Eco grad now La Salle coach
Eco grad now La Salle coach
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2013 - 12:00am

It came as a surprise to Juno Sauler when he was asked to take over from Gee Abanilla as La Salle senior men’s basketball team head coach a few days ago. The UAAP season begins June 29 and the Archers play UST in the opening bill. But ready or not, Sauler accepted the challenge and vowed to pick up where Abanilla left off.

Abanilla, who piloted La Salle to the Final Four last season, has been recalled by his PBA mother team Petron which is undergoing an offseason reorganization. There is no confirmation of what changes are forthcoming with the Blaze Boosters but it appears Abanilla, a Petron assistant coach, will play a role in the new set-up, requiring his return from La Salle.

La Salle president Br. Ricky Laguda announced the coaching switch to the team during the Archers’ dorm blessing on Agno Street adjacent to the Taft Avenue campus last Saturday. Fr. Sebastian Puthen, an Indian priest from the Santa Rosa de Lima parish in Pasig, celebrated Mass and presided in the blessing of the two-storey quarters. The entire team attended with sports patron Ambassador Danding Cojuangco, Br. Bernie Oca, managers Terry Capistrano, Raffy Villavicencio and Eric Ongcauco, chief recruiter Dave Dichupa, Office of Sports Development director Nongnong Calanog, Alumni Association president Henry Atayde and the coaching staff of Sauler, Allan Caidic and Jun Limpot.

Sauler, 40, gathered the players for a brief meeting after the blessing to make three announcements. First, there will be twice-a-day practices at 7-9 a.m. and 5-8 p.m. (started yesterday). Second, all players must stay at the dorm. And third, players must show discipline on and off the court. “No compromises,” said Sauler. “We’ve got three weeks before the opening and we’ll be working double time.”

The dorm includes a kitchen where a cook will prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for the players with provisions for snacks in between. A nutritionist has prepared a diet plan for each player as weights will be monitored. Archer sophomore Jeron Teng tweeted that “our dorm is more like a hotel.”

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Sauler is no stranger to pressure. “Whether you’re the head coach or assistant coach, you feel the same pressure to win,” he said. “My first order of business is to keep the game simple. I want the players to buy into the system we’re installing. We’re reverting to the defense we used last season and in offense, we’ll introduce ball movement, post plays and pick-and-rolls, nothing complicated. I want the players to understand the game, to know what we’re doing. Once the mental part is done, it will be easier to execute. There’s not much time left to prepare for the season but we’ll be ready. Before the week ends, we’ll do practice games with St. Benilde and Globalport.”

Sauler, Caidic and Limpot are now full-time La Salle coaches. With the twice-a-day regimen, there’s little time left for any coach to moonlight with another team. The focus is exclusive and unshared.

Sauler, a La Salle economics graduate in 1994, worked in human resources at Ayala and Jollibee for two years before realizing his life wouldn’t be complete without basketball. A former Archer varsity cager, Sauler tried his luck as a player with Wilkins in the PBL and survived two conferences before he was cut. He joined coach Jong Uichico’s La Salle staff in May 1998 but before the start of the UAAP season, Franz Pumaren took over the helm. Sauler was in Pumaren’s staff for a year then moved to coach the La Salle senior women’s team which he steered to three UAAP crowns from 1999 to 2001. At the same time, Sauler coached the Zobel high school squad.

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In 2002, Sauler volunteered his services to work under Uichico with the Philippine national team. “I was eager to learn from coach Jong,” he said. “I didn’t mind being ball boy or statistician or whatever job there was to be done.” That was when he met Uichico’s assistant Allan Caidic who was also Ginebra San Miguel head coach then. When Ginebra assistant coach Bong Ramos left that year, Caidic offered the vacancy for Sauler to fill. Sauler has now been with the Ginebra organization for 11 years.

This season, La Salle is unveiling four rookies – Fil-Am forwards Jason Perkins and Matt Salem and guards Kib Montalbo and Robert Bolick. The Archers will feel the absence of shot-blocking 6-4 forward Yutien Andrada who underwent surgery for a second tear of his ACL in the right knee last month. Andrada is out for the season. Back from last year’s roster are Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, Almond Vosotros, Oda Tampus, Luigi de la Paz, Teng, Thomas Torres, Gabby Reyes and L. A. Revilla. After the Archers tackle UST on June 29, they play UP before facing archrival Ateneo on July 7. The Eagles play NU and FEU before meeting La Salle.

Abanilla said he’ll continue to support the Archers in any way possible. “I may not be directly involved with the team anymore but my heart will always bleed green,” he said. “It’s going to be different for me from now on but I will continually strive to be a good Christian gentleman as La Salle has taught me to be. All I want is to give glory and honor to La Salle.”


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