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Return of the Kings

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Green Archers, Red Lions reclaim thrones.

Two of the country’s top collegiate basketball programs were able to bring back pride to their respective schools after emerging as champions of the UAAP and NCAA this 2016.

The La Salle Green Archers, under the guidance of their biggest acquisition in coach Aldin Ayo, ruled the UAAP with reckless abandon while the San Beda Red Lions turned the loss to the Ayo-coached Letran Knights in 2015 into a mere speed bump by regaining the NCAA title.

High expectations were placed on the Green Archers even before the start of the UAAP season after making a stunning move to pluck Ayo away from the Knights in the offseason.

Ayo had came out of nowhere to bring a title back to Letran thanks to his trademark system as “Mayhem,” a scheme that emphasizes more on pressure defense to disrupt the opponent’s offensive tactics.

La Salle did impose mayhem on the rest of the UAAP, winning its first 12 games behind that system along with a series of monster performances by Ben Mbala, the Cameroonian import who finally saw action three seasons following his transfer from Southwestern University in Cebu.

The Green Archers, however, realized on the 13th game of the elimination round that they weren’t indeed invincible, as they suffered a stunning 83-71 defeat to the archrival Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Ayo said that loss led to two more games of inconsistent play, first a scary win over the Far Eastern University Tamaraws to close the elimination round, followed by a narrow victory opposite the Adamson Falcons in the Final Four.

That prompted Ayo to publicly call out his players, saying that if they won’t show their deadly form in the finals against the Blue Eagles, their season would be nothing more than a disappointment.

The Green Archers did heed their coach’s call, and swept the Blue Eagles thanks to a sensational display by Jeron Teng in the championship series. Determined to end his collegiate career with a bang, Teng won the Finals Most Valuable Player award and gave Ayo and Mbala a memorable UAAP debut with a championship – the school’s ninth overall.

While it was a December to remember for La Salle, San Beda made October a month of redemption after copping the NCAA crown for the ninth time in the last 11 years.

The Red Lions entered the season with a lot to prove. A year earlier, their run of five straight titles came to a halt when Ayo and his Cinderella Knights captured the title in thrilling fashion.

This year, San Beda saw Fil-American Davon Potts and Robert Bolick make their debuts for coach Jamike Jarin after a season of residency. But the Red Lions had to deal with a lot of challenges, particularly against the Arellano University Chiefs, Mapua Cardinals and University of Perpetual Altas, coupled with a season-ending injury to Cameroonian import Donald Tankoua.

The Red Lions were able to gain the No. 1 seed entering the Final Four, but found themselves pushed to a deciding game for a championship slot against the underdog Altas. But San Beda was up to the challenge and routed Perpetual in the deciding game to arrange a title showdown with Arellano and its star player Jio Jalalon.

In the finals, San Beda survived the first game, 88-85, on a Bolick layup coupled with Jalalon’s decision to let Dioncee Holts to attempt a game-winning shot that missed during the dying seconds.

San Beda closed out the series in Game 2, 83-73, as Potts caught fire and Arnauld Noah emerged as Finals MVP thanks to his consistent play in the finals. It gave Jarin the satisfaction of being carried by his players after enduring the pain of the 2015 loss to the Knights.

But it proved to be Jarin’s last game in Mendiola. Months after the championship, he accepted the position to coach the National University Bulldogs in the UAAP, leading to a series of coaching moves that came with a week left in the calendar year.

Jarin’s exit led to the return of Boyet Fernandez at San Beda, while FEU decided to tap another Racela to head its team as Olsen replaced younger brother Nash who is now with TNT KaTropa in the PBA.

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