For Coach Juno, another ring, some jokes, and a smile on top of it all

MANILA, Philippines – It’s become a common trend, sometimes even a meme visible on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking websites: The stoic Coah Juno Sauler of De La Salle University, displaying his constantly emotionless face regardless of the situation presented. 

However, moments after watching his team rally from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter, even the expressionless mentor couldn’t help but smile and crack a joke or two with a couple of members of the sports media.

When asked how satisfied he was with prevailing in the 2014 FilOil tournament – De La Salle’s first championship in the competition since 2007 – Coach Sauler gave a pretty surprising but amusing response.

“Eh UAAP nga hindi ako nasatisfy eh,” the head coach joked, referring to the Green Archers’ title-winning season in 2013.

So what would make him happy then?

“Secret,” he said, with a smirk not often noticed from him in front of the cameras.

A hard-fought game and fighting through adversity

The De La Salle Green Archers reigned supreme in the 2014 FilOil preseason tourney, outdueling the San Beda Red Lions, 71-66, on Sunday, June 8, at the San Juan Arena. 

But they didn’t prevail without facing some adversity first. For the first three quarters against San Beda, La Salle trailed for the most part, going down as much as 12 at one point in the third quarter.

Tempers flared as well, with a technical foul getting assessed to hefty big man Jason Perkins in the second quarter for some animosity towards David Semerad. The Green Archers’ main post presence, Arnold Van Opstal, was also shadowed with early foul trouble, as Ola Adeogun proved why he was named the tournament’s best defensive player.

“They made it very difficult for us,” Coach Sauler complimented San Beda after the game. “We’re lucky they just missed shots.”

La Salle turned the theme in the fourth quarter, uncorking a 10-0 run in the early goings to re-take a two-point lead following an arena rocking 3-ball by Thomas Torres. San Beda responded like champions, though, leaning on the brilliance of Baser Amer, who torched any kind of defense the reigning UAAP champs threw at him.

The speedy playmaker put up eight straight markers, capped off by a floater that beautifully banked off the glass. But then Van Opstal awoke from his hibernation, and turned his aggressiveness towards Adeogun, who failed to counter when he was given the chance to put points up the scoreboard.

“San Beda played very good in the first three quarters,” Coach Sauler mentioned. “That’s something we have to take care of also.”

Thankfully for him, his boys managed to get enough stops late in the deciding period, while Almond Vosotros calmly sinked clutch free throw after clutch free throw. And when all was said and done and the green and white balloons started to fall, it was official: La Salle had just won its third straight major basketball title.

The 2013 UAAP senior’s basketball competition.

The 2013 PCCL tourney.

And now the 2014 FilOil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup.

After photographs were taken and Sauler held another trophy – his third in just a span of one year – the part-time PBA assistant coach praised his starting shooting guard.

“He’s always been big and it’s always nice to have Almond especially when teams are in penalty and looking to foul.”

And he was right. At least yesterday, Vosotros didn’t let him down. Neither did the rest of his team, at least not in the fourth quarter.

Yet, there’s still work to be done. And that starts with making some tough choices. Specifically, deciding whose stint with DLSU ends at the FilOil games, at least temporarily.

“Che-check ko muna yung papers,” Coach Sauler joked again when asked to grade his players’ performance. “The coaches will, probably this week, finalize everything,” he later said on the team’s final roster heading into the UAAP season.

Some Green Archers won’t have to worry, knowing that they will most likely be assured of a slot in the team’s roster. Jeron Teng, the guy who just won the FilOil league MVP honor, is likely one of them, and so is the team’s resident clutch shooter, Vosotros. It would also be safe to throw Van Opstal, Perkins, and a couple of others on that boat.

Others, though, will probably be chipping their nails more than usual until the final verdicts arrive.

But for the squad as a whole, if they think rest will be something to look forward to in the next few weeks, then unfortunately, they’re mistaken.

Because “We’ll plan to have tune-ups with other teams before the UAAP,” according to Coach Juno.

Next step: defending the throne.