Loyalty games are a unique experience for a Lasallian and an Iskolar ng Bayan like myself because they are only times when we not only sing UP Naming Mahal and the La Salle Alma Mater Hymn in one game but also feel the intensity of the school spirit that both La Salle and UP Have.
I have been watching live University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) basketball games for 20 or so years now, starting from the time when I was a high school student. I have only supported two teams in the league, the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons and the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers. That is a given since I am product of both Lasallian and UP education, which is why I call games where the Maroons and the Archers face each other as "loyalty games."
Through the years, I have watched many UP-DLSU loyalty games, as well as those where the Maroons and the Archers went against their respective opponents. In the 20 or so years that I have watched UAAP games, the Archers had the upper hand against the Maroons most of the time. La Salle also won more titles than UP, especially the generation of Archers that was led by Ren-Ren Ritualo and coached by Franz Pumaren, which is why I often tell people that Coach Franz "spoiled" me and other Archers supporters and La Salle alumni into winning championship titles. During those years, La Salle had more supporters coming to the venues to watch the games live because they were winning games and titles.
On the other hand, UP was a struggling team back then. They barely won games or had a "muntikan na" moments of reaching the Final Four semifinals, no thanks to crucial losses against some opponents, more often against La Salle. For three UAAP seasons, 2007, 2010 and 2013, they never won a single game, which was why only a handful of UP faithful watched the games of the Maroons at the venue.
Twenty or so years later, the tables have turned. The respective fate of my two UAAP teams have changed. The UP Fighting Maroons are the talk of the town, having been able to break the Final Four and Finals appearance droughts last year, and currently have the Number Two spot and the twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals for the first time since the Final Four semifinals format was implemented by the league. As for the De La Salle Green Archers, they have generally struggled during the post-Franz Pumaren era, having won only two titles during the past ten years, saw head coaches come and go several times more than necessary, and failed to get into the Final Four four times, especially back-to-back fifth place finishes last year after losing a rubber match game for the fourth Final Four spot against the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws and this year after losing a crucial game against my other UAAP team, the UP Fighting Maroons, last October 27, 2019.
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Despite the difference on where the Maroons and the Archers stand during the past two UAAP seasons, I still enjoy watching UP-DLSU loyalty games. Loyalty games are a unique experience for a Lasallian and an Iskolar ng Bayan like myself because they are only times when we not only sing UP Naming Mahal and the La Salle Alma Mater Hymn in one game but also feel the intensity of the school spirit that both La Salle and UP Have. I believe that the UP-DLSU loyalty games improved this year despite the Archers' struggles as a basketball program because both UP and DLSU supporters now have almost the same amount of support being given to their respective teams. UP is already matching the level of support that La Salle is giving to its basketball programs and that support even extended to the other UP varsity programs.
However, if there is one thing that I hope the UP Fighting Maroons would learn is for them, especially the coaches, to be able to establish a disciplined, team-oriented, patient and flexible long-term system that is not dependent on isolation plays and can do shifting types of defense within the game. That is how the Franz Pumaren-mentored De La Salle Green Archers won titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2007. It is also necessary for UP to be able to not only stop at recruiting players but to also have competent and capable skills coaches who can properly train and develop individual player and team skills, and secure the recruitment pipeline by developing the grassroots program at the UP Integrated School.
As for La Salle, the supporters and even the coaches should be reminded of what the past team under Franz Pumaren did to be in the Final Four and Finals consistently, and win six UAAP championship titles. Having one-and-done players and going for "quick fix to win championship titles again" many work immediately but not in the long term, thus the need for the Archers to go back to their roots. La Salle should also not ignore the importance of the grassroots programs at La Salle Greenhills and De La Salle Zobel as a source for most of the college team's players.
For now, I will enjoy this season where the UP Fighting Maroons are well on their way towards the greater possibility of fulfilling the goal of winning their first UAAP men's basketball championship title since 1986 now that they have the necessary talented players and Coach Bo Perasol already adjusting his own system. At the same time, I wish the De La Salle Green Archers the best for next year, hoping that they will use the break to regroup and fix the program. At the end of the day, I support both the UP Fighting Maroons and the De La Salle Green Archers whatever may happen because they are my only UAAP teams. I support both the UP Fighting Maroons and the De La Salle Green Archers as a way of me being more than thankful for my Lasallian and UP education.
For me, it will always be UP Fight and Animo La Salle!