After many frustrating years of almost making it to the Finals only to be swept away by an unexpected typhoon, the Falcons opted to change things up starting with the head coaching. By not renewing the contract of Coach Leo Austria who led the Falcons to three final four appearances during his stint, the white board and marker was passed down to PBA legend Kenneth Duremdes who admittedly was as green as it gets when it comes to coaching in the collegiate level.
So, the season has long passed and the next season is fast approaching. Did the retired basketball great transition well onto coaching or would he be better off with the ball in his hands?
Recruitment appeal – B+
This would have to be Coach Kenneth’s strongest quality. What rookie out of high school wouldn’t at least consider the chance to play for not one, but two of the PBA’s 40 Greatest players? With Marlou Aquino at his side, the towering coaching staff presents a golden opportunity for budding talents to be mentored by some of the best players the country has ever seen.
Unfortunately, the PBA legend allure isn’t for everyone as there are reports of players jumping ship under his watch. Recruitment has been more or less give and take for the Falcons but he gets the benefit of the doubt because of his name.
X’s and O’s – F
This is definitely not a strong suit of his. Despite describing himself as a “prodigy” of Tim Cone, his ability to map offensive sets were absent in his first time at the helm. A good majority of the offensive sets he ran were variations of Horns, often relying on the double top ball screen for Axel Iñigo to create the offense.
As a result of the lack of experience in running an offensive system, the Falcons had the lowest offensive rating in the league at a measly 74.3. In comparison to their other poor performing seasons, the Falcons had an offensive rating of 87.7 in S76 under the motion offense of Coach Leo Austria.
Their slow pace (76.3 possessions per 48) didn’t help them win any ball games either as their half court sets were often horrendously executed. With only 5.3 fast break attempts a game, the Falcons were an average transition scoring team with 8.1 a game. Jansen Rios and Don Trollano playing Batman and Robin wasn’t a bad source of points, unfortunately it meant having to get stops on defense, which they rarely did.
Surprisingly, it was when Coach Duremdes had to miss a few games, allowing Coach Vince Hizon to take over than the offense took a turn for the better. Offense started moving smoothly, players were more relaxed. The execution was terrible, but it was good enough to raise their offensive rating to 81.7 against FEU.
On the defensive end, the Falcons didn’t have much success either. All they ran was 2-3 zones all game long. They dared good 3-point teams to shoot, they dared bad 3-point teams to shoot and they got burned every time. Marlou Aquino taking “defensive coordinator” duties has contributed partly due to his genetics, with his freakishly tall son patrolling the paint becoming a semblance of a defensive line.
Player Development – D
When I asked some of the outgoing Falcons about the new coaching staff, most of the comments they had were, “Masungit siya. Mataray siya. Galitin siya.”
True enough, he publicly asserts his persona as a “disciplinarian” coach. Based on reports, he is trying to make game time a reward for effort shown in practice, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But with rumors surfacing that players are holding back on game day so they can exert more effort in practice, it becomes problematic.
Falcons main gunner, Don Trollano stagnated under his watch. In a season where his usage percentage and minutes played increased drastically, his performance per minute didn’t see the same rise. He was getting the same points per 30 minutes he was in a season where he was playing third, fourth or fifth fiddle to Jericho Cruz, Rodney Brondial, Roider Cabrera and Ingrid Sewa. 15.7 points per 30 minutes is a .4 increase from last season, yet his minutes per game have nearly doubled. That is a lot of untapped potential that was once again unleashed when Trollano set foot again in the D-League.
As for the rookie cast, only time will tell if he can polish a gem or two out of them. So far, only Ivan Villanueva seems to be a likely candidate for a diamond in the rough, but the way he was shoe-horned into the system last year does not send optimistic signals.
Motivation – F
Ask anyone on the Season 74, 75 and 76 roster and they will describe their coach nearly the same way, “A father figure.” Coach Leo Austria was a pleasure to train under, a pleasure to play under and a pleasure to cover. He was approachable and explained his plans the best he could. His method might not have earned him a UAAP championship but has gotten him international and local championships since leaving the Falcons.
Coach Kenneth is known for scolding his players. There was one sound bite shown on TV wherein he was seen drawing out a play when Axel Iñigo tried to clarify something. Coach Kenneth lashed out at him with an angry, frustrated, “MAG-ANTAY KA!”
The UAAP has seen its share of successful head coaches who chew up their players. Pido Jarencio won on his rookie coaching year, yet his practices were notorious for being loud and full of expletives. However, Jarencio showed time and time again that he would die for his players, a way of showing that he is one with them, not against them.
Unlike the task master of the PBA, Coach Yeng Guiao, Coach Kenneth has yet to earn the stripes and colors to demand so much from his players. He is lightyears away from being able to get away with screaming at the top of his lungs, “TANGA KA EH!” Because he has yet to do his part on the X’s and O’s or in basketball philosophy. Anyone who has had a boss like him would know how disheartening it is to work in such toxic conditions.
And yet for all the poor performances in Season 77, there is still hope, and that’s probably what Coach Duremdes has most. Hope is his only ally because even he admits that he doesn’t have an identity as a coach yet. Hope that he takes a good look at what has happened to see where he has gone wrong and what he needs to do. It’s his first year of coaching, he’s going to mess up lots of things, but he had better learn fast, shades of the Mel Alas era are creeping back again, and Falcons fans, though hard to lose, once lost, will be difficult to win back.