“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, so shall he reap.” – Galatians 6:7
After two columns on the PBA farm teams, this does not sound like an enticing headline. But reaping what you sow is a law of nature in any field, not just basketball. And we cannot cheat on the process — a mango tree will not yield a banana.
Nor does a sharp shortcut lead to multiple titles — this is the harsh lesson that De La Salle has learned.
Not the greener pasture
It did work for one year.
They stumbled upon Ben Mbala who was playing for South Western University in the CESAFI, the top collegiate league in the south famous for producing JuneMar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter, among others.
DLSU recruited him right away for what could be three more playing years (after a redshirt year and another year served as penalty for playing in the Pacquiao Challenge Cup — which was prohibited for redshirt transferees).
When he was finally unleashed in Season 79, La Salle railroaded the opposition. But Mbala also had Jeron Teng on his final year, the Rivero brothers, and players like Jason Perkins and Abu Tratter, now in the PBA.
It seemed like the other schools would have to wait until Mbala wore out his playing years, but Ateneo came back with a vengeance, and the Archers lost Mbala, the Riveros and other key players after that.
Meanwhile, the Ateneo Blue Eagles continued to improve from their upset. The team got a year older and had the addition of Ange Kouame to a core that had better chemistry and discipline from Coach Tab Baldwin. Now, they are nearly invincible, and only a win away from sweeping the eliminations.
No pearls in the farm
It would be difficult to imitate what Ateneo has, since they had years of camaraderie and consistent tutelage. In an attempt to find another Mbala, La Salle resorted to aggressively recruit Fil-foreign players who had the height, and hopefully, the pedigree to dominate the premier college league in the country.
They even followed the Ateneo model of getting a foreign coach. However, Tab Baldwin was not a neophyte in the Philippine hoops scene—he was a former Gilas coach. Now, Jermaine Byrd (who had the pseudo-title of “active consultant”) inherits the “champ or bust” seat in Taft Avenue.
Rumor has it that Byrd, after missing the Final Four, may be on the way out. Most would think it’s unfair, and that DLSU’s failure was not nearly his fault. I could not disagree with that assumption. But that’s the way the Archers roll. If the arrow doesn’t hit the apple, then it’s your head on the line.
It seems unfair that after Ateneo’s core matured and had worthy additions along the way, they were also the school that landed Kouame — a near seven-foot prospect who found just the right mentor in Baldwin. There are no drafts in college, there are no oysters in the farm. The fertile land will get the best harvest, and the farmer that has the patience to sow has the right to reap.
College is a different game than the pros, and Tab Baldwin knew exactly what he signed up for. The players you have nurtured, from lanky freshmen to poised veteran athletes, will eventually leave.
Baldwin even facilitated their journey when he signed up the Blue Eagles for a D-League stint, ensuring that his wards would be eligible for the pros. He even promoted them, claiming that he wanted his boys to dominate the draft.
With his gracious gesture, the coach ensured the harvest for tomorrow. Blue chip high school prospects would find it hard to resist joining the most successful system with the best coach. A plant would want to be in fertile land, cultivated by the best farmer.
College is a cycle, and collegiate sports must also follow. Players will come and go, and the institutions in the sport would be the mentors.
Ravena, Go, Wong, and the Nietos are ripe for the picking in the draft. The cycle continues for the Eagles, but the Archers must soon hit their mark.