Alumni, fans, and students of De La Salle University (DLSU) may have breathed a sigh of relief. The leave of absence asked by the Rivero brothers, Prince and Ricci, is just that: a leave of absence. They are still with the Green Archers.
Yet all eyes are still on them.
The University had earlier announced that Ricci and Prince Rivero, as well as teammate Brent Paraiso, had requested for a leave of absence. The reason given was that the players had to honor contractual obligations with existing endorsements.
With Coach Aldin Ayo leaving the team to transfer to the University of Santo Tomas, and Ben Mbala opting to play in a Mexican league, suspicions became rife that the Rivero brothers were splitting with DLSU as well. Ricci Rivero has cleared the air, stating he is still attending classes.
The first time I saw Ricci Rivero play in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 80, I was not impressed. All I saw was a boy in a headband able to make a three-point shot, which was not uncommon. They already had someone in the DLSU team, who did nothing except make long, outside shots.
Then came one crucial game wherein the Archers were trailing. As they closed in on the opponent, this boy Ricci suddenly stole the ball, ran down the court, and slammed it home. His older brother Prince was then shown ecstatically cheering from the bench.
There was something about the steal, the speed of running down the court, the dunk, and then the crowd cheering that reminded us of what collegiate basketball was all about. It’s exciting basketball brought by the youthful energy of players who would give their all for their alma mater. It’s so unlike pro basketball, where we often see jaded millionaires slowing down to avoid injuries. In that brief moment, you understood why DLSU’s battle cry was “Animo, La Salle.”
According to Ricci Rivero, he signed deals with products that included, but were not limited to Titan, Aquafina, and Gatorade. When did people realize that the younger Rivero could endorse products? It was probably around the time he stood at the 15-foot line during a televised game and missed the freethrow shot: you could see why many girls his age had a crush on him and why young boys envied the attention, not unlike the character Ralph Macchio played in the ’80s movie Karate Kid. Ricci looks like that guy who gets beat up and then gets the girl in the end.
Looking at him, it is almost as if you want to see him broken and despondent, which is what happened in Game 2 of the past UAAP Finals against rival school Ateneo. He was reduced to tears after getting his fourth foul in the second quarter, but then came back with eight points in the third quarter to spark the comeback that enabled DLSU to extend the series.
Probably, there is no greater touching scene in the UAAP Season 80 finals than that moment when Prince Rivero goes over to Ricci (still in tears) and puts both hands at the side of his younger brother’s head. Prince was seen consoling Ricci, probably saying he was great. And who better to give encouragement than an older brother?
Brothers who were able to establish reputations in Philippine basketball are not exactly scarce. Not so long ago there were Franz and Dindo Pumaren for DLSU, and Chot and Jun Reyes, and Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena for Ateneo. Olsen and Nash Racela came from different schools, as did Jeron and Jeric Teng.
It would be recalled, however, that none of those pairs were like the Rivero brothers and the Nieto twins (Matt and Mike), each pair having played together in a best-of-three finals that continued the rivalry between their schools.
There is no doubt about it that the DLSU men’s basketball team will be different when the UAAP Season 81 comes upon us. The Rivero brothers and the rest of the team came up short to win the throne in Season 80, but what they were able to accomplish was win the hearts of fans nationwide, also reminding us what collegiate basketball is all about.