There is no doubt that De La Salle University-Manila’s men’s basketball program is one of the most prestigious in the country.
It has produced the likes of Jeron Teng, Jvee Casio, Renren Ritualo, Jason Perkins and Mike Cortez, who have won championships for the school and became standout players in the PBA and the national team.
However, one glaring issue for the Taft-based institution these past few years is that some of its most promising players leave to join other schools.
The likes of Robert Bolick, Larry Muyang and Nico Elorde were former Green Archers. They then became key cogs for the likes of San Beda University, Letran College and Ateneo de Manila University respectively.
Now, another player who slipped from La Salle’s grasp has just shown Gian Nazario’s squad what they let go.
That man is Neil Tolentino of the University of the East Red Warriors, who helped the Red Warriors earn their first victory of the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball Tournament, an 89-88 squeaker over La Salle.
“Siguro, una, salamat kay God na magandang game ang binigay niya sa amin. Itong game na ito, meron akong hugot kasi galing diyan ako sa La Salle. Nung nandiyan ako parang hindi ako masyadong napansin,” said the 21-year-old product of National University.
“So kanina kalaban namin sila, binigay ko yung best ko, gusto ko talagang manalo.”
And boy did Tolentino show what La Salle are missing.
The 6-foot-1 swingman chipped in 19 points — behind their leading scorer Rey Suerte’s 31 markers — for his breakout game in the collegiate division.
“Siguro napakita ko sa kanila na kaya ko. Hindi ako basta-basta na susuko lang. Kaya kanina nung game namin, binigay ko yung best ko. Paiyak-iyak na ako habang naglalaro. Gusto ko silang matalo at manalo sa kanila,” he reiterated.
With how Tolentino aggressively competed for every ball and worked his way to sink his baskets, the neophyte was clearly going the extra mile for his team. Not bad for a rookie whose claim to fame is his defense.
“Yung tiwalang binigay sa akin ng coach ko, sinuklian ko lang din. Actually, defensive player lang ako pero binigay ko yung best ko sa opensa kasi open ako,” said the Season 78 Juniors champion.
“Kaya nung dumating sa akin yung opensa, hindi ko pinakawalan yung opportunity.”
Ultimately, Tolentino understands that there is still a long way to go in Season 82. It is now just a matter of carrying on and shining brighter for UE, and constantly reminding La Salle that they have let go of another potential star.
“Siguro makakatulong ito. Malaking kumpyansa ito, lalo na defensive player lang ako tapos nag-score ako ng nineteen points. It’s my first time in the UAAP tapos first time ko mag-score nang ganito karami. Siguro dagdag ‘to sa kumpyansa ko makalaro ng maganda sa next game.”