The DLSU Green Archers have a lot of things going for them this UAAP season. But Ben Phillips reveals their biggest strength as a team: their brotherhood.
Ben Phillips had a surprising answer when I asked him what his favorite moment of UAAP Season 86 was so far. One of his fondest memories this year was when the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers lost to their rivals, the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles in Round 1 of the men’s basketball tournament. An unexpected response for reasons obvious to anyone who understands the depths of the La Salle-Ateneo rivalry, but to Ben, this marked a turning point for the season.
“Everybody was pissed off,” he recalls. “We had practice the next day and no one was talking to each other. Nobody had any energy to practice. Everyone was just mad, and it’s funny looking back at it now because this kind of set the tone for the season. These guys are really passionate about what we’re doing here.”
Ben Phillips told The GAME that every player on the team took the loss to Ateneo upon themselves, asking themselves, What did I do wrong? How can I fix this? Did I help the team enough?
Following their practice the next day, they had a team talk about the loss where all their sentiments were brought to light. “It was such good character building for our team because you’re gonna win and you’re gonna lose, but seeing how they responded to all of that — it was a good time.”
The Green Archers’ team captain can reflect on their loss to Ateneo in the first round of eliminations with a smile because of how the squad used this experience to turn their season around.
In the opening round of the men’s basketball tournament, the Archers faced their share of low moments. They lost three out of seven games to enter the second round with a 4-3 card, tied with Ateneo, and many were quick to point out that one of DLSU’s biggest struggles was in the end game, with their tendency to lead games and then suffer in the final minutes. This was highlighted when they faced UP and looked poised to win before they went on a nearly scoreless third quarter.
But the second round of eliminations saw a refreshed La Salle side. After winning against the NU Bulldogs, as Ben puts it, “That was where we started to pick up our momentum.” The team hasn’t lost a game since.
Now, after a sweet victory over Ateneo to close Round 2, the Archers are about to head into the Final Four as the second seed with a twice-to-beat advantage. DLSU fans may now be forgetting the bitter taste of their defeats from Round 1, but Ben considers these difficult moments as the building blocks they needed to get to where they are now.
Every player locked in
Coming into UAAP Season 86, Ben Phillips had high expectations for the Green Archers. “This is my third season playing and a lot of the guys are the same guys that were here from the beginning or from last year, so I expected us to have better chemistry and engagement with each other. We’ve basically had two to three years of on and off-court bonding.”
But at the same time, his expectations were managed, especially with a new head coach coming in.
Coach Topex Robinson entered the season eager to take on the responsibility of pushing La Salle back into its glory days. This shift naturally came with changes to the playing system, and though DLSU’s performances in the pre-season were promising, the UAAP competition is a different playing field altogether. Thus, in Round 1, Ben recalls, “It just wasn’t really interconnected just yet.”
Ben admits that this showed on the court in their first several games. But, he assures that even in those moments, every single member of the Green Archers, from the players to the coaches, bought into the system of this new era of ‘La Salle basketball’ — it might have just taken a few games to fully come together. And when it did, it did in a big way, as DLSU managed to improve their record, even going on an eight-game win streak to enter the Final Four with momentum and confidence on their side. This is largely thanks to Coach Topex’s coaching style and playing philosophy.
“Coach Topex is a fantastic players’ coach. He individualized his connection with every player and his assistant coaches to make sure that we built a family. So we bicker, we argue, but we also love each other. We have a common goal and he’s gelling the entire team together.”
One of the biggest elements of this ‘family-centric’ team that DLSU has built under Robinson’s leadership is the trust among the players that every member will play his role.
In the pre-season games leading up to the UAAP this year, the Green Archers were already looking like one of the strongest squads. With this, of course, came high expectations and a lot of outside noise, but Ben reflects, “That established our culture, wherein no matter win or lose, we always want to stay grounded. And that’s why people on this team don’t have big egos. Everybody is bought into what we’re trying to do, so guys are sacrificing points, sacrificing minutes, and doing everything they can to win every game.”
“Coach has been really specific in asking, what can you do today that gets you closer to winning a championship?”
With this mindset, their players are working hard constantly. Ben shares that many of their team members are in the gym by themselves even outside of training hours. He himself hasn’t been playing as many minutes on the court, but is an integral part of the team, as the leader and captain. Every member of the squad is doing their part, whether that means being the playmaker on the court or engaging from the sidelines.
Ben Phillips knows that this focus and this drive are detrimental to any winning team. But there’s another element to the Archers’ team culture that has helped them turn things around. Their success still starts from a place of passion.
The Green Archers have long had this tradition wherein the players on the bench won’t sit until the players on the court have made their first shot of the game. Many fans still notice this and are quick to point it out. But one thing that they may not notice after that first shot is made is that the Archers would probably rather be on their feet — and they usually are. Whether their teammates on the floor convert their shots or miss them, DLSU’s bench remains vibrant. They are constantly hyping each other up, encouraging one another, and helping out in whatever way they can.
“Whoever the five players are on the court, they know that they have 11 people on the bench, plus the coaching staff, encouraging them,” Ben shares. “People think we’re just cheering, but a lot of the time, we see things sometimes a little bit differently than the coaching staff, so we should out instructors and share at the same time, too.”
As the captain of the Green Archers, Ben Phillips takes pride in this side of their team’s culture. Their closeness as a team, how they keep themselves grounded, and their humility as individual players have helped them create an environment wherein, “You have the trust of your coaching staff and fellow players, you’re sticking to the system, and you’re having fun. That’s the best way to play DLSU Basketball.”
With this kind of trust, and by going back to the roots of why these athletes play in the first place — to have fun — the Archers come onto the court knowing that if they make mistakes, they have people on their side to lift them up and encourage them to keep going.
“Mistakes happen in every game,” Ben says. “But when you have this kind of energy and camaraderie in your team, you’re not afraid to make mistakes.”
This mindset has been a huge help to the Green Archers. The last time DLSU won the championship was in 2016, and with the die-hard passion that their fans have, the pressure to succeed can be a weight to carry. Ben admits this, saying, “When I put on my La Salle jersey — this is my third year doing it and I also put it on for volleyball — you feel the years and generations before you. So obviously, there’s a lot of pressure. But with everything I mentioned about our team, that helps alleviate it. We lean on each other. No one guy is going to shoulder all of that pressure.”
A textbook definition of what a team should be. The Green Archers are a brotherhood with a deep bond that transcends the court. Now all they have to do is to try and win with it.
Bringing it home
When the first round of UAAP Season 86 ended, most were already expecting the UP Fighting Maroons to easily take the top seed going into the Final Four. DLSU was tied with Ateneo with a 4-3 card at the time, but by the end of Round 2, there was a scenario that would have nearly allowed La Salle to take that top seed.
The Green Archers truly did make this season their own. Their loss to Ateneo in the first round was the team’s turning point, and their second-round victory over NU bolstered their winning momentum. But it may be their victory over the UP Fighting Maroons in the second round that cemented their place as favorites to win the whole thing. And Ben Phillips knows what the team needs to do to put themselves in the best position to do so.
“Number one, it’s about staying healthy. This is when it really becomes about discipline…Going to class, going to the gym, going home, resting and recovering, and staying locked in for the coming weeks.
“Number two is just ignoring the outside noise. I remember in the beginning when we were losing two or three straight, everyone was saying, change the coach, this player is bad, this player does this, blah blah blah…There was a whole bunch of noise, so staying together and shielding each other from that noise.
“And number three is staying grounded. One person isn’t going to win us the championship, it’s going to take everybody. So it’s making sure that everyone stays really humble, too. And that’s something that Coach Topex emphasizes. If we do these three things, that will take us at least to the doorstep of where we want to go.”
As the team captain in his final playing year, what could be a sweeter way to go out?
But already, this roster of Green Archers has achieved something special, not in their results, but in their bond as a squad — the players on the bench staying on their feet, pushing the team on while the players on the court trust in each other’s abilities. Every player locked in and engaged, bought into their mission for the season. They even get the DLSU crowd involved, calling for their energy and boisterous cheers, and it must be easy for the fans to back this squad. They have something truly remarkable to cheer about.
If you’ve watched one of DLSU’s games this season, you may have noticed one of their team rituals. Before the start of every game, every member of the Green Archers, from the coaches to the players, stands in a big circle holding hands with one another.
“Coach Topex started this,” Ben Phillips reveals. “He wants everyone to touch each other, make sure that we all stay grounded and connected. We say a prayer for that day, and we do that before every game.”
If anything is going to get the Green Archers all the way to the finish line, it’s going to be this — their brotherhood, their connectedness, and their togetherness, all coming together to fight for their common goal.
Images from UAAP Media.