Over the weekend, a Facebook fan page called “The Growling Tigers of UST” posted its sentiments on how the University of Santo Tomas (UST) should manage it men’s basketball team. This was after the Growling Tigers, now under the guidance of Thomasian basketball great Bal David, suffered a 69-63 heartbreaker at the hands of Sampaloc rival National University Bulldogs at the Araneta Coliseum. The Growling Tigers dropped to 1-2 after winning its opener against the Adamson Soaring Falcons a couple of weeks back.
The fan page said that for UST to keep up and be competitive in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the team must not be managed by a Dominican priest or the university’s Institute of Physical Education and Athletics. The post suggested tapping a full-time professional manager, who, according to the one who penned to post, will bring the team to another level in two to three years based on a strong grassroots program with “strong connections with professional leagues here and abroad.” The post added that the “four-peat era” (which UST achieved from 1993-1996) was a thing of the past and the miracle run of 2006 was just good for nostalgia. If the status quo prevails, the University of the East, it claimed, will surpass the basketball program of UST by next year if it will not embrace what the author described as a strong, organized and systematic approach to “winning.”
Let me offer some insights as reply to the post. First, the UAAP is a league of schools. It must be overseen and managed by academic authorities. The coaches are hired by the institutions because the institutions are the members of the association. The league’s authority stems from the institutions represented in it. In my opinion, the coach is also a teacher, a member of the academic community, because when one coaches, one teaches. He or she is bound by the same laws and ethical practices demanded of a teacher because they exercise such work in an academic institution. The coach is answerable to the head of the institution. Now, let’s say a professional manager from a corporate sponsor comes in. Who is he/she answerable to? Where does their authority come from? Their interest will not be for the school but rather for the interest of their benefactor who brought them in. While we acknowledge the help of sponsors, they must remain sponsors, who will boost the team with their financial help but not to the point of running the program and taking it away from school officials.
As cliché as it may be, we are talking about student-athletes here. Sadly, these student athletes have been commodified and marketed as celebrities because that sells. It does not help that as early as this stage of their careers, there are agents and talent agencies preying on them. In the past, you will not see student-athletes being packaged as sexy stars posing half-naked on promos. This emerging culture is a major distraction to student-athletes. There’s a lot of money involved and that is another reason why school loyalty nowadays is a very lonely word. In the past, parents put premium on quality education for the future of their children, which is why a university scholarship as a major perk back in the day was enough incentive. But student-athletes who are lured by monetary and non-monetary perks just look at the here and now. Parents now will ask the magic question, “Ano ba ang para sa akin diyan?”
If we look at the student-athletes who did not value school spirit and loyalty, most of them did not have a successful professional basketball career. Some made it but most of them flopped. It’s just sad that today, transferring schools for these student-athletes are as easy as changing their clothes. Basketball is not for life but earning quality education is forever and getting a Thomasian quality of education is irreplaceable. It will take you places in the long run.
The UST Growling Tigers won a four-peat because it did the right thing and it is still doing so. We lament that our men’s basketball team has not been winning but it does not mean that the management is not trying. There were missteps in the past but the administration has been trying to correct those with present developments. UST is not mismanaging its men’s basketball team because it is still built in the way it should be – as a legit student-centered team in the UAAP. We win some, we lose some. Winning, however, is not everything, more so if done in the wrong way.
If we’re going to reform the program, let’s hand over even the juniors basketball program to Coach Bal David and his staff to ensure continuity in the system and that the best players from the juniors division will stay with the program until college. If it can be done with the girls’ and women’s volleyball programs, then it can be done with the boys’ and men’s basketball programs.
Also, Thomasians won’t appreciate the potential of what is in front of them – a fresh start with Coach Bal David and his staff – if we continue to look back, mention the old coach, and view him as our messiah. No, he is not. Let him be happy in his new journey. If we keep dragging his name to the conversation of reforming the UST men’s basketball program, we will not progress. Kahit kumain pa ng apoy at magpa-tumbling tumbling si Coach Bal David at mga kasalukuyang players, hindi natin mapapahalagahan ‘yun kung tanaw tayo ng tanaw sa nakaraan. Tapos na po ‘yun, tapos na ‘yung oras niya sa UST.
Let us give Coach Bal David, his program, his staff, and our players a chance to prove their worth. They at least deserve that and our support.
Lastly, let us not negate UST’s almost annual overall championship. It just shows that the athletic program excellence of UST goes beyond men’s basketball. It is wholistic. At the end of the day, it still has the best athletes overall if we choose to look at the bigger picture.
Coach Chris King dela Cruz teaches at the UST Senior High School.