What makes the De La Salle Green Archers such a good basketball team? Is it the overflowing individual talent that they have? I’d say so. Is it the suffocating defense that Coach Aldin Ayo employs? Yes, absolutely.
But above all, the main thing that makes the Archers such a damn good squad is their teamsmanship. All that talent goes to waste if it can’t operate as a collective unit. That Mayhem defense won’t work if players don’t look out for one another.
DLSU plays excellent basketball because everyone is committed to the team’s cause. And over the last few years, that’s something that has been evident even from afar. Back in 2013, the Green Archers added style to their swagger when they all started wearing team shoes.
“It all started in the second round of the UAAP season 76,” said Paolo Sauler, Green Archers Assistant Coach from 2013 to 2016. “Boss Danding Cojuangco was the one who thought about it. He wanted a look with the team – everyone wearing the same shoes, everyone wearing the same socks. That’s basically how it started.”
After going 3-4 wearing different kicks in the first round, DLSU swept the second sporting similar Nike ID Hyperdunk 2013s. They made it all the way to the Finals with those. And when they got to the big stage, they had new set made. They wore the Zoom Solider 7 as they defeat the University of Sto. Tomas to claim the crown.
After winning the title, Nike Philippines presented the team with a limited edition Air Force 1. It served as their championship shoe, a sweet little gift from the Swoosh.
“The Air Force 1 didn’t come from me or from the boss. That came from Nike Philippines,” Sauler said. “They released a limited edition pair for the coaches, the players and the managers. We didn’t know anything about it so it was a nice surprise.”
That has led to a team tradition. Since 2013, DLSU has had team shoes customized every year. Each season, they supply the players with three sets of kicks – a pair for the first round, another for the second and that last pair for the playoff push.
It sounds like the Archers are living time of their lives, right? New kicks here and there. It isn’t that simple though.
As you probably know, different kicks have different features. They’re supposed to cater to different types of players. With all the styles and features available in the market right now, it’s almost impossible to select one and expect that it would be a good fit for fifteen players.
“I just had to find a way to get everybody to wear the same shoes.“ Coach Paolo said. “2013 was pretty difficult. I had Almond Vosotros and LA Revilla on the team. They only wanted to wear mid-cut. But then there were other players on the team who wanted low-cut. So I had to find a shoe that was versatile, that would also fit the big men.”
We all have our stories of buying our next pair of sneakers. How it took us four hours just decide whether we’ll get the LeBrons or the Kobes. How it took us another couple of hours just to decide on what colorway to cop. Just imagine how tedious it must be to have to choose for 15 top-level athletes.
That’s the challenge that falls upon Sauler. He’s in charge of selecting the shoes that the Archers wear every season. But of course, it’s not a decision that he can make on his own. At the end of the day, it’s the players that wear them. More than the look and uniformity, the players need to feel comfortable in them.
“Every year, before the season starts, I go on the Nike ID website to see what options are available,” Sauler shares. “From there, I bring it up to 10 to 12 guys on the team. They give me feedback on the shoes that they can wear as a team. And then, whatever feedback the players give me, I report to my boss. I show him pictures of the designs that I make online and then he gives me the ‘go’ signal.”
“The first three years, I flew out to Hong Kong and ordered the shoes there. Imagine, that’s three pairs per player. Usually, we have a 14- or 15-man lineup. You can do the math. I go to Hong Kong just to order them. After about a month, I go back to pick them up.”
In eliminations of season 77, the Archers went with two pairs of Kobe 9 – one green and one white. In the playoffs, they wore the Hyperdunk 2014. But Mac Belo made that pair one of their least favorites when he hit a buzzer-beater on them.
In season 78, they wore the Kobe X. The pair was a favorite among the Archers. Unfortunately, it was also that pair that DLSU experienced problems with.
“We only had one problem with a shoe giving in. That was the Kobe X in 2015,” Sauler said. “We had two colorways – one green and one white. Prince Rivero’s pair gave in in the middle of a season. The same happened with Julian Sargent. We ended up re-ordering new pairs for them and that took three weeks. And then other players’ pairs were starting to give in too. So when we were playing knockout games to enter the Final Four, I ordered the Kyrie 1.”
For season 79, DLSU supplied their players with three pairs of Hyperdunk 2016, all-whites with green swooshes. But according to Coach Paolo, that wasn’t their initial plan. “We wanted Kobe 11 in 2016. But after Kobe retired, we couldn’t get size 15 anymore. That’s where we have problems sometimes when ordering.”
No size 15s would mean no kicks for Gboy Gob, Abu Tratter and Ben Mbala. There was no way that those three would get left behind.
This year, the DLSU Green Archers opened their season wearing the Kyrie 3. Somewhere along the way, we’ll see them bring out the Lebron 14. Expect them to bring those out when they face their archrivals Ateneo Blue Eagles for their last game of the first round.
“The players are required to wear the team shoes during UAAP games,” Sauler added. “We want the team to look as professional as possible, as clean as possible. There’s a certain look that we want the team to have.”
But while DLSU aims for everyone to have that same clean look during games, they don’t prevent the players from personalizing their gear. This is where things get a little bit more interesting.
“Before I pass in the Nike ID orders, I give the players opportunities to personalize their shoes. They get nine characters. Jayson Perkins once put ‘Manok ng Baboy’ on one of his shoes. Abu Tratter had ‘Cocopuff’ one time. There was one year that Andrei Caracut put ‘Caracute,’” Coach Paolo revealed.
“All the others just had either bible verses, parents’ names or girlfriend’s names. There was even one time when a player had his girlfriend’s name on his shoe. Then they eventually ended up breaking up.”
I guess it’s true what they say – that behind every shoe is a story. But also, behind the success story of the De La Salle Green Archers are fifteen similar pairs of shoes.
Those represent more than the style and the swagger of the team. Those are a symbol of oneness, of harmony. That despite having so many great individual talent on that team, despite how disordered that Mayhem defense looks, chemistry will rule over chaos.