FROM vulnerable in the latter part of the elimination round to invincible in the playoffs, San Beda’s transformation in the 90th NCAA men’s basketball tournament came in the nick of time.
An impromptu team-building session in between helped turn the tide.
The mighty Lions looked pale shadows of their true selves when they ended the regular season with three straight losses, their first losing streak since 2009. Their five losses overall were the most in the eliminations since San Beda suffered 10 in 2005, the last time they missed the postseason.
“Talagang bumaba yung morale namin, yung kumpiyansa — lahat,” Lions star Art de la Cruz admitted in a chat with Spin.ph three days after the Lions notched a fifth straight crown. “Nag-aaway, nagkakasisihan, at dumating sa point na lumalabas kung ano yung problema sa isa’t-isa.”
De la Cruz revealed one of the problems was a feud between teammates, Semerad twins Anthony and David and Nigerian slotman Ola Adeogun.
“Lumabas dun yung problem sa isa’t-isa like yung away ng Semerads kay Ola.”
That made it clear who David went after when he came to his twin brother’s rescue after the latter was decked and his tooth was chipped in a play the Lions’ second-round meeting against Jose Rizal University, the second of three straight losses.
David, on the bench, furiously tried to confront the culprit, but had to be restrained by teammates.
“You have to understand the reaction of a twin brother. It’s a simple reaction,” Lions coach Boyet Fernandez had said after the loss against the Bombers. “He thought that his brother was hit and syempre, mukha na ‘yun, maintindihan natin. But basketball is a very physical game. There was no intention or malice in the situation.”
“We understand Anthony due to the fact na may modeling career rin yan. Pero if you look at it, hindi naman sinasadya.”
Anthony went straight to the dentist after that game and has worn a mouthpiece since.
Fernandez wasn’t clear who he was referring to as he played down the incident.
Observers thought David was trying to chase a JRU player. But it turned out it was Adeogun he was after.
“It’s not a big problem,” Fernandez insisted at that time. “Huwag na natin palakihin.”
The Lions, though, continued to reel as they lost to Arellano in their last game of the eliminations.
But the Mendiola-based dribblers regained their tight bond after they had an overnight stay at a resort in Laguna in preparation for the playoffs.
“Nag-sorry-sorry na sila ‘dun,” De la Cruz said of the Semerads and Adeogun, adding the team also discussed about demeanor, communication, and individual roles during the team building.
They were also reminded to do the “little things,” like extra shooting.
De la Cruz said with Fernandez also holding practices with NLEX on the same days during Lions trainings, they sometimes forget to do extra work after practice.
“Medyo limited yung time namin with coach, kaya after practice, parang aalis na, wala ng nag-e-extra shooting kasi wala na si coach.”
“Pero mula noon (team building), nag-extra work na ulit kami,” De la Cruz said. “Dapat kahit hindi makita ni coach na nag-sho-shooting kami.”
The team building indeed worked wonders as the Lions roared past the Chiefs, 97-69, in the playoff for the top seeding, led University of Perpetual Help by 26 before holding off the Altas, 81-75, in the Final Four, then swept the experienced Chiefs in the Finals.
“After ng team building na ‘yun, ang lalayo na ng score eh,” Dela Cruz said. “Nakapag-adjust talaga kami.”