WRITTEN off after his surprise promotion just three weeks before the season, Juno Sauler has dealt with his detractors by steering La Salle to the brink of a title.
He was criticized at the start of the season for listing only 13 players instead of a full squad of 16 and received further beating from skeptics after a 3-4 win-loss record in the first round of eliminations.
But Sauler has turned the young Green Archers squad into title contenders, which speaks volumes about the ability of the soft-spoken coach.
And not only does the record speak for itself, several Archers say that Sauler, who inherited the head coaching job after Gee Abanilla was pulled from college basketball to handle Petron in the PBA, has brought out the best in them.
“It affected the team but not as much as people would think,” said La Salle center Arnold Van Opstal, one of the players who flourished under Sauler.
The Green Archers won nine straight matches to reach the finals for the first time since 2008 where they will meet their former archrival in the 1990s in University of Santo Tomas.
“He always gives his insights. Everyone really respects coach Juno already. It was an easier transition to make,” Van Opstal added.
Jeron Teng said it took a little while for him to adjust to a new system of coaching, but the Archers knew they were in good hands.
“Nung simula, we were shocked. How many more weeks nalang kasi before the UAAP. It was a big adjustment for us kahit sino pa ’yung coach,” said Teng.
“But we know coach Juno even as an assistant coach. We knew that he will be a good coach someday.
In stark contrast to his coaching counterpart in UST in the outspoken Pido Jarencio, Sauler is usually soft-spoken and unassuming — rarely showing emotions even after a bad call by the referees.
Nevertheless, Teng said that Sauler remains a motivator, really bringing out their A-game this season.
“Motivator siya in a sense that he will show clips of our game, and from there he will tell us what to improve on and continue to improve on,” Teng said.
“We were already getting the system of coach Juno. He brought our game out. Napagaling niya kami,” said Teng.