The Falcons are thirsty for talent, and with recent developments with personnel changes, it seems they will stay parched for even longer.
Matthew Aquino made the news recently as he announced his departure from his alma mater Adamson University, a school which he spent a single season in and was also the platform on which PBA legend Marlou Aquino built his basketball career. With the recent transfer of Axel Iñigo and the firing of head coach Kenneth Duremdes, the Falcons will be heading into Season 78 (or 75) with clipped wings. But given how raw all these sudden lost personnel were last season, it can be difficult to see just how big or small their loss is to the Falcons.
Axel Iñigo (Offense)
In his rookie year under the Falcons, he quickly caught the fans attention by upstaging veteran Ryan Monteclaro for the starting point guard position. Since then, fans were hoping for a new Cañada-Alvarez duo to kick off the Falcons’ back court, or at least half of them. Sadly, like the rest of his teammates, his performance was lack luster.
His performance went down, something that was not at all expected given the lack of any go-to players in the team last season. Without Jericho Cruz, Rodney Brondial and Roider Cabrera as the main offensive weapons, the time was ripe for Iñigo to take control of the team and assert himself as THE MAN on offense. But he didn’t. His offensive rating took a dip from last season, going from 83.7 last year to 76.3 this year.
Despite the dip, the Falcons will still miss him for his scoring. After Don Trollano and Jansen Rios, Iñigo was the highest scorer for the Falcons at a measly 4.4 points per game. He was also the top three of the Falcons’ ball distributors with a 21.9 assist percentage.
His stats might not seem like much now, but for a Falcons team that is void of a solid offensive system, his supposed offensive smarts is a big loss for this team. It might be pure speculation, but perhaps a bit more experience just might have made him the new star point guard the Falcons so desperately need, but then again people can speculate about his progress going the other direction as well.
Axel Iñigo leaving the Falcons for the FEU Tamaraws deals a blow not only to their options on offense but to their consistency as well. As of now, only Dawn Ochea is the last remaining holdover since Coach Leo Austria was at the helm, everyone else will either be a rookie or a sophomore when the season starts, a giant hurdle for any team to have even a decent season.
Kenneth Duremdes (Consistency)
I wasn’t really a big fan of Kenneth Duremdes taking over as the head coach. When I first heard of his firing from the team, a sigh of relief came over me as I thought that it meant he was moving over for someone else to take a crack at it. Unfortunately for the Falcons (again), this wasn’t the case. Not only did they not let him go in good terms, they let him go without a replacement in mind. So far, the former assistant coach, Michael Fermin, someone I have personally seen map out some of the offensive sets last season, has vowed to stick with the team until they pick a replacement, which gives them a sense of stability for the time being.
The fear in these series of events, however, is that it might turn into a coaching carousel. Kenneth Duremdes became head coach after management felt that Coach Leo Austria’s seven years of frustration was enough and decided to pull the plug. This time, as my colleagues pointed out to me, Adamson barely gave him a chance to do anything, a fair observation. If finishing the UAAP season at 1-13 could be brushed away as growing pains, for some reason, going 2-6 in the Fil Oil Tournament was the final straw which meant axing the rookie head coach.
While I still maintain that his rookie season was not a good showing in any aspect, his contribution laid in the fact that he was still a rookie, he had potential. Maybe the past season taught him things that he tried to apply in the pre-season, something most college coaches do with their teams. The continuation of his three-year plan might yield results in Season 78, results that shall forever become he-said/she-said now that they’ve axed him.
The worst part is that this might become precedent for the head coaching position. Let’s face it, Adamson is not an attractive team to coach for. The talented coaches who can turn a team around in a single season are rare. Even rarer is the team which can turn a season around despite the lack of a consistent coach. If management continues to fire coaches for poor showings, the Falcons might never get back on their feet. Take a look at the teams which have had multiple coaching changes in recent years and see how they’ve floundered about, not only in the UAAP but in the professional league as well. UP’s coaching speculation was not healthy for team development, something their community recognized and opted to put an end to as soon as they could. The same plague hit the PBA’s Ginebra as seasonal coaching changes meant players were forced to adapt to a different system each time, something college players will be less capable of doing.
The biggest loss from losing Kenneth Duremdes is the consistency his continued hiring would have brought. If and when a management decides to pull the plug, it should have been after the feeling is unanimous that, “this isn’t working anymore.” Whoever ultimately comes in to replace him has to be at the top of his game (and a little bit out of his mind) as he’ll be under constant scrutiny from the management.
Matthew Aquino (Height)
The last time the UAAP saw a 7-footer play in the league, he towered over everybody, dominated the paint and won three straight championships. Adamson had something similar last season but a few inches shorter in Matthew Aquino. The spawn of PBA Great and former Falcon Marlou Aquino, Matthew was set to reach great heights… or at least he could literally reach heights that most of us can’t.
A lot was expected of the 6’7” rookie last season, being his father’s son, the Falcons looked for him to be tall. And he was… sort of. His numbers weren’t much. They barely ran plays for him, which explains his 8.7 usage percentage. Even when he did get the ball, he was better off handing it back to Trollano or Rios as his 35.8% true shooting indicated that he wasn’t ready to finish plays yet. And unlike his big-man predecessor Rodney Brondial, Aquino wasn’t much of a rebounder. He was second to the last among his team in total rebounding percentage at 5.1%.
By the looks of things, he was a dud. Tall player who barely gets rebounds, unless he plays like Dirk Nowitzki and shoots from the outside, there’s little use for him on the team. And then Fil Oil happens. In their game against JRU, Matthew unloads from beyond the arc, all while crashing the boards like the monster he should be. He hits five of 8 from beyond the arc en route to a 20-point game and grabs 15 rebounds, a performance Adamsonians dream of him having. While his performance eventually tails off, his stats improved compared to his UAAP numbers, this time averaging 7 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.
From this flash-in-the-pan people are reminded of his potential on the court, just what he might bring to the Falcons next seasons. A 20-point,10-rebound big man is just what the team needs if they’re going to be taking flight anytime soon. Unfortunately, letting go of Duremdes also meant letting go of Matthew Aquino. It’s a shame because although Aquino’s numbers for Season 78 were purely speculative, you can’t teach height (especially in the Philippines).
UAAP Season 78 is fast approaching, and the Falcons need to get their act together fast. If they can’t find the magic wand that fixes their predicament, then there’s only one recourse left. Stick a band-aid on it and repeat after me, “Fail faster.”