After missing out on the Final Four last season, the De La Salle Green Archers are looking to reclaim their place in the top tier of the UAAP with head coach Gian Nazario and active consultant Jermaine Byrd at the helm.
Byrd, who served as assistant coach for several NBA G-League teams, will work hand in hand with Nazario, a longtime De La Salle Zobel deputy. They took over the post vacated by Louie Gonzalez, who only had a season of calling the shots for La Salle before moving to Jose Rizal University in the NCAA.
The Green Archers last hoisted the championship trophy in 2016, but it seems like a distant memory given all the major changes that happened in the past couple of years. Losing two-time MVP Ben Mbala, champion coach Aldin Ayo, and promising star Ricci Rivero simultaneously proved to be an enormous crisis that takes time to recover from.
Despite the odds stacked against them last season, they still gave themselves a fighting chance, finishing with an 8-6 record, until Arvin Tolentino and the FEU Tamaraws crushed their hopes and booted them out of the playoff picture.
Now, an overhauled La Salle is itching to put last year's heartbreak behind and start anew. With vital cogs such as Kib Montalbo and Santi Santillan gone, Aljun Melecio, Justine Baltazar, Andrei Caracut, and Encho Serrano will be there to steer their team back on the right track.
Three Filipino-foreigners in Keyshawn Evans, Jamie Orme, and James Laput, who all played for U.S. schools in college, will bolster the Green Archers' lineup. By virtue of a rule that allows graduates of non-UAAP schools to suit up for a year without undergoing residency, the three post-graduate students will immediately see action in Season 82.
On top of these one-and-done players, elite rookies Joel Cagulangan and Joshua David and transferees Jordan Bartlett, Kurt Lojera, and Tyrus Hill are also set to debut for the green-and-white.
La Salle has an abundance of talent that can give the other contenders a run for their money, but how quick the players can learn a new system and operate as a cohesive unit will determine how far they can go.
Byrd, Nazario, and all the fresh faces in the roster will face a tough initiation as they open their campaign against archrivals and back-to-back champions Ateneo Blue Eagles on Sunday, September 8.