Clear the runways, the Soaring Falcons are ready for takeoff!
After a year of rebuilding and character searching, the Soaring Falcons are entering Season 79 with a renewed sense of identity and invigorated pride. A massively revamped roster, brimming with new recruits, has the best chance to recapture the glory days of Season 74. And a lot of it has to do with their best acquisition yet – Coach Franz Pumaren.
Yes, that’s right, the former De La Salle University head coach, the former Air21 head coach, and the current GlobalPort Batang Pier “consultant” is now bringing his winning ways to Adamson, and boy, has it ever rubbed off on them.
At the core, we have returnees from the growing pains phase of the Falcons. Dawn Ochea, once again taking the role of team captain, will be leading his brothers in basketball arms JD Tungcab and Papi Sarr, who will be the focal points of this brand-spanking new Falcons team.
JD Tungcab, a standout Baby Falcon, struggled to make a mark last year, facing difficulty adjusting to the tempo and style of play in the seniors division. Posting a less than stellar 83.2 Offensive Rating in Season 78, expect this number to rise this campaign, as the Pumaren system will favor his style of play, running and scoring in transition, with opportunities to destroy defenders with his crossovers.
If there was one bright spot from last season, it was the fact that Adamson had a gem in center Papi Sarr. Cranking out an 84.3 ORTG while serving as the team’s rebounding machine (21% Total Rebound percentage), success will come with maturity, both for the team and Sarr individually. If Sarr can refine his already commendable post game, while the team learns to make the most of Sarr’s presence on the court, Adamson fans will likely be in for one heck of a treat this season.
While the holdovers give Adamson a solid core, this season is really about the newcomers, most notably, one of the winningest head coaches in collegiate basketball, Franz Pumaren, who is now at the helm of the Falcons.
New Head Coach
The Falcons have not had a high-caliber head coach in the post-Leo Austria era, at least, not until Pumaren, who brings with him his patented full-court press, which he made famous as head coach of the DLSU Green Archers. While that scheme solves one of the many problems the Falcons had last year, his biggest contribution might be more intangible, but will have a longer lasting effect.
At the height of the Soaring Falcons’ success in Season 74, one of their constant problems came from the constant need to fight inner demons. While Coach Leo Austria was a brilliant on court coach and a magnificent inspiration off it, he couldn’t instill a sense of pride, confidence, and swagger that opposing teams often had over them.
Despite being one of the top-rated teams that year, Adamson played like they themselves didn’t think they belonged in the upper echelon. Even teams like UP, which at the time could not even hold a candle to the basketball prowess of the Falcons, played with more confidence, gusto, and pride. This eventually became the downfall of the Falcons in the playoffs, where an unfazed FEU Tamaraws bullied their way past the Falcons’ twice-to-beat advantage and into the Finals.
Not this time. From day one, Pumaren has set out to change the culture of his players and share with them the pride that comes with winning six (technically five) UAAP championships. Personally, I have an affinity to calmer coaching styles like that of Leo Austria, but Pumaren instills a level of discipline and respect that his players have immediately bought into. Unlike previous Soaring Falcons head coach Kenneth Duremdes, who was seen constantly lashing out at his players and going on tirades against them, Pumaren’s sternness has a point. He knows exactly what he needs and how to get it out of them. All they need to do is buy in or get out.
But what’s a team with a new head coach if it doesn’t have a few new players? That’s where the likes of Jerrick Ahanmisi, Terrence Mustre, and Robbie Manalang come into play.
Jerrick, the younger brother of Rain or Shine’s Maverick Ahanmisi, has already shown flashes of his scoring prowess, dropping 20-point games during preseason tournaments. If he’s anything like his brother, he’ll be living off the turnovers he and his teammates will be causing, converting them into easy transition points and carving up the defense. What remains to be seen is whether he can perform the same way on the big stage, under the bright lights of the actual UAAP court, and after that, how consistent he can be.
Terrence on the other hand might evoke comparisons to another Terrence who once graced the UAAP. The high-octane playmaker Adamson snagged away from La Salle will cause nightmares for his defenders. Highlights from his days in Harris Academy, London show the intensity he can bring to his team, especially on the break. He should also be raring to go, after leaving Taft in search of playing time, which he’ll definitely get with the Falcons.
Another name on the team’s list of fast and furious backcourt players is Robbie Manalang. Given the pace that Pumaren’s teams play at, it’s vital that he has multiple guards that can play up-tempo, and Manalang certainly qualifies. It’s likely that he’ll emerge as the team’s go-to point guard, given his ability to control the frenzy that will be Falcons basketball in Season 79.
On paper, there are plenty of reasons to dream big and think that the Soaring Falcons will become instant contenders this season. However, there are still plenty of unknown variables that could come into play, enough that fans should remember to temper expectations, even just through the first part of the season.
For example, we don’t know if Coach Pumaren still has his golden touch when it comes to college hoops. We don’t know if the team’s veterans can take charge. We don’t know which, if any, of the new recruits will shine under pressure. All of these questions, plus the fact that Pumaren’s former team, the DLSU Green Archers, looks like a wrecking ball, should dilute those ultra-optimistic predictions of a Finals berth.
But a few preseason showings, a lot of practice session viewings, and close encounters with the players themselves have given me a gut feeling that somehow the dice will fall the right way. That somehow the Falcons will be getting the better end of most of those variables and the Falcons will find themselves on the better end of their spectrum of potential this year.
More than any other season in the recent past, Soaring Falcons fans have reason to be optimistic. The team may not rise to the heights of Season 74 right away, but a foundation is in place to make it possible. At the very least, this team should shoot for a Final Four berth with the Finals lingering close by.
Predicted result: Finals
Predicted elimination record: 10 – 4