DOWN to the very end, Juno Sauler was his stoic self as the De La Salle Green Archers celebrated their first UAAP championship in five years.
So much so that during the post-championship press conference, one beat reporter couldn't help but ask, "Masaya ka na ba, coach?" To which the Green Archers coach replied, "Okay lang."
Although he didn't really show it, Sauler should be happy with how the season turned out for La Salle - a team that looked like a middle-tier team midway through the season until it won 11 of its last 12 games.
The last of those victories - a 71-69 win over University of Santo Tomas in the deciding Game Three on Saturday - saw La Salle's reticent coach flash a rare smile as he is given a victory ride by his players.
De La Salle's storybook finish, in a way, mirrored the rags-to-riches career of its coach, a self-described "slow, unathletic" player for the school during the nineties who rose to become its biggest hero.
Sauler, in fact, wasn't even in the picture just weeks before the season until officials decided to make a coaching change after an alarming performance by the Archers under Gee Abanilla in the Filoil Cup preseason tournament.
The Green Archers struggled early in the season and their coach took some flak not only from fans but also from the media for his curt, dull replies during interviews which were often interpreted as a sign of aloofness.
Sauler, however, remained true to himself throughout as he stuck to his theme of "constant improvement" for the Green Archers from Day One.
“This was a season of constant improvement even for next year. We will try to focus on that," said Sauler, an honor student during his time with the Archers who became the first coach since Pido Jarencio in 2006 to win a championship in his rookie season.
"We don’t want to change anything. What is important is they we know what we are doing and trying to be better.”
That theme may have seemed so drab and uninteresting for the media, but Finals MVP Jeron Teng swore it worked for the Archers since it took away some of the pressure, especially during the playoffs.
“Siguro nawawala rin (ang pressure) kasi if we continue to improve, we won’t settle for just a one-game victory," said the sophomore star. "We had bigger goals.”
And there was no question the Archers improved from game to game during the campaign.
Sauler, in fact, bared that he couldn't help but laugh when he saw on tape the way the Archers played during their first game of the season against the UST Tigers. It was nothing short of comedy, he said.
“We watched the first game of the season against UST and I was laughing at how we played," he said. "It’s not how we play now but back then, it was like comedy.”
Well, look who had the last laugh.