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Renren Ritualo talks about choosing La Salle, his jersey number and the 'nightmare press'

Renren Ritualo, whose jersey number was retired by La Salle, won four titles with the Green Archers (1998-2001) in the UAAP. Photo from GoArchers.com

One could argue that Renren Ritualo is the best to have ever played for the De La Salle Green Archers. One could even say that he is one of the best collegiate players of all time.

Ritualo's prolific basketball journey began in high school with the San Beda Red Cubs. During his time there, they won two championships, and even had a season where they went undefeated. Because of the amount of success he had in high school, which included a Finals MVP award in 1996, you would think he would play his collegiate years with the Red Lions, which is San Beda's seniors team. But that didn't happen. Ritualo swapped out the red-and-white jersey for the green-and-white.

His initial decision to go to La Salle was made during one of the Red Cubs' trips to the playing venue, which at the time was Rizal Coliseum.

"Ang games namin noon sa Rizal Coliseum ang NCAA Juniors. Yung service namin going to Rizal Coliseum dumadaan sa North Gate ng La Salle. So nakikita ko yung crowd, yung mga tao, and sabi ko, 'Mukhang magandang mag-aral dito.' Ever since noon, gusto ko na talaga mag-La Salle," he shared in an interview posted on the Aclan Sports Skills Factory Facebook page.

But one incident made that decision firm.

"Noong fourth year high school ako, tapos na lahat at nag-champion na kami and we were undefeated sa lahat ng games namin 'nung senior year ko, sabi sa amin mag-tryout kami sa San Beda Red Lions. Pinagta-tryout kami, pinagta-tryout ako," he explained. "E nung November pa lang, nagpa-practice na ko sa La Salle, and alam ko na na I'm going to start, that I had earned na my spot. If you're a kid, what would you choose? Gusto mo may security ka, gusto mo sure. So I earned my spot right away."

Ritualo said La Salle gave him a warm welcome and that "everybody was friendly and nice to me."

"'Yung mga chismis before na I asked for heaven and earth, yung mga chismis na binigyan ako ng car, it's not true. When they talked to my mom, and she can attest to that, they asked her what we wanted and she told La Salle just to take care of my son and make sure that he finishes school. Because if you don't go to classes, you don't play -- that was the condition of my mom. That's why I went to La Salle, gusto ko talaga dun."

'O sige, 4'

When Ritualo entered La Salle as a rookie in 1997, he was asked what jersey number he wanted to wear. Throughout his entire high school stint with the Red Cubs, he wore the no. 14, but that was one number he couldn't wear in college because it had been retired after it was previously worn by La Salle hoops legend Lim Eng Beng.

"When they first asked me for my jersey number, I said '14', and they said, 'You can't use that number because it's retired.' [Sabi ko], 'O sige, 4 [na lang].'"

Throughout his five-year stint with La Salle, Ritualo became one of the most successful collegiate players. And when he graduated, his jersey number was retired by the university. He, Lim Eng Beng and Kurt Bachmann are the only former Green Archers who have their numbers up in the rafters.

"Sobrang honored talaga [ako nung na-retire number ko]. At my age now sobrang natutuwa na ko talaga. 'Pag young ka, hindi mo mapapansin or maiisip talaga yung bigat pag ni-retire jersey mo," he said.

"Originally my number was 14. In San Beda I was 14, and in the PBA I was 14. Sa La Salle lang ako nag-number 4. Looking back, iniisip ko parang sign na pala 'yun na ire-retire jersey ko."

The 'nightmare press'

During his time in the UAAP, Ritualo was an offensive gem for the Green Archers. He was one of the most explosive scorers in the league who was lethal from anywhere on the floor. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1997 and made the Mythical Five four times.

Ritualo blossomed, but under Franz Pumaren, the Green Archers as a team wreaked havoc and terrorized opponents on defense, forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets. With the use of the "nightmare press," La Salle won championships. But Ritualo said the success they achieved was because of all the hard work they did behind the scenes, in their practices.

"In my interviews, when people ask me what the most memorable games I played in were, I always tell them it was the practices that we really prepared for. It was a hard 3-hour practice, wala pang workouts nun. I'd be there five hours -- one hour before practice I'll be there shooting na, one hour after I was shooting again," he said. "We did a lot of 1-on-1s, 2-on-2s, until mag-progress sa 5-on-5s. Talagang nagsisimula yun sa individual defense... you had to contain your man every single time."

Their stifling defense made the Green Archers a formidable force in the league. They were consistent championship contenders in each season during Pumaren's tenure.

"Our team defense was really effective. The communication part there yung nagpa-solid sa amin. Alam namin kahit malusutan kami, may sasalo sa likod namin," he said. "We really tried out best to pressure the basketball. Kung sino may hawak ng basketball, kung sino naman yung mainit nung time na 'yun, we were gonna deny him the basketball. That's the secret of the La Salle press."