Finding wisdom in Ateneo’s loss to La Salle

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column-rick olivaresOMETIMES—only sometimes— when I look at Anusorn Bundit, I am reminded of famed New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre. He comes in with a fresh take on handling a team, has some great instincts on whom to tap and to deliver, wins some championships here and there. He comes away looking like some great sports philosopher after Phil Jackson.

Remember when Phil said, “When you meet Buddha in the lane, feed him?”

Or when Joe famously said after losing the first game in New York during the 1996 World Series that they will probably lose Game Two but win all three matches in Atlanta? The late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was too stunned to even remark that all he did was look at Torre like he was crazy. Well, the man was a seer. They did lose Game Two at home but they won the next three in Atlanta and Game Six in New York to clinch the World Series.

Bundit has his “happy happy” [that I first thought was out of Ren and Stimpy] and “Heartstrong” among many others.

However, even Joe and Phil had to lose at some point.

Right after shaking the hands of De La Salle Coach Ramil de Jesus, Bundit went up to where I stood close to the exit leading to the locker rooms. “Sorry,” he offered as he put his hand on my shoulder. “Learn from this. Better. Next time.”

I wondered in the midst of the battle if the coach had prepared his team properly for this match. But that was immaterial by match’s end.

I didn’t feel too bad. In fact, I felt emboldened by what Bundit told me (and I was told he later said the same thing in the locker room to his team). It is a sign of humility after a particularly humiliating defeat. That means there is acceptance of the loss and the limitations, rather than denial. And you know what they all say about learning the lessons following a defeat.

There are different ways to look at the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ three-set shellacking at the hands of the La Salle Lady Spikers last Saturday. For starters, it isn’t the loss that is shocking—La Salle is good and they do have a much better team. Furthermore, all streaks come to an end. Perhaps, the biggest shocker is how they lost—in three straight sets, befuddled, and with no answers.

You have to give credit to the Lady Spikers and de Jesus for giving Ateneo a dose of its own medicine from the past two years—powerful serves that blunted their attack, solid defense at the net, and his magic bunots from the bench. When you think about it, it makes sense to start Kim Dy as opposed to Carol Cerveza because the former is a better defender. And La Salle won it with great defense and an overpowering serve.

If you felt slighted by all the posturing of Mika Reyes and company after a spike, kill, block, or ace, why feel that way? That swagger has always been a part of their game. That style? Be happy for them. They found a style that is comfortable with them. As we have learned the past two years, the only way to shut them up is to win against them.

As for us, I prefer the low key or lack of boisterous celebrations. While I did love former setter Jem Ferrer’s feistiness against foes who liked to taunt, I am at ease with the Zen-like approach of “happy happy.”

Now, you may wonder why Bundit did nothing different while La Salle offered a somewhat different attack. First of all, if it ain’t broke why fix it? Second, if you look at Ateneo’s game plan through the years (even dating back to Roger Gorayeb’s time), they never tipped their hand on personnel changes, plays, or substitution patterns until the finals. La Salle has never been shy about their adjustments because they’ve always had deeper benches and better players. So now the onus is on Bundit and Ateneo to first bounce back and then adjust when they meet again.

On those occasions that Torre’s Yankees lost, Joe had this to say, “Competition isn’t about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding, and nurturing your people. Winning is the result.”

Also philosophised Jax, “And yet as coach, I know that being fixated on winning [or more likely, not losing] is counterproductive, especially when it causes you to lose control of your emotions. What’s more, obsessing about winning is a loser’s game. The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself.”

As the Ateneo team exited the locker room, Bundit came over again—first to talk about Liverpool’s Capital One Cup championship match against Manchester City (this coming Sunday) and with a final word on the La Salle loss. “We will be stronger after the loss.”

I answered, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Bundit nodded.

Translated: “The Ateneo Lady Eagles, we need to be heartstronger.”