Jeron Teng’s mission is far from over
MANILA, Philippines - In 26 days, the De La Salle Green Archers will open a new UAAP season when they go up against the NU Bulldogs at the Mall of Asia Arena. Unlike last year, this collegiate basketball season sees different circumstances surrounding La Salle.
If the last season was about further displaying their dominance over the UAAP – a goal that was crushed in defeat – this year is about vindication. Others may even go as far as to say it will be for retribution.
Jeron Teng was in the middle of it all.
After FEU snatched victory away from his team last year, Teng stood frozen in the middle of the Araneta Coliseum. His face was blank and tough to read. What was he thinking? Was he worried about what he was going to say to the public once he exited the walls of the coliseum?
"Talo eh (What to do, we lost)," he said a few weeks later.
This year, old faces from the De La Salle team are returning, though some won’t be around anymore. There will be new faces. Regardless of all of that, this much is certain: when the ball is thrown up in the air for tip-off on September 6, the bitter taste of 2014’s defeat will remain in the mouths of the Green Archers.
The loss however will be their biggest motivation to win this time.
The pain of last year
24 seconds. That spelled the difference of the fates between two of the most successful basketball programs that the UAAP has ever seen.
It was a rainy October 1, 2014. The metro was flooded and traffic stood still.
But up north in the heart of Cubao, Quezon City, the Araneta Coliseum was waiting for the epic conclusion to what was an unforgettable series.
La Salle and FEU, their Final Four virtual best-of-3 series tied at one game apiece, battled in Game 3 with a shot at making the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball finals on the line. For La Salle, a victory would have given them the chance to vie for a second straight championship – their first since Renren Ritualo, Macmac Cardona, and Mike Cortez donned the colors of the green and white during the turn of the century.
With less than two seconds to go and the game tied at 64, FEU guard Mike Tolomia had the ball and found a wide-open Mac Belo from the corner, ready to unleash a shot that threatened to break the hearts of thousands of La Sallians and send the FEU community into pandemonium.
The ball went in.
Half of the Araneta Coliseum's side in Tamaraw colors celebrated, while the other half was either speechless, crying, devastated, or in a state of shock. FEU players danced on the hardcourt like they had just won a war, while DLSU's players faced the reality that they had lost their bid to defend their championship.
Tough for Teng
Talking to Rappler after, Teng tried to relive Belo's shot. "When he made that shot…. mahirap i-sink in na out kami (It was hard to realize that we were eliminated). I think it was too early for us to be out of the season."
"Being eliminated in this season was really tough for me."
"Talo kami eh," he said, shaking his head.
Teng's father, Alvin, played professional basketball in the PBA. His elder brother, Jeric, played for the UST Growling Tigers which Jeron's Green Archers beat in 2013 to win La Salle their first championship in 6 years.
"I grew up in a family of basketball. My dad used to play professional basketball (notably for the San Miguel Beermen). And my brother also, at an early age, was into basketball already."
He veered away from his elder sibling’s choice of school. The younger Teng brother blazed his own trail, choosing De La Salle University in Taft as the launching pad of his basketball career.
"Of course, La Salle is the best school out there," Teng, 21, said. "La Salle is known not only for basketball but also for academics."
Teng became the face of the Green Archers the moment he stepped foot on campus 3 years ago.
From 2009-2011, La Salle suffered through what some of their students call the "dark ages" of DLSU basketball. The team missed the Final Four two of the 3 years, and didn't make the finals at all.
Coaches came and went, recruits promised a better future then suddenly departed, and noteworthy wins were scarce for an institution that prides itself in its basketball program's success.
"Playing for La Salle, it's already given that there's added pressure," Teng says. "Every year they expect La Salle to be a strong team. Everyone's expectation is really high."
But Teng took the challenge right away, carrying a starving basketball program that surrounded him with top-notch teammates such as Norbert Torres, Jason Perkins, and Almond Vosotros, to name a few, and a disciplined head coach in Juno Sauler.
In his first year, Teng won Rookie of the Year (16.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 APG), made it to the league's Mythical 5, and led DLSU to the Final Four where they lost to rivals Ateneo.
In his sophomore year, the young superstar earned his stripes as this generation's King Archer, playing spectacularly throughout the league's elimination round and finals (he had 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in the Game 3 championship-clincher) to lead La Salle past UST.
"As a basketball player I think I can describe the Green Archers as players who have the animo spirit. The players that never give up no matter what the circumstances are," Teng said.
After winning the title, everyone wanted a piece of the Green Archer cover boy. More TV shows called for guesting appearances. More magazines called for cover shoots. More journalists called for interviews. More fans moved heaven and earth for a mere picture or autograph.
He was the talk of the college basketball scene and a celebrity.
'The Naked Truth'
And then he modelled for Bench.
A day before Game 1 of their Final Four series against FEU in 2014, Teng, his brother Jeric, and his teammate Arnold Van Opstal were invited to participate as models for Philippine brand Bench's modeling show labelled as "The Naked Truth."
The following evening, Teng made only two shots, committed key turnovers, and La Salle lost the contest, putting the team in the brink of elimination.
"When we lost the game 1 of semifinals against FEU, when we lost, they started blaming me and Arnold for participating in a fashion event of Bench, which is ‘The Naked Truth’, kasi it happened a day before the game," said Teng, who also suffered from dengue days before the modeling show and game.
He and Van Opstal, however, chose to still participate in the gig because they had already signed a contract and committed, and Teng said they had adequate sleep and rest the night before the critical match.
"We weren't affected. I mean, yeah, we appeared there in the fashion show but it ended early."
Nonetheless, the criticism Teng received was brutal.
Netizens blasted him for spending time on extracurricular activities. Columnists talked about how he should have been more responsible. Everyone seemed to have an opinion, and most of them were unpleasant.
"For me I think that's normal in basketball. I mean, when you win, everyone loves you and when you lose, everyone blames you."
"If you want to be a good player talaga… you have to accept those things happen."
And Teng does. He knows the responsibilities of someone of his stature. His talent and athleticism demand greatness and results on the court and the ability to be a leader, or in this case, a guiding voice for his teammates and comrades.
"I think I did everything for La Salle naman [last] year," Teng says. "It was just the breaks of the game that made us not reach the finals."
"I think I [gave] my best [last] season. From last year I've really matured."
Like his father and brother, Teng aims to one day make it to the PBA to establish his own legacy in the premier basketball league of Asia.
"After finishing my 5 years in La Salle, of course, if I'd be given a chance to play in the PBA, I'd love to. It's always been my dream to really reach the PBA."
But before he puts down his DLSU jersey and goes pro, Teng has a mission he still has to complete. He has two years left as a Green Archer.
While the loss to FEU last season was heartbreaking, he knows it's not the end of the road.
"This loss will really... will really boost our motivation for [this] year. I still think our team is championship-caliber. We fell short lang. Next year, we'll really prepare for it more."
The task ahead isn’t easy.
DLSU no longer has Van Opstal, Torres, or Vosotros. Ben Mbala, the supposed next hero of the Green Archers, faces an issue in his eligibility after playing in an exhibition game in General Santos City that has many pundits expecting he won’t see UAAP action for another year.
The Tamaraws haven’t gotten any weaker, what with Belo and Tolomia both returning, determined to complete their own aspiration of bringing their university a championship for the first time in 10 years.
Kiefer Ravena and Ateneo are always a threat. The NU Bulldogs have both Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino still in uniform.
But these Green Archers have a chip on their shoulder – the kind that breeds only from the agony of defeat.
"Siguro pag nakalaban namin sila (FEU) next year iba na talaga yung takbo. By that time, galit na galit na kami."
(When we face them, our run will be different. By that time we'll be really, really pissed off.)
"The team that really wants to win is the team with the strongest bond and those who will really die for the game."
Giving his best
But more than beating FEU, more than getting better ready for the pros, more than vindication, Teng wants to accomplish his ultimate goal of leaving a lasting legacy in DLSU.
"I want to be remembered in La Salle as someone who really gave his best in his 5 years."
"Whatever happens, yun 'yung gusto ko matandaan nila (that's what I want them to remember) - someone who did everything for the school pride."
In 2012, Jeron Teng entered DLSU with the weight of an entire La Sallian community on his shoulders. He took the challenge and has risen to the occasion countless times.
Now, he's even more eager to accomplish more.
For Jeron Teng, his mission is far from over. And it begins yet again in 26 days. – Rappler.com