FIERCE rivals La Salle and Ateneo are set to clash for the first time this year in the most awaited game of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, but it will be just another game for Archers coach Gee Abanilla.
Or at least that's what he wants his players to believe.
“Of course, it’s a different game. It’s Ateneo-La Salle. But we will treat this as anything as we did in our previous games. We want to improve ourselves as a team,” Abanilla said.
Regardless of what Abanilla thinks, however, the preseason match between the two longtime rivals takes extra significance after the two sides underwent major facelifts since the end of the last UAAP campaign.
Ateneo goes into Saturday's match at The Arena in San Juan without starters Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva as well as coach Norman Black, architect of the Blue Eagles current run of five straight championships.
Now running the show for Ateneo is Bo Perasol, who is counting on largely untested players like Fil-Am rookie Chris Newsome to fill the huge void left by Slaughter and Company.
On the other hand, La Salle's bid to return to the top of the country's premier collegiate league took another major step prior to the season with the arrival of Bacolod sensation Kib Montalbo.
Also making quite an impression for the Green Archers in the preseason is Fil-Am Jason Perkins.
The current standings in the preseason tournament also show both the Archers and the Eagles are on track in their UAAP buildup, with the fierce rivals sharing the Group B lead on 6-1 (win-loss) marks.
Abanilla, however, insists the Green Archers' main purpose entering the Saturday match is not to make a statement against their rivals but to continue to improve in the run-up to the new season.
“I think we have to prepare and we must be able to play consistent basketball all the time,” said Abanilla, who will have his first chance to test the Eagles' new system under Perasol.
The La Salle coach is also careful not to get carried away.
“I think it’s how you approach the game. In our mind, it’s the preseason. The Filoil is more of a stage to improve ourselves. Yes, it will be a different but our objective remains the same,” Abanilla said.
“I’m sure they have the same thing in mind,” he added.