Jeron Teng’s Baptism of Fire

Jeron Teng photo by Bob Guerrero

You're a coach's dream. A tantalizing cocktail of strength, speed, size, power and agility. One of De La Salle's most heralded recruits in ages. Big enough to mix it up in the paint, but blessed with the ball handling skills of a guard.

You have the pedigree, being a son of a former pro and the younger brother of an established UAAP vet.

You have a solid preseason under your belt and have wowed the league with a 10.5 point average in two games, pretty darn amazing for a rookie.

You are Jeron Teng, and the De La Salle community expects nothing less from you than the basketball equivalent of walking on water. The expectation weighs heavily on your muscular shoulders.

You're an eighteen-year-old phenom, but one fact remains: a baller in a green and white singlet can't be a Taft legend until he's done it against Ateneo. The eternal rival is the Archer's main roadblock to ending DLSU's four-year title drought.

****

Last Saturday in the SM Mall of Asia Arena, Teng would get his first taste of this crosstown UAAP jihad.

Teng starts with center Yutien Andrada, Norbert Torres, LA Revilla, and Jed Manguera. Sporting green Adidas kicks, Teng looks focused and ready. His father Alvin and elder brother Jeric, fresh from leading UST to a mild upset of NU, are watching, along with 17, 378 other fans. It's the first-ever Ateneo- De La Salle game in the new arena.

At exactly 4:20 p.m., the game tips off.

Teng works his way into the match early, rifling off a pass to Andrada as the shot clock ticks down. The gangly vet muffs the long-range attempt.

It becomes apparent that Ateneo's Tonino Gonzaga is tasked with guarding Teng, and the two shadow each other like two rival tomcats all game long.

With 5:42 to go Teng grabs a rebound off a Greg Slaughter miss and then soon after hoists a trey that misses. He gets his own rebound but can only tap it to Juami Tiongson.

Minutes later Teng fights through the Ateneo defense and lays up but it's hard off the rim. With 2:53 to go in the first quarter, a time out is called and Teng rests. Ateneo leads 10-5. After the timeout the Blue Eagles continue to dictate the tempo and at the first quarter buzzer are up 20-8.

Jeron is back for the second quarter but it doesn't get any easier. He tries locking down Ryan Buenafe but Buenafe zips a pass to Justin Chua who converts to make it 22-8.

Minutes later Teng displays a nifty spin move and scores from close range. He's finally opened his account against Ateneo. 22-10.

But Ateneo does not let off the gas. JP Erram blanks Torres, his second swat of the quarter. The Eagles sprint ahead, 28-16.

Teng is finding life difficult against a stingy Ateneo defense, but he contributes in other ways. With about three minutes to go he makes a nice dish to Revilla who converts, cutting the lead to six, 30-24. Teng also collects five rebounds in the first half by my count, and finishes the game with eight.

But led by Kiefer Ravena's ten points, the Eagles lead 35-26 at the half, with Slaughter knocking in a putback at the buzzer.

It looks like another Ateneo domination with Teng scoring just two points. The Archers must circle the wagons and fight back.

Within two minutes from the third quarter restart we see a play that symbolizes the day for Teng. He drives to the hole from the flank off a fast break. As he charges skyward for the shot, Gonzaga comes from behind and gets a piece of the ball. It flutters weakly forward and Ravena tips it clear.

Has Teng ever faced a defense as tenacious as this in his life? Probably not.

Minutes later Teng goes to the line and splits.

Then Jeron injects a dose of adrenaline to the Archers. He goes strong to the hole with 7:30 to go and scores off Nico Salva. It wakes up the Archers and soon they pull to within three, 38-35.

At the halfway point of the third, Teng is fouled hard by Gonzaga and hits the deck. Ravena sprints over to help him to his feet, and Teng smiles in thanks.

Teng is soon back on the line and hits two for two. After a defensive stop, Revilla ignites a fast break off a Nico Elorde miss and lays it in to pull to within one, 40-39. The green half of the MOA Arena starts to wake up.

Slaughter pads the lead to three but on the next play, Teng squares up from beyond the arc and fires with Ryan Buenafe on him. It swishes. He runs back flashing a "three" sign with his right hand. He is into double digits. 42-all. Game on.

With under three to go in the third quarter, De La Salle sues for time and Josh Webb comes into the game for Teng. Jeron seems to be unsure it's him departing and points at himself while facing the bench. The DLSU coaching staff seem to want to save him for the final period.

The exchange for Webb is pregnant with meaning. Once upon a time, Josh Webb was a touted rookie like Teng. His energy and power won over fans in his first season. But the former Zobel standout never emerged as a reliable go-to guy and is now marooned deep in the La Salle depth chart in his last year. A cautionary tale for Teng?

The third quarter closes with Ateneo nursing a three point lead, 53-50.

Ateneo starts the fourth period as the brighter team, and a baby hook by Slaughter makes it 59-53 with under seven minutes to go. All this time Jeron sits unsmiling on the bench. He seems itching to get back into the action.

With six and a half minutes to go, he checks into the match with Arnold Van Opstal.

Ateneo stretches the lead to 62-53 with under five to play. Teng leads a fast break and offloads in the general direction of Van Opstal and Torres. But the ball slips away, and the fast break chance goes begging. He puts his hands on his head in frustration.

With three minutes to play LA Revilla drives to the hoop and hands off a perfect pass to Teng who banks it in off the glass. La Salle is within five, 62-57. It's not yet over. A Manguera triple pulls the Archers to within four, 64-60, but a Salva two-for-two from the line restores the lead to six.

With under two minutes to go Jeron drives into the paint, and once again Gonzaga is there to greet him with a hard foul. Jeron splits. 66-61.

In the ensuing possession it's Gonzaga again who comes up with a huge play. Tiongson serves up an attempt as the shot clock winds down but Gonzaga grabs the rebound. Ateneo can't score, but they have bled a huge chunk off the clock. "That was Teng's man" says ABS-CBN analyst TJ Manotoc of the uncontested offensive board by Gonzaga.

There is just a minute or so for La Salle to turn back a two-possession game.

Revilla misses. Teng heroically saves the loose ball in front of his bench but he can only send it to an Atenean. Tiongson splits from the line and with 44 ticks left Ateneo lead 67-61.

During the time out the Ateneo gallery bursts into a cheer of "Go Ateneo, One Big Fight." The DLSU side is silent.

And then... disaster.

Teng is set to inbound. The ref hands him the ball then starts to count down to five by waving his arm sideways. One wave. Two waves.

Teng can't find an open Archer.

Three waves. Four waves.

All the Archers are still blanketed.

Fifth wave. The ball is still in Teng's hands. He passes but it's too late. The whistle blows. Five second inbound violation. Ateneo ball.

Teng hops up and down in despair. Revilla shows his leadership by consoling him with a few encouraging slaps to his chest, while perhaps telling him that at five seconds, you let that ball go no matter what.

All hope of a La Salle comeback vanish. A foul-a-thon ensues and Ateneo wins by 10. As the players gather for the alma mater song, Teng, Papot Paredes, and Revilla continue deconstructing the five second violation with one another.

Teng has scored thirteen points, second only to Revilla's sixteen for the Archers. It's 2.5 points more than his season average. He goes four for six from the line, picks up two assists, and amasses eight rebounds. It's a terrific line for a first year player's first game against the finest team in the land.

It's also not enough, as La Salle falls again to Ateneo.

Teng may not have won the game, but he won the respect of his opponents.

"We really had to focus on him" said Ravena in the postgame press conference. "He has a strength and speed advantage over a lot of us."

"He's strong for his size" said Gonzaga in the hallway outside the Ateneo locker room. "He has the license to do anything he wants to. But I laid off on him on defense. I let him shoot from outside. He's harder to stop when he's driving."

****

You are Jeron Teng. The great hope of De La Salle basketball. You've been valiant in your first ever clash against Ateneo, but your team has fallen short.

But don't worry. You have at least nine more of these games with which to carve out your legend.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.


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