Though disappointment were on the faces of Kib Montalbo and Santi Santillan after the De La Salle Green Archers' heartbreaking loss at the hands of the FEU Tamaraws, the two graduating stars were reflective and appreciative nonetheless.
"That's just how it is, you can't do anything about that," Santillan said in Filipino. The Cebuano big man received the ball in the painted area, went up for tough shot underneath the basket but the ball couldn't find the bottom of the net. La Salle lost by a single point to FEU and more importantly bid its postseason hopes goodbye.
"I thought for sure the shot was going in. But it just didn't go down. That's the game. Someone wins, someone loses. We did everything we could to enter the Final Four," he went on.
Santillan, who came from his humble beginnings in Cebu and slowly became an instant sensation for La Salle, is only one of two players leaving the Green Archers with team captain Kib Montalbo likewise exhausting his final playing year.
"I didn't expect that I'd play in Manila. I only thought of being in Cebu. When we played La Salle, that's when I was recruited," recalled Santillan, who played for the University of Visayas. "I didn't expect the opportunity from La Salle. I want to thank the coaches who believed in me and my teammates who became my brothers."
Santillan came to the Green Archers camp three years ago. After serving residency, he bursted into the UAAP and showed his incredible nose for the ball and offensive prowess. He was a big contributor in last year's championship series against rival Ateneo Blue Eagles and continued his stellar play this season.
He broke down in tears after the game because he missed his family who was in still Cebu and for his wife and child who were in Hawaii. Santillan was the one of the team's most reliable big man alongside third-year center Justine Baltazar.
Montalbo, on the other hand, hardly had any breakout games or scoring outbursts but he made his biggest contribution as the leader of a rebuilding team. With a head coaching change and departure of two of last season's stars prior to this season, Montalbo had to step up and lead the team like never before. There was no more Aldin Ayo, Ben Mbala, nor Ricci Rivero. The kid from Bacolod had big shoes to fill leadership-wise and he delivered to the best of his abilities.
"As a leader, I learned to understand everyone," he shared. "Everybody is going through something so you have to understand that before you approach them. It made me a better person, a mature person. I was just a kid before, but now, I learned to appreciate things. I come to practice striving to be a better player. Each and every day, I work my ass off."
Montalbo was the last remnant of the Season 76 championship of La Salle. He hit a road bump two seasons later when he suffered a devastating ACL injury that forced him to miss an entire year. Upon his return in 2016, he helped the school win another title. The Green Archers failed to make it two in a row last season when they lost to Ateneo. This season, the all-hustle guard even had to fight off a wrist injury. Despite being hobbled, he was determined to be available for his team whenever they needed him.
"Every year is memorable for me. The highlight is probably the championship. I'm thankful for the Lasallian community because of their immense support," Montalbo said. "I'm forever grateful for the community because being in La Salle, it's also a blessing and a privilege to enter La Salle, to play for La Salle. Being here, being in our position, we're only boys who dreamed of being here."
Santillan and Montalbo were actually on the opposite ends of the court when they battled in high school. Years later, the two leave La Salle as brothers with proud collegiate careers under their belt. They now set their eyes on the PBA D-League where they hope to eventually make it into the pros.
The final buzzer has sounded for two of La Salle's biggest names and they leave a testament of hard work, perseverance, and dreaming big.
"Keep working, keep believing in each other," Santilan said on what he hopes to impart on his younger teammates.
"I was just a boy who dreamed of playing with drums. That's it. Back in Bacolod, I just told myself I wanted to play in Manila because of the drums," Montalbo shared. "I didn't expect that I'll be the captain of La Salle, to lead the team. I never expected that. Wildest dream. But I'm here and I'm grateful to the university, the coaches, the bosses, managers, everything."