DLSU Green Archers
Four years ago, I decided to go home to the Philippines to study. I remember wishing to hear about someone’s experience because I wanted to reassure myself that I would be just fine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet anyone who did that. Despite no recommendation and 100% family and friends’ disapproval, I still decided to pursue college in Manila.
I consider that decision to be one of the best one I made in my life. Not only did I save half of what I would have spent had I attended a four-year university right after high school, but I also gained life-changing experiences. Above all, I fell even more in love with the Philippines.
So when I was in the Philippines this past summer, I came up with an idea for an episode of Power ng Pinoy. I wanted to feature Filipino-Americans who pursued university studies in the Philippines.
I heard about De La Salle University Manila’s basketball players Jason Perkins and Matt Salem through common friends. Jason and Matt were born in the United States and have Filipino mothers. Jason, a sophomore, graduated from Shakopee High School in Minnesota, while Matt, a freshman, graduated from Lake Howell High School in Florida. Both are in their rookie season.
After explaining to them the purpose of the interview, both Jason and Matt were willing to share their story. Back then, they were simply Jason Perkins and Matt Salem. Little did I know that two months later they would have the title of UAAP Season 76 Men’s Senior Basketball Champions to their names.
Three days after the championship, I called Jason and Matt. They were gracious enough to let me wake them up after back-to-back nights of celebrating for another interview.
Way back in August of this year, right after the 1st round of UAAP was when I first met them. “Back then, I didn’t think we were going anywhere near the championship after the first round when we ended up 3-4,” says Matt, “but after we clicked in the second round, we had a really good chance.” Matt said it was after the fourth game in the second round against Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) that he knew it was going to be different this time around. By then, DLSU already beat Adamson University (ADU), Far Eastern Univesrity (FEU), and University of the Philippines (UP). Matt said, “From the first round we learned a lot that helped us improve the second round. We took what we learned and used it for the second round.”
Not only did Coach Juno Sauler let him play more often in the second round, but Matt also became the team’s prayer leader. Sports journalist Quinito Henson, posted a picture on his instagram of an athlete’s prayer with the caption, “The athlete’s prayer that La Salle’s Matt Salem reads before every game without fail-Archers have now won 5 in a row!”
Matt recalled how he ended up as the prayer leader. “The brothers noticed that I always prayed before the game. I always said this little prayer. And usually we took turns as a team, by numbers, who would lead the prayer. But after we pray in the huddle, I always prayed another prayer.” I ask him what he thought about being recognized as the team’s prayer leader. He replied, “That’s fine, nothing wrong with that.”
DLSU Green Archers swept the second round and had a nine-game winning streak entering the finals. Unfortunately for Matt, he became sick right before game one. He missed out on the first finals game of his UAAP career. “I wanted to leave the hospital just to support but they wouldn’t let me,” he said, “it sucked watching on TV especially for the finals. But on the other hand I knew if I watched it on TV somehow that was showing my support to the team; how far we all came together.”
He checked out of the hospital in time for game two, but was still not allowed to play. He said, “At least I was able to be there live. It showed the team that, ‘You know I’m sick but I’m still gonna be here with you guys. We’re doing this as one whole team – together, as brothers.’ We’re family, we are brothers.”
Matt was ready to suit up by game three. In fact, he was the only freshman who had a chance to step in the court for the final showdown. “My coach says, take each game, take each practice, take everything one step at a time. And play your part, play your role in the team,” said Matt. “It wasn’t much about proving. It was just showing him that I could go in and do my part like he said. And that was the best I could give him.”
Game three, he said, was special, yet it was also “just-another-game” for him. He explained, “It was somewhat different, somewhat the same. If you think about it yea it’s gonna be different because it’s the finals so you want to be super focused, trying to get really into it. But then on the other hand, if you look at it, it’s just another game so just go out and do your thing – do what you know to do best. And it will show how you did at the end.”
Jason, on the other hand, started the second round scoring the most points in their first game against ADU. He quickly became one of the team’s leading scorers. Nicknamed “Hefty Lefty,” he is a member of the UAAP Season 76 Mythical Five, an honor most players would only dream of receiving in their rookie season. “After 30 minutes, I got over it. I just wanted to win the championship,” explained Jason. For him, team recognition was more important than receiving an award that only acknowledged him as a player.
Jason exemplified genuine sportsmanship during a number of games. In game three, after colliding with UST’s Karim Abdul, Jason helped him get up. Jason also offered to help UST’s Kevin Ferrer in the 4th quarter. “It’s all part of the game,” he says, “It’s nothing personal. I don’t mean to offend or hurt anyone that’s why if I knock someone down, I’ll help them up.”
I asked Jason how he felt after making the first three-pointer in game three. “I was really happy. Tsamba!” says the player who has a 53.8 three-point field goal percentage – a record-high in UAAP history.
Coach Juno Sauler made Jason play every quarter in game three. With three minutes left in the 4th quarter and the game score 61-61, Jason fell down because of cramps. He says, “I didn’t want that to hold me back. I didn’t want to loose the championship just ‘cause I was getting a cramp. I was just really focused. I wasn’t thinking about my cramp, or if I was tired.” After a quick break, he came back to score two more points which tied the game 63-63.
The DLSU Green Archers won game three against University of Santo Tomas (UST) 71-69 in over time. Six years later, the Archers are once again basketball champions.
“I didn’t notice the confetti at all, really. I just closed my eyes for a second; I just sprinted down the court, and started hugging my teammates. I noticed the confetti when I screamed, and then a whole bunch of confetti got stuck in my mouth. It was nice seeing it all fall in my mouth. It felt surreal,” described Jason.
“Honestly, I didn’t notice the confetti either,” says Matt, “I was just standing there. I didn’t know what to do. There was so much going through my head; I couldn’t think straight. Then I noticed I had stuff all over my face. That’s when I looked up and saw all the confetti. ”
When I told Matt I saw him on TV do the sign of the cross a couple of times, he laughed and said, “I probably did 6 or 7. It’s so hard to believe we won a championship. It’s my first year. It’s crazy! The whole team; we’re all thankful and we feel blessed that we made it that far. I was in the moment. I had to keep on going.”
Jason admitted though that he felt relieved after winning. “It’s really nice. It feels like a big weight is off my back. I’m not gonna say I felt pressured to win a championship, but it meant a lot to me. I really needed it.”
It was an extra special game for Jason because his mother Jennifer Perkins, whom he has not seen for months, flew in from Minnesota just to watch all three finals games. She arrived the day before game one and left the day after game three. “It was nice seeing my mom. I missed my mom. It’s always good to make her happy. She’s the reason why I came out here,” explained Jason.
For Matt, though, it was bittersweet because he wanted his family to experience the finals with him. He said, “It was difficult because they weren’t here so I wasn’t able to share the moment with them. But I know my family was watching back home in the States supporting us, so it wasn’t bad. I was still sad though that I couldn’t be with them at that moment.” Matt wanted to say, “Mom, Dad, Christian, my brother, I love you. Thanks for watching all the games back home.”
How different are things now than they were two months ago for both athletes? Matt said, “You can hear people when we walk through the mall or go out ‘There’s Jason Perkins.’ They’ll say our names and say congratulations like that. We just say thank you.” “It’s pretty crazy,” Jason said, “like when I go out to eat or when I’m at the mall, people ask for pictures.” So I asked Jason if he could still go to his favorite place – Mall of Asia (MOA). He jokingly said, “No one can stop me from going to MOA. I love my MOA and my Matt Salem.” Matt added, “We’re the same old kids.”
Despite their “celebrity status” especially among the Lasallian community, Matt says, “We don’t go out bragging. We can celebrate and have fun, but as a team we have to stay humble. This is just one championship. Why not stay humble and make it two.” As for their post-season plans, Jason said, “I’m gonna go to the gym, hangout with friends. Before, during basketball, I didn’t really have that much free time. It’s cool cause now I get a little segment in the year where I get to be normal.”
For Matt, he said, “We’re gonna take a little break for now. But like everyone says in the Philippines, basketball never stops. After a couple of days, we’re gonna get back at it and get ready for next year.”
Jason and Matt would like to thank the Filipino-American community who continues to support them. Jason said, “Thank you for supporting. All the messages and comments, it really means a lot. It’s been fun.” Matt said, “Thank you for all your support. Please support us next year, next season. A lot of thanks and God Bless.”
At the end of the interview, I had a chance to catch up with both basketball players. When I first met them, Jason has lived in the Philippines for a year and learned to speak Tagalog. Matt, on the other hand, moved a couple of months ago and was still homesick. Jason told me how excited he was to visit Bacolod and experience Masskara, his first Filipino Festival, while Matt tried to convince me that he “somewhat” knows more Tagalog now. Throughout the phone call, I noticed it was a different Matt with whom I was speaking. So at the end I asked him if he loved the Philippines more than he did then. He exclaimed, “Siempre!”
As much as I am ecstatic to hear they won the championship, I am even more enthralled to know how much they love the Philippines now.
(Alyssa is a Power ng Pinoy segment host and writer. You can visit Alyssa’s personal blog globalyssation.blogspot.com for updates.)