of absence” from the De La Salle University Green Archers, the 19-year-old made his decision to move on and join the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
Rivero’s journey from Taft to Diliman has been one long ride — he suffered a hard bump, and a bunch of hits and dents, before rebuilding himself.
Tiebreaker Times looks back on why he had to leave La Salle and why he chose UP.
The Untold Story
Just a few weeks after their UAAP Season 80 campaign had ended, the De La Salle University Green Archers were rocked to the core.
Seven days after he alleged that he would stay with La Salle, Aldin Ayo had a change of heart, deciding to take the vacant post of head coach of the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. But before he left Taft Avenue, Ayo shared that he and Rivero had a long talk.
As it turns out, Rivero had wanted to leave La Salle as early as December.
“Nung nag-usap kami, noong umalis na ako sa La Salle. Sabi ko, ‘Huwag kang umalis ng La Salle. Stick ka diyan sa La Salle. Tapusin mo yung pag-aaral mo. Pero kung talagang gusto mo ng panibagong mapaglalaruan…’ — Actually I advised him to go pro eh,” disclosed Ayo, who coached Rivero for two years.
“‘Pero kung magpro-pro ka, tapusin mo pag-aaral mo.’
“Puwede naman na magpa-draft siya tapos bumalik siya sa La Salle eh. Nahihinayang ako sa mga units na ‘di macre-credit sa kanya,” Ayo admitted.
Rivero then decided to keep his status as an amateur, staying in La Salle.
What came next though was a roller-coaster ride not only for Ricci, but also his older brother Prince, and their good friend Brent Paraiso.
Under new head coach Louie Gonzalez, the Green Archers resumed their practices as early as the first week of January. However, the troika of the Rivero brothers and Paraiso were not present.
Another controversy arose when Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes unveiled the 23 for 2023 Cadets. Absent from the list of the top collegiate and high school prospects in the country was Ricci Rivero, even if Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Chairman Emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan identified him as one of the players he wanted on the team.
“The school has asked us not to include their players first because they’re in the process of transition,” Reyes disclosed.
But Rivero remained defiant saying, “Ipipilit ko yan kahit anong mangyari, kasi pangarap yan ng lahat ng player.”
During the first practice of the Cadets last January 8, Rivero watched on the sidelines. He continuously visited the Meralco Gym before he was eventually allowed to join his peers 21 days later. However, questions still lingered about why he, his brother, and their friend were not allowed to join the practices of the Green Archers.
A few hours after the news broke out, La Salle’s Office of Sports Development released a statement asserting that all three student-athletes had asked for a “leave of absence” from the school because they had to sort out their contractual obligations to the brands they endorse.
“The DLSU Men’s Basketball Team management announces that they have implemented a policy that prohibits players to enter into sponsorship agreements with commercial entities,” the statement read. “This will allow the players to focus on the games and team practices without any restrictions.
“In this connection, team members Prince Rivero, Ricci Rivero, and Brent Paraiso have requested to go on leave from the basketball team to honor their contractual obligations to their existing endorsements.
“Prince, Ricci, and Brent are currently enrolled in the University and are attending their respective classes,” the statement closed.
“Wala, sobrang na-surprise kami kasi ang inexpect namin, parang magsasabi sila ng ganun during the season sana na yun nga, para mas focused doon sa season and kasi bagong coach (Louie Gonzalez) and all,” the incoming junior shared. “So siguro mas okay nga na magkakasama kami like, ongoing nga yung season tapos iba yung iniisip namin, ganun.
“Pero nagulat ako mismo nung kaka-start pa lang ng training namin tapos yun yung agad na sinabi.”
Rivero was visibly down during the practices of the Cadets, as if weighed down by heavy baggage.
But he had to keep on pushing.
Thirty-three days passed before Rivero decided to finally break his silence regarding the rumors on why he was “suspended” by La Salle.
“For the record, I never missed out on any class, practice, or game just because I have an engagement to attend. I never had an event a day prior to any basketball schedule,” opened Rivero’s statement, which affirmed La Salle’s statement regarding the matter last February 2. “My scope of work were limited to social media postings, no video shoot that will require extreme physical activities as due diligence of avoiding any injury. With these limited scope of engagement, my top priority and focus remains with playing basketball.
“I know my obligations to the team and there is no way I will be giving them any less than expected from me because of these. While all of these were on-going last year, my stats and school records will all prove if this indeed became in any way a distraction,” added Rivero, who averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 steals a season ago.
“My leave of absence is not about choosing priorities and greed, but it is about honoring my commitments and respecting the new team rules that was just implemented.”
Moreover, he vehemently denied all the gossip being spread against them, which includes testing positive for use of drugs and having a “benefactor”.
“I am aware of the rumors and speculations circulating on social media and all those who personally expressed their concern to us from inside and outside the community – buzzes about alleged drug usage and alleged acceptance of many from gay benefactors – I remained mum about it until I saw the need to speak up now and defend ourselves once and for all.”
With the monkey off his back, Rivero was able to slowly regain his lost confidence.
Twenty-nine days later, he left La Salle altogether.
“All good things come to an end.
“Thank You to the La Sallian community for the support you’ve given me. The Animo spirit will always be with me. It’s now time to move forward,” he tweeted.
Though a lot of schools expressed interest in recruiting Rivero, the young swingman chose to take his time, focusing on playing and gaining experience with the Chooks-to-Go-backed Gilas Cadets.
“Meron pa akong until August para mag-decide. Pero sa ngayon, focus ko muna is with RP.
“Siyempre, iba dito, country na ang nire-represent. We have to be at our best,” Rivero shared.
And he spent many long nights inside of the Meralco Gym. Even if the lights had been shut off, he and Juan Gomez de Liano would stay and play pick-up games until the security of the gym would ask them to leave.
His decision came earlier than expected, however.
Twenty-one days prior, Rivero faced a familiar foe. For the first time in his young career, he was taking on the DLSU Green Archers. The Green Archers were fiery in the contest especially Aljun Melecio, Neil Tolentino, and Miggy Corteza, limiting Rivero to just six points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Besides looking for a school that will embrace, Rivero knew that he needed a cavalry in order to get back at the Green Archers some day.
That is why exactly 143 days after Ayo left La Salle, 133 days after he was left off the 23 for 2023 Cadets list, 105 days after La Salle released that statement, and 43 days after he left La Salle, Rivero made his choice.
“If you’re down, there’s no where to go but UP.”