September brings at least two things. First is Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas in Our Hearts,” which has likely already begun playing on loop everywhere, urging all to start their holiday shopping early, while testing the limits of public sanity. Toss aside your “Closer” and your “One Dance.” The Chainsmokers and Drake got nothing on The Notorious J.M.C. The second (and more important) thing September brings, is the UAAP. More sports! More basketball!

The Filipino world of hoops isn’t quite the same without UAAP action. If the year is a vast desert, the UAAP season is its oasis, the rare and minuscule body of water that refreshes and restores vitality. Everything before, after, and around it, is dry sand littered with cacti.

Finding Love in a Hopeless Place

It’s perfect that a UP-Adamson game kicked off a season that parades the theme “Dare to Dream.” You couldn’t have scripted it better: the Soaring Falcons accrued a 4-10 win-loss record in season 76 (S76), while the Fighting Maroons coped with a 0-14 heartbreaker. Both kept a 1-13 record in S77, and a 3-11 record in S78. You know it’s bad when people come to UP-Adamson games live so they can boost the morale of whichever side they’re rooting for, just to escape the embarrassment of being crowned as the worst of the worst. At this point, both teams are playing to gain a modicum of respect from their peers, and win back their disillusioned fans.

The obvious risk in pitting less-than-stellar performers against each other on opening day, is that it falls flat. The Soaring Falcons were dead last in Team Rating Differential (-11.0) in S78, while the Fighting Maroons were a notch above (-8.0). UP led the league in bricks (37.6 eFG%), and Adamson came in second (39.1%). Bearing in mind that an upgraded Falcons squad and coaching staff were entering S79, and that the Maroons were coming in with its nth head coach in x years (Bo Perasol), was it reasonable to expect a meh game? Yes. Was a good game completely out of the question? No. Would it have been batshit crazy to predict a 104-point output from one of these teams? Together now: YES!

But guess what. It happened! It was a good game! Adamson scored 104 points in 40 minutes of play! They’re going to win the title!

Season Opening Day Winner (First Game) eFG%
74 Far Eastern University (vs DLSU) 43.4
75 National University (vs UE) 45.7
76 Far Eastern University (vs UE) 51.4
77 University of the East (vs UP) 54.6
78 University of the Philippines (vs UE) 38.6
79 Adamson University (vs UP) 77.68

One would think that the combination of first day jitters, and emotional distress brought about by basketball patintero, would result in a clangfest that would have forced league officials to cancel the season, and compelled viewers to set their TVs on fire. But no. Adamson displayed some of its best basketball in recent memory, even if it was against a fellow low-tier team. For now, let’s put off the discussion of whether or not this cast of Falcons is legit. Instead, let’s just relish the moment.

As displayed on the table, a gulf separates S79 Adamson and S77 UE (which also played  UP). The S79 AdU stat jives with the eye test, too. The Soaring Falcons got whatever they wanted on the offensive end. They made 23 of 36 jumpers, and 13 of 19 layups and tip-ins. It’s not like the Fighting Maroons didn’t try on defense too. The shots just kept falling for Pumaren’s wards, despite the raised arms of their opponents. The birds’ shooting was enough to offset their 27 turnovers, a reassurance that you can’t have it all.

The Adamson faithful were in dire need of new heroes, and they may have found them in their rookies, particularly guards Jerrick Ahanmisi and Robbie Manalang. The former made an early case for ROY by scoring 28 points in 30 minutes. That’s 91% on total field goals (6-of-7 on 3-point FGs, and 4-of-4 on 2-point FGs). Manalang registered a near double-double, with 9 assists and 16 points (36% FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) in 29.50 minutes.

Manalang and Ahanmisi’s big time numbers aside, the Falcons dominated largely because of the ensemble. Sophomore center Papi Sarr, contributed by notching a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds), and pulling low-key intimidation tactics (more on this in a bit). Dawn Ochea chipped in 13 points, 2 assists and a steal. Sean Manganti produced 8 points in 10 minutes.

Before we proceed, take a good look at this:

Sean Manganti dunks the ball straight into the Upside Down.

Let’s unpack what’s going on here: from the right wing, Terence Mustre passes the leather to Sean Manganti, who drives baseline, then slams it home. As Manganti runs to the basket, Noah Webb sags off Papi Sarr to try and block the jam. Webb ends up missing everything. Notice that Sarr follows Noah after the play. Any guess on what the Cameroonian whispered? “Nice air block,” probably. Last, examine the visceral celebration between Mustre and Manganti. Now, imagine celebrating this way after successfully catching a Lapras on Pokémon GO. I rest my case.

All of this action plays to the tune of 104 points, a 19-point whipping of UP. According to Imperium, the last time a team in the UAAP broke a hundred was all the way back in 2009, seven years ago, courtesy of the UST Growling Tigers.

The Number 7

To a lot of people, the number seven is just plain lucky. That’s a group that might include the Adamson community. Perhaps it can symbolize a reversal of fortune long overdue—a tenuous promise of adrenaline from tip-off to the final buzzer, the optimism in nascent saviors, and the assurance that maybe the rueful laughter in the face of perennial loss, is a thing of the past.
It’s also possible that the number serves as nothing more than a gimmick—a nifty piece of trivia adding a layer of sheen to what could soon turn out to be a mirage. But now is not the time to fret over imagined outcomes. Now is the time to bask in the glow, and latch onto it for as long as possible.

Random Notes

• Franz Pumaren looks great in blue.

• San Miguel Beermen guard Alex Cabagnot serves as an assistant coach for UP.

• Court side reporter Stef Monce has a knack for switching between Filipino and English so seamlessly, it’s almost as if she’s speaking one language (this is a compliment).

• “Comebacking”