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Lesson learned from Game 1 of the UAAP Finals

December 6, 2016
In a crazy game marred by off-court altercations and missed calls, one player–wise beyond his years–made the biggest plays.

Life is about learning lessons. It’s also about getting more money than the next guy. But mostly, it’s about lessons. If you get caught in your own bullshit, the lesson there is that your mouth shouldn’t write checks your body can’t cash. If you get smothered by a 6-foot-7 beast named Ben on a reckless drive to the basket, you’d probably think twice on the next play.

La Salle’s Jeron Teng has learned his lesson. Three years ago in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 76 Finals against UST, Teng encountered his first lesson in indecision. The ballgame was tied with only 15 seconds left, and the stage was set for Teng to build on his legacy.

He had the ball up top as Boom Gonzalez provided the customary melodramatic voice-over: “You dream about this all your life.”

Teng seized up his defender with several crossover dribbles before driving hard to the basket. As three UST defenders collapsed on him, so did his decision-making. Miscalculating an inside pass to Arnold Van Opstal, Teng threw the ball–and the chance to win the title in regulation–away. In mere seconds, he nearly squashed his dreams of being proclaimed his era’s King Archer (he didn’t, thanks to UST’s self-destruction in overtime).

Three years later, in the closing seconds of Game 1 of the UAAP Finals, Teng found himself in a similar situation. He had the ball at half court with 20 seconds left, his Green Archers down one point. Teng saw Season 79 MVP Ben Mbala inside the paint, but he didn’t wait for him to get into better position to post up. Instead, Teng shook his defender and took it all the way to the basket. This time, there was no more sign of hesitation, no indecision. With Mbala clearing his path like a bulldozer, a poised Teng powered his way in then glided for a calculated, game-winning lay-up. That he made the big play against rival Ateneo made it even more remarkable.

‘Yung basket, instinct na lang ‘yun…Ben (Mbala) did a good job in sealing, so I saw an opening, and that’s why nakuha ko ‘yung lay-up,” said Teng, who is playing in his last championship series before he makes the inevitable jump to the pros.

Ateneo still had a chance to win the game with 15 seconds left, but inexperience and lack of a bona fide star got the better of them. In case the reason why La Salle was heavily favored in the series was still blurry, Ateneo made it clear in a manner as direct as a poorly made PowerPoint presentation. First slide had the words, in Arial Bold, size 16: They don’t have a Jeron Teng. At least, not yet.

“These guys aren’t great basketball players. They have a lot to learn; they’re hard-working kids. They’re trying to learn the game, and we’re getting phenomenal lessons in a game like this,” Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said after the game. “But it’s not about lessons right now. It’s about standing up to the challenge and becoming champions, so today La Salle did a better job on that, and we didn’t.”

The young Ateneo team will have more chances to learn and to stand up to the challenge. The good thing about basketball is that lessons come in bunches. The bad thing is that time is always running out.