Without an ‘import’ this season, Justine Baltazar gladly fills in role for De La Salle

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Fielding in an “All-Filipino” lineup in UAAP Season 82, the De La Salle Green Archers were perceived to be at a handicap against the seven other competing universities.

While other schools have African student-athletes in their respective rosters, the Archers’ 16-man lineup consists of either pure Filipino or Fil-foreign players – an interesting mix of holdovers, transferees, rookies and a trio of “one-and-dones” from the United States.

Last Saturday versus the Lenda Douanga-reinforced Adamson Soaring Falcons, the Taft-based squad somewhat levelled the playing field with an impressive showing by veteran center Justine Baltazar.

The 6-foot-8 slotman registered game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead DLSU to a 68-61 victory over Adamson in Saturday’s main attraction at the Ynares Center in Antipolo. With the help of Brandon Bates and Jamie Malonzo, Baltazar was also effective in limiting the production of the Congolese behemoth during the match, as Douanga tallied just seven markers on a paltry 1-of-6 (17%) field goal clip.

Douanga, who grabbed the same number of rebounds as Baltazar, also struggled from the free throw line, hitting just five of his 14 attempts (36%).

Coach Gian Nazario lauded the herculean effort of Baltazar who, in his eyes, has been playing like a foreign big man through five games in the tournament.

“Yung dilemma namin, again, we don’t have an import. Ito (Justine Baltazar) yung import namin,” said Nazario, who served as an assistant coach for the De La Salle-Zobel Junior Archers prior to his stint in the Seniors division.

Tasked to defend opposing imports who are taller and heftier, Baltazar’s conditioning will play a critical role for the Archers’ UAAP campaign this year – something the DLSU coaching staff is wary of.

“That’s something we have to work on every day. Give him enough rest, make him feel comfortable whether he plays 36 minutes or not, at least, kahit papaano, sasabihin namin kay Balti ‘pahinga ka’. Let us know when you’re tired” Nazario quipped.

On half court sets, Nazario has Baltazar as the focal point for a handful of plays, may it be from the shaded lane or from the perimeter. This year, the Season 81 Mythical Team member has flaunted an extended shooting range, confidently firing jumpers from way out.

“We trust him that he’s gonna make the right plays whether we give him the ball in the post, whoever who’s guarding him, whether they’re double-teaming him or not. We trust that he’s gonna make the right decision,” said Nazario, who shares coaching chores with active consultant Jermaine Byrd.

“He works really hard during practices. He takes his shots. The shots that you see him taking during the game, he works on that. Parati niyang ginagawa yan during practices,” he added.

This afternoon at the Mall of Asia Arena, Baltazar will be up for another gargantuan task as the Archers take on the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, bannered by Season 81 Most Valuable Player Bright Akhuetie.

Tip-off is at 4 PM, with the Maroons staking their 4-1 win-loss slate against the Archers, who hold a 2-3 card.

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