Paranada and Espeleta make the most of ‘no superstar’ Adamson squad

“There’s no superstar syndrome in my team,” said Adamson Soaring Falcons head coach Franz Pumaren. “You earn your minutes around me.”

Pumaren’s Soaring Falcons just finished the first round of eliminations of UAAP Season 79 right in the thick of playoff contention with a 4-3 standing tied with the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles and the National University Bulldogs in a logjam for the final two spots of the Final Four. A big reason for it is Adamson’s next-man-up philosophy.

“I normally give everybody a chance to play so that’s why I’ve been telling them, ‘If the door is open, might as well come in and close the door.’ It’s a fact of life, if you don’t play well the next guy behind you will take the spot.” Pumaren said.

From Dawn Ochea’s game-winner against Ateneo to Kristian Bernardo holding his own against against National U’s Alfred Aroga, it seems the Soaring Falcons are taking the new-found battle cry to heart. It cannot be more evident than with Nikko Paranada and Jonathan Espeleta.

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Paranada just had his breakout game of the young UAAP season as he tallied 14 points, three assists and four steals in 20 minutes of playing time, reminding Pumaren why he recruited the 18-year old out of San Diego.

“That’s why I recruited him from San Diego, he has all the potential. He has all the makings of a very good player. In fact my description is just like JV Casio e,” said Pumaren, referring to one of the greatest players he’s ever coached in collegiate basketball who went on to be picked #1 overall in the 2011 PBA Draft.

“He’s very unpredictable. You think he’s slow but he’s quick (and has) high basketball IQ.”

Paranada, on his part, strives hard to fit the comparison.

“The first time I met Coach Franz, that was the first thing he told me. He told me to look up who JV Casio is because he reminds me of him so I looked him up and ever since then I just looked up to him as an idol and try to play like him similar to him,” Paranada said. “Coach put me in the game and I just wanted to make sure I wanted to take advantage of plays on them. On the offensive end I try to help my team get a bucket and on the defensive end I try to get a stop every possession.”

Paranada has only played in four out of the total seven games Adamson had this season and Pumaren hopes more from the 5-foot-10 point guard.

“If you look at our four games, all the games he played we won,” said Pumaren. “It’s a good springboard for him to perform this coming 2nd round.”

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Espeleta, on the other hand, has been a constant presence for Adamson– and to think he almost didn’t make the team this year.

“Espeleta, he’s been playing well. I don’t think everybody knows that he was the last guy that made the lineup. I only decided to put him in the lineup five days before the opening,” Pumaren said of Espeleta who was supposed to be on the team last year but was one the last players to get cut.

“I was upset that I didn’t make it last year but I didn’t let that stop me from trying to push myself to make the line up this year,” said Espeleta. “It feels great to be playing. Going from playing on team B a couple of days before the start (of the season) to making the lineup and then getting playing time is a bit overwhelming.”

Espeleta has been the perfect example for the next-guy-up mantra for the Soaring Falcons. From beginning the season off the bench to now a regular starter for the team, Espeleta has overtaken highly-touted teammate JD Tungcab in the rotation.

“Right now he’s proving himself that he deserves to be in the lineup. He’s even the one starting.” said Pumaren. “There’s no superstar syndrome in my team.”

“All the hard work and practices are paying off. Coach Franz always says just play to what you are capable of and you’ll be fine.” the 6-foot-2 wing said.

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Now heading into the second round, Pumaren hopes his team matures fast with the race for the Final Four getting tighter and tighter.

“I’ve been stressing, you just hope that each game should be a learning experience for them. I wish they could mature quickly in this coming second round,” said Pumaren of his young players. “Each game’s gonna be important for us.”

“I’m just working hard and try to adjust to how it is right here.” said Paranada.

It’s the same just-keep-grinding work ethic Esepeleta will keep on doing, “I’ll just keep doing the little things and follow what the coaches want out of me.”

“I’m looking forward to the team improving and getting better everyday as we move in to the second round.” Espeleta said.

For Nikko Paranada and Jonathan Espeleta, they will just keep on following Adamson’s ‘no superstar’ system until one day, they hopefully become superstars of their own.