Sauler optimistic of La Salle’s future
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2015 - 9:00am

Juno Sauler, who resigned as La Salle head coach of the senior men’s basketball team the other day, is optimistic of the Archers’ chances to bounce back strong in the UAAP next season. Sauler said yesterday he’s excited to watch the team evolve and improve as the players gain in maturity and confidence.

Sauler, 42, said he will always be grateful to team patron Ambassador Danding Cojuangco and the university for their support over the last three years at the Archers helm. “I’m thankful for the opportunity,” he said. Sauler’s history with La Salle goes back to coaching the Zobel juniors to three third-place finishes and the senior women’s team to three UAAP titles. In four years with the Archers, he was assistant to Gee Abanilla for a season and head coach for three campaigns. Sauler took La Salle to the UAAP championship in 2013.

“My advice to the players is to continue to go all out at practice, work hard and improve,” he said. “I assume full responsibility for our failure to make it to the Final Four this season. We fell short by one spot. It’s on me, not the players. I know whoever is chosen as the head coach will be a man of values, discipline and leadership. Right now, my concern is the players. The graduating players Jeron (Teng), Thomas (Torres) and Jason (Perkins) will experience change in their last season but I’m sure they will be guided well by the next coach with the support of management and the school. We’ve seen the development of Prince (Rivero) and I know he’ll be able to do a lot more for the team in the next three years.”

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Sauler said what’s important is for the players to embrace the philosophy of competition. “The word compete is derived from Latin which means to aim for and together,” he said. “I’ve always told the players the significance of trying to outdo the other whether at practice or in a game, whether you’re competing for your position or playing with the second group. In my experience at La Salle, I’ve learned building relationships is valuable with those you work with or for and with those who work for you. I’ve learned that no matter if you do your best, there is no guarantee of success, that you shouldn’t fuss over things you can’t control, that you keep doing your best. I’ve learned that why you do things is for the love of others and it’s your highest motivation.”

Even before the UAAP season started, Sauler said he knew it would be a hard climb to the top for La Salle. “At the Filoil Flying V tournament, we made it to the finals against San Beda but lost by over 20,” he said. “But advancing to the finals was a grind. We barely got into the Final Four. FEU wasn’t complete because key players were in the Southeast Asian Games and we almost lost to UST and Perpetual. So realistically, we were just shooting for a spot in the UAAP Final Four, hoping to take No. 3 or No. 4, conceding the top two slots to FEU and UST because of their veterans. We came in with nine freshmen but made a stand. Unfortunately, we were hit by injuries and sickness. We couldn’t ever play with a complete lineup. We were hurt by the timing of the injuries. There were games where Jeron and Thomas played hurt, their ankles all taped up. Jeron took a bad fall in the game against UP in the second round and in two of the four days of practice for our last game against FEU, we sat him down to recover. But Jeron just wanted to play. Julian (Sargent) went down with a hamstring injury and Andrei (Caracut) was hospitalized. We also missed a big center. We were like a donut with a hole in the middle. We had to play Prince at five even if he’s undersized.”

Sauler set an example to his players for an uncompromising approach to hard work. On a typical day, he spent over 12 hours doing work for the team. He would sometimes be by himself at 8 a.m. watching video, breaking down every possession, then meet with the coaching staff at 10 a.m. to go over tape, tactics, strategy, matchups, tendencies and practice plans. Practice would be at 5 p.m. until 7 or 8 then it’s back home to review more videos. The routine became an essential part of his life. His wife Agnes and their children Lauren and Santi gave their full support so he could function with focus and space.

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Before embarking on a coaching career in 1998, Sauler worked a year with Jollibee and another year with Ayala Life Insurance. Sauler, an economics graduate, left the corporate world to take on the challenge of his passion. A former La Salle high school and collegiate player, Sauler got his break in coaching when Jong Uichico brought him in as a volunteer assistant with the Philippine team preparing for the Asian Games in 2002. Sauler was later introduced to Ginebra coach Allan Caidic who took him in as an assistant with the PBA team in 2002. While Sauler remained with the Ginebra staff, he was assigned full-time at La Salle.

Sauler said trust is key in developing a close relationship between a coach and players. “Whenever we got together with the coaches and players to view tape before a practice, I would do a short pep talk,” he said. “It’s not just the Xs and Os. It’s also behavioral and motivational not only the technical. My goal in life is to be able to teach others to become better persons or in the case of basketball, better persons and players on and off the court. When I met the team to say goodbye the other night, I thanked the players for their effort and support and hugged every single one of them. I know they’re in good hands and they’ll be awesome next season.”

Sauler said the night after La Salle lost its last game to FEU, he made up his mind to resign. “I didn’t want to be a burden to Boss Danding and the university,” he said. “They’ve been too good to me. The next day, I already communicated to Boss Danding that I would resign. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with Boss Danding and the university and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

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