After the Game One loss to FEU, you'd think that the UST Growling Tigers were angry or even at each other's throats. Not at all.
Coach Bong dela Cruz could have read his team the riot act for their poor rebounding and poor play. Instead, inside the locker room, he asked some of his players why they were sad and down. He told them cheer up and that it wasn't their best and that they will mount a helluva comeback. That had what was a downcast team team very upbeat; one that couldn't wait to get back on court. And no, there was no finger pointing towards the direction of swingman Ed Daquioag who turned in a poor outing. Not at all. It was all encouragement.
It was a remarkable scene and a very different one from the previous year where dela Cruz and his team struggled. Players had to get used to his system. The coach was dealing with the pressure of replacing a legend. The team's morale was down. Some grumbled demanding change. But Fr. De Sagon stood pat and solidly behind the coach. It was just a getting-to-know-you-phase, argued the Dominican. "It will get better," he promised. Well, what do you know but the man of the cloth must also be a seer.
You can easily say that winning cures all ills. Maybe. But that wasn't evident during the summer. It was a more relaxed dela Cruz who manned the sidelines for the summer tournament. Even with a different line-up since several players were unavailable, the Tigers fought and showed everyone that they were far from done. Come the UAAP season, the pieces -- even those unavailable previously -- began to fit in nicely. One can make a case for other squads most notably, FEU, being the paragons for offensive might. The Tigers whipped that ball around and had different players leading the charge. They played fun and flowing basketball, a stark contrast to the tough and grind it out ball of the previous years. For me, watching them by the baseline was a joy. There wasn't much eye contact, just passes zipping here and there. Star players giving up the ball to younger ones who would take the shot. The only time there was some form of displeasure was when one wasn't in position or playing defense. I could only marvel in fascination.
I remember dela Cruz really berating Louie Vigil the previous year. Going after him with such anger after poor play. This year that hasn't been the case. Well, he does get angry from time to time but not with that volcanic fury I saw the previous season. Even Kevin Ferrer has played much better; far more in control, and with less emotion. And I think that has made him a much better basketball player.
The loss to the Tamaraws stung but the UST Growling Tigers left with a much more positive attitude than before they stepped onto the MOA Arena floor for Game One.
Whoa, boy. Game Two's gonna be a classic.