The De La Salle Green Archers entered UAAP Season 85 with huge expectations. After all, they were only five minutes away from entering the Season 84 finals before collapsing and losing to eventual Season 84 champions UP Fighting Maroons. They were adding prized recruit Kevin Quiambao to a mostly intact lineup. In the offseason, they bagged the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup. Guard Evan Nelle even famously declared during the preseason press conference that they were no. 1.
When Season 85 got underway, DLSU was right in the mix for a post-season slot, winning three of their first five games, including a morale-boosting win over archrivals Ateneo Blue Eagles. But inconsistency would bug the Green Archers the rest of the way. After the win over Ateneo, they lost four straight games. This was followed by three straight wins, including one over the defending champions. But a crucial overtime loss to the UE Red Warriors, where they squandered a 13-point lead in the second half, stymied their Final Four drive. Then last Sunday, the Adamson Falcons hammered the final nail on the coffin with a pulsating 80-76 victory in their knockout game for fourth place.
DLSU’s Season 85 was filled with drama, both on and off the court. Schonny Winston, the early leader in the MVP race, injured his calf late in the first round and just wasn’t the same afterwards. He played less than a minute total in the second round and was reduced to being a cheerleader on the bench. Against Adamson, he wasn’t even on the bench, watching with his dad from the stands amid reports that he got kicked out of the team for refusing to play.
Sources have told The Rivalry that team doctors had already cleared Winston to play as early as three weeks ago, but that the decision to suit up was entirely up to him. Ultimately, Winston decided not to take any chances with his calf, which apparently irked team management. The athletic guard tweeted Sunday night that he had a torn calf, and not just a calf strain, which explained his continued absence.
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Coach Derick Pumaren declined to comment about the Winston situation following the loss to Adamson, but confirmed that the guard had already been cleared to play.
“No comment with that. I think in due time La Salle will come out with a statement regarding that,” Pumaren said in his post-game press conference, while adding, “Yes. He was cleared to train without restrictions. He was cleared to play without restrictions.”
Winston wasn’t the only key player missing for La Salle in the homestretch. Rebounding demon Mike Phillips reportedly fainted after the win over UP and is still suffering from dizziness. Kevin Quiambao, meanwhile, tested positive for Covid.
As the team heads into the offseason, several questions hang over the players and coaches like dark clouds. Nelle has a year left, and there is strong clamor from the La Sallian community for him to come back, but he hasn’t announced anything yet. Quiambao, the presumptive Rookie of the Year, is supposedly drawing interest from teams in Japan, where his mother is based. Phillips’ condition remains puzzling; he has reportedly been cleared after a series of medical tests, but he still gets dizziness spells.
Then there is Pumaren, who is nearing the end of the three-year deal he signed. He will certainly face scrutiny from the school and team management, even though he led La Salle back to the Final Four last year after a five-year absence. But in DLSU, history has shown that you’re only as good as your last season. No La Salle coach whose team missed the Final Four has come back the following season, and this list includes Manong Derick’s two younger brothers. Juno Sauler, Louie Gonzales and Jermaine Byrd all also met the same fate.
Sources confirmed with The Rivalry that Pumaren’s tenure is in fact under the microscope, and that at least two rotation players are reportedly waiting to see what happens with the head coaching situation before deciding whether to play for the Green and White next season.
But whoever will be on the sidelines, he will have a talented bunch of rookies at his disposal. These include Fil-American one-and-done guard D.J. Mitchell, who has reportedly been wowing everyone at practices, another Fil-American guard in Geremy Robinson, NCAA juniors MVP Jonnel Policarpio from Mapua, guard Joshua David, who sat out Seasons 84 and 85 with a torn ACL, and former UPIS point guard Nathan Montecillo.
Despite everything, the future still looks bright for DLSU. They just have to put it all together both on and off the court.