JUNO Sauler describes himself as the "slow, non-athletic" member of the De La Salle team that lost out to University of Santo Tomas in the 1994 UAAP men's basketball finals.
Now he is regarded as the Archers' unlikely savior.
Sauler has turned a season that started chaotically for the Archers into a special one as he and the team stand on the verge of the school's first league championship in six years.
The Archers are on a nine-game winning run going into Game One of the Finals opposite UST - a situation that seemed remote when Sauler was elevated from assistant to head coach to replace Gee Abanilla just a couple of weeks before the season.
That should give Sauler an opportunity to atone for one game 19 years ago when he remembered missing a crucial basket late in Game Three of the Finals, allowing the UST Tigers to win the championship behind the heroics of star guard Bal David.
The DLSU rookie coach remembers those final moments of Game Three as if these happened only yesterday.
“We were up by one and I drove to the basket. Nag-mintis, nakuha nila (UST) ‘yung rebound. And then, dun na-foul si Bal David,” Sauler recalled.
After the foul, David sank two crucial free throws to give the Tigers a one-point lead. La Salle had two chances to win but Mark Telan and Elmer Lago missed makable shots, allowing UST to pull off a 77-76 win.
Sauler, though, insists he bears no scars from that heartbreaking loss.
“Wala na ’yun. The day after, okay na ako. Wala na tayong magagawa doon,” said Sauler.
Neither does Sauler feel a sense of ‘revenge’ as La Salle faces UST once again in the finals for the first time since a team led by now-PBA cagers Don Allado and Ren-Ren Ritualo, team captain and current San Juan vice mayor Francis Zamora and Dino Aldeguer won the crown in 1999 against the Tigers.
UST has a 3-1 advantage in their finals match-ups.
“Every game, I’ve been saying that we play with the purest of intention and just play basketball. History, whatever it is, match-ups, has no effect on how we approach this series,” said Sauler.
Sauler bared that the 1994 De La Salle team as well as his other batchmates in the team continue to hold reunions every year. And he is glad to have kept their friendships.
“We lost but it’s not that. Even now, I see my teammates every year, we spend parties together, Christmas together. I think its building relationships and keeping those relationships that you’ve had.
“After this series, ang importante doon is what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown and how you’ve grown with your teammates,” Sauler said.
Going into the Game One against the UST Tigers, Sauler also doesn’t see the need to compare the 1994 team to this year’s batch of Green Archers.
“This is an entirely different team,” he insisted.
Having a true center is this La Salle team like a Telan would've been great, he was told.
“But (the 1994 team) also had Juno Sauler who was not athletic and very slow. Eto lahat (current team), mabibilis at athletic,” Sauler responded.
“Doon pa lang, iba na ’yung team,” he added, breaking into a laugh.