By Frankie Serrano

Team Record: 10-4, lost to UP in the Final Four

Key Losses: Sean Manganti, Papi Sarr, Jerie Pingoy

The Soaring Falcons probably had their strongest lineup last year since the last team of Coach Leo Austria reached the Final Four.

It was complete. A swiss army knife in Sean Manganti, a really big plug in the middle with Papi Sarr, and a somewhat overweight Jerie Pingoy that still managed to kill opposing bench guards. However, with Sarr foregoing his last playing year, and Manganti graduating from basketball duties, the Falcons are losing a huge chunk of their output last year.

Losing Manganti alone is a handful since he put up 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals a game and we’re not even talking about his defensive assignments which usually involve guys named Thirdy Ravena, Juan Gomez-De Liano, CJ Cansino, and the like. He may be leaving a gaping hole on the team’s perimeter defense but this gives Jerom Lastimosa another opportunity to shine.

Then there’s Sarr who has been the Falcons main source of points inside the paint and rebounds. Sarr, who was obviously out of shape last season, still managed to be a beast on the offensive boards, finishing only behind Ange Kouame and Bright Akuetie in the rankings with 5.1 offensive recoveries a game. With Sarr gone, the top returning rebounder for Adamson will be Simon Camacho, who pulled down 6.5 boards a game.

Key Additions: Aaron Fermin, Lenda Douanga, Joem Sabandal

As mentioned, the Falcons will have to scrap for the 11.4 rebounds that Sarr provides, which is his biggest contribution to the team, with his 10.6 points just an added bonus what with Ahanmisi, Manganti, and even rookie Jerom Lastimosa showing out on the offensive end.

Enter new foreign student-athlete Lenda Douanga and stud freshman Aaron Fermin.

While the two bigs may be fresh in the college game and may need seasoning, it is undeniable that both have the talent to bolster Adamson’s frontcourt for the team to break the current longest streak of Finals absence.

What Franz Pumaren wants out of Douanga, with Ahanmisi and Lastimosa still in tow, is to just rebound, be the safety of the Pumaren Press, and run the floor whenever possible on loose balls. In the games that he has played in the offseason, Douanga has shown that with patience and proper handling, he can contribute big time despite his rawness on the other side of the ball. You can’t teach height, athleticism, and defensive timing and that’s what he has at this disposal.

Fermin is a different beast all together. I have personally waited so long for him to go up to the college ranks and finally lay the smackdown with his 6-foot-5 frame. Dude’s a walking double-double and will be a constant frontcourt problem this side of Ateneo, and to a certain extent, La Salle. Aside from that, the guy’s motor is stupendous. You don’t average 16.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game in your senior year by sitting on your balls.

I’m definitely liking this new Adamson frontcourt, and we haven’t even mentioned how they’ll be under the wings of another motor guy, Simon Camacho.

Lastly, there’s Sabandal. A high school recruit afterthought, he blossomed into a star in his senior year and looks to be a viable two-way wing that Franz Pumaren can use beside Lastimosa for an all-motor press.

Key Returnees: Jerom Lastimosa, Simon Camacho, Jerrick Ahanmisi

Adamson is thankful they are still bringing back a very workable core which boasts of, and in order of importance: Jerom Lastimosa, Simon Camacho, and Jerrick Ahanmisi.

Lastimosa was a revelation last season. While not being deemed by the UAAP as a true rookie, Lastimosa was slept on by everyone else and he put up 7.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals on their asses. However, what stood out from Lastimosa is his motor, and we haven’t emphasized it enough that Adamson has a lot of these motor guys returning and being added on the squad.

Camacho for his part was an unheralded and undersized big that killed opposing bench forwards whenever he saw floor time. You may not be astounded by his paltry 5.9 points a game contribution. Nor be wowed by his 6.5 rebounds. But the thing is, Camacho FOUGHT for all of those statistical contributions. He did not back down. He, along with Lastimosa, gave the Falcons the attitude and spunk against the bigger squads. When they were down against UP in their final game, he still played like Toguro on 500% power, bumping switches, blitzing ball handlers, and even fronting Bright Akhuetie on entry pass defense.

Meanwhile, Ahanmisi is already a known commodity in the college ranks. A former gunslinger who added a one-dribble pull-up to his arsenal as well as proper usage of screens to wiggle free of his defenders. So it won’t be a surprise that he’ll get his numbers again this year although the Falcons may want to put the ball more in Lastimosa’s hands and have Ahanmisi play decoy and attack open spots created by his lead guard’s drives.

Key Stat: 70.6 points allowed per game

Adamson was one of the stingiest teams in the UAAP after Ateneo, with opponents being allowed to score only 70.6 points for the entirety of the tournament.

As the saying goes, defense wins championships and this will be the main focus of the Falcons if they want to break their Finals drought, and try to deliver a championship to San Marcelino.

Key Question: Can Ahanmisi stop being Ahanmissing?

As with former UAAP MVP and NU Bulldog superstar Bobby Ray Parks, the question for supposed Adamson lead man Jerrick Ahanmisi is…

When will you stop going Ahanmissing during big games?

For the Falcons to really move forward, the senior guard has to start hitting shots when the game goes to, in Pinoy parlance, pitpitan ng bayag. He just… disappears. I never felt him contribute significantly against UP. I don’t know. The defense? That can be solved through proper executions. But not asking for the ball? At all? Dude. Come on now.

With Lastimosa set to take over, Ahanmisi should stop feeling the pressures for endgame situations and just friggin can a clutch shot.

X-Factor: Jerom Lastimosa

Lastimosa was already good last year. But can he be better?

For Adamson to succeed, he has to be the Mike Cortez of this group with Simon Camacho posing as the Willy Wilson with enforcer duties on his shoulders. As it is, Lastimosa has a free hand in whatever he wants to do on offense. Dude’s motor combined with his skills can already make him one of the dangerous guards to deal with this season.

It’s time to be a superstar Jerom. Time to show the people what you can do.

Prediction: 11-3, Finals-bound

This will be a rather bold one coming from me. But the way Adamson is built, with solid core veterans added with star potential rookies in Douanga, Fermin, and Sabandal? This team can break the Finals curse.

Heck, just even the Final Four curse.

With Franz Pumaren’s vaunted press anchored on Lastimosa, Camacho, and possibly Sabandal, they’ll be killing a lot of teams with little to no ball handler help like UST and UP, and will make them look like Paul Tan-Chi who can’t cross the damn halfcourt line.

Time to get that First Runner-up Trophy, Adamson.