"I never said anything to that degree. Maybe to them, it sounded like that, but I never had any ill will towards Ricci or any other player. Wala naman tayong history na ganyan," the first-year Red Warriors mentor told Spin.ph.
Santiago was slapped with a two-game suspension by UAAP commissioner Tonichi Pujante on Monday following his alleged orders against Rivero in UP's 81-66 win over UE last Saturday.
He said his words may have been misconstrued all the more with the Red Warriors gameplan having an additional focus on the senior guard.
"Sinabi ko lang sa mga players ko, ang ganda ng nilalaro ni Ricci, binabastos kayo pero hinahayaan niyo lang? Yun mismo yung sinabi ko. China-challenge ko sila na mas ayusin yung depensa nila," he said.
"Ako kasi player ako dati, pag may naka-score sa akin ng isa o dalawang beses, sinisigurado ko na mas maayos yung magiging depensa ko para hindi na makaulit."
Jack Santiago reveals his frustration with the young Red Warriors, who he feels have gotten starstruck meeting Ricci Rivero: 'Kulang na lang magpapirma ng kung ano.'
It's a frustration that Santiago had with his young wards who seemed to have been starstruck by the idea of meeting Rivero than facing and defending him in the game.
"Yung mga players kasi namin puro bata pa eh. Kaya nung nakaharap na si Ricci, parang di nila alam yung gagawin, kulang na lang magpapirma ng kung ano," he said. "Yun ang inulit ko sa kanila sa dugout, na depensahan natin ng maayos kasi ginagawa kaming katawa-tawa."
It's something that Santiago said that is on record and the merit of UE's appeal, although he couldn't help feel disappointed by the apparent lack of due process.
He even noted that he congratulated Rivero after the game, noting, "Hahabulin ko pa ba at i-fistbump si Ricci if I instructed my players to hurt him?"
Still, Santiago apologized to UE and the UAAP Board for the incident while also clearing his name from the controversy.
"I already apologized sa school at sa UAAP Board sa nangyari. Pero again, wala naman tayong history na ganyan at hindi ako ganoong klase ng coach. We always teach these kids the right way to play kasi fino-form natin yung character nila dito," said the longtime deputy of coach Franz Pumaren.
Lead assistant Jamike Jarin will handle the Red Warriors for the next two games against Far Eastern University and Ateneo.
Santiago is also hopeful that this chapter will be a catalyst of sorts, noting, "The players are improving every game. Kami ang pinaka-underdog this season cause we lost a of key players. But maybe dahil sa nangyari sa akin, yung puso ng players nagising na. Baka ito yung sign para magising yung mga bata."
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