Topex Robinson gets winning ending this time with La Salle

La Salle Green Archers' champion coach Topex Robinson.

La Salle Green Archers’ champion coach Topex Robinson. –MARLO CUETO/

MANILA, Philippines — Topex Robinson’s heartbreak days in collegiate basketball are over.

Robinson proved to be the missing piece for the De La Salle Green Archers, who finally brought home their 10th UAAP championship and ended a seven-year title drought.

History wasn’t on Robinson’s side coming from heartbreaks in his last two finals appearances in the NCAA with the Lyceum Pirates. He steered them to an 18-game elimination round for an outright Finals berth in Season 93 last 2017  only to be swept by San Beda in the championship series.

In the following year, Lyceum, led by CJ Perez, was also dominated by the same team the Red Lions claimed the Season 94 crown.

After five years, the former PBA player-turned-coach took his act to the UAAP and immediately made impact, steering the Green Archers to a perfect second round to enter the Final Four as the second seed with an 11-3 record and eliminate National Universit to return to the Finals with a nine-game winning streak.

While it may seem like things will finally change for him, Robinson’s Finals losing streak continued when University of the Philippines routed his team by 30 points to open the series.

But that didn’t stop him from motivating his Green Archers to lick their wounds and pull off a series comeback.

Finally a college champion

La Salle's Topex Robinson celebrated by his players after UAAP title.

La Salle’s Topex Robinson celebrated by his players after UAAP title. –UAAP PHOTO

On Wednesday, Robinson finally exorcised the ghosts of his past, winning his first championship after La Salle took down UP, 73-69 in a winner-take-all Game 3 to rule the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament in front of a historic 25,192 crowd at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Making his first championship sweeter, the 48-year-old coach joined an elite list with the tacticians who have led the Green Archers in their first year. Robinson became the fourth to achieve this feat after Franz Pumaren won in 1998 — the first of their historic ‘four-peat’–Juno Sauler in 2013, and Aldin Ayo in 2016.

“I guess putting your name on that list is an honor for me. This is my first championship as a college head coach after so many tries. You just don’t want to give up. When you doubt yourself and you don’t have the courage to move forward,” Robinson said.

Robinson admitted he doubted himself after his past heartbreaks but seeing the dedication and hard work of the Green Archers inspired him to never give up.

“You know that there’s somebody behind you. These guys are really giving me the courage to move on even if I’m questioning myself. That first game loss was really challenging for me,” the La Salle coach said.

“It kind of asked me if I’m really here and if coaching is still for me. But every time I see these guys, it gives me the courage to move forward because I draw my strength from them. Every time I see them they challenge me they check on me if I’m okay and that’s really priceless for me as opposed to just not be their coach but also to be their friend. That’s huge for me.”

‘Players’ coach’

The Green Archers, for their part, didn’t want Robinson to experience the same heartbreak again. That’s why Kevin Quiambao and his teammates left everything on the floor to complete a series comeback and deliver their coach’s first championship.

“He is the players’ coach. Coach Topex has everything and knowing the heartbreaks that he went through when he was with Lyceum, losing back-to-back Finals. I took it seriously. I told myself that it cannot happen to him again, knowing we got each other’s back,” said Season and Finals MVP Quiambao in Filipino.

Evan Nelle, who was a member of San Beda’s 2018 champion team which beat Robinson’s Lyceum, expressed his gratitude to the veteran coach for making Season 86 the ’best year of playing’ after ending his UAAP career with La Salle as a champion.

“It was so much fun playing under him. It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbow because we bickered a lot, we don’t see eye-to-eye a lot of times but it’s just our competitive nature,” said Nelle. “It was always fun, he’s competitive, I’m competitive, when we come to the court he’ll get mad at me, I will get mad at him but at the end of the day, we have each other’s back. My hats off coach and you’re welcome, champ!”

Robinson said he couldn’t finally get over the hump without his players and his coaching staff, which was just formed early this year.

He also credited the UP Fighting Maroons for pushing them to their limits with a hell of a series, which finally gave him a fairytale ending with his players carrying him while the La Salle fans were chanting his name during their on-court celebration.

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“I can’t explain the feeling right now. Everything is still not really wrapped in my head. But, I just want to make sure that, I’m not letting any day pass by without us being focused on what’s in front of us and credit to UP, they really, really pushed us to the hilt and really challenged us down to our core. And it just brought out and unleashed the fighter in these guys,” the first-time UAAP champion coach said. “I cannot put the words you know the feeling right now but I’m just so grateful and honored and privileged to be part of DLSU.”

Robinson can now call himself a champion but he is just getting started after a successful first UAAP season with the Green Archers.