Rob Manalang was one of the first ones to go out. Next came Papi Sarr and then Jerrick Ahanmisi. As the Adamson Soaring Falcons walked off the court for the last time in UAAP Season 79, despite cheers and applause showering above them from the Adamson gallery applauding their effort, some had towels over them while some had their heads down.
“It was a successful season for our supporters and people that go to Adamson. But as a team we’re not satisfied,” Manalang said.
Adamson just almost beat the clear-cut No.1 team in college in La Salle. With a core composed mostly of first year players, they led for several portions of the game, including with several minutes to go in the fourth quarter, against a veteran-laden Green Archers team. Near the end of the game, they trailed by three. At one point, they out-rebounded their taller opponents three straight times and managed to force a turnover which led to five open shots. Amazingly, all of those sequences came with less than two minutes left in the game, prompting La Salle head coach Aldin Ayo to claim his team won only out of prayer.
“Siguro natalo lang namin sila sa dasal. Siguro we really prayed hard. Kung nakikita mo, ilan yung namintis nila? How many chances nung closing? Diba? Malaki kami pero ‘di kami nakapag-box out,” Ayo said. “Ayaw lang talaga ma-shoot nung puntos nila.”
(“I guess we only beat them through prayer. I guess we really prayed hard. If you look at it, how many shots did they miss? How many chances in the closing? Right? We’re big but we didn’t box out .. Their shots just didn’t go in.”)
The Falcons’ main gunner Ahanmisi, who had his head bowed down as they exited the court, expressed disappointment on the missed chances, “They were wide open shots. We just weren’t able to knock them down.”
As the Adamson Soaring Falcons walked off the floor for the last time in UAAP Season 79, they were down. However, make no mistake, they were indeed down, but in no way were they broken. They are far from it.
Because it’s just the beginning. And the future is bright.
“I’m so proud of this. I’ll tell you honestly, frankly, I’m excited for next year. Season 80, Season 81, I’m excited,” said Franz Pumaren. “I don’t sugarcoat anything– I’m here to give Adamson a championship before my contract expires.
“I mentioned after the game that I’m so proud of them. Whatever we accomplished this year, whatever disappointment that we experienced, we’ll use that as a springboard for next year. Season 80 for us starts tomorrow.”
All the talk about the future stems from the confident Soaring Falcons head coach himself, and who better than the five-time UAAP champion that pumped in life through an almost dead Adamson program? Pumaren has rubbed off on his players too, earning their trust and instilling a unique brand of confidence.
“I think Coach Franz is a special coach,” said the towering Cameroonian Sarr, who’s leading the team in scoring and rebounding. “It’s just his first year but you see what he’s done for Adamson. So I’m so happy and I’ve learned a lot from him– I’m still learning.”
It’s the same statements the floor general Manalang echoed under Pumaren, “Its been great, I learned so much form him. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d learn so much from that guy and he’s thought me to be a leader out there and to be assertive on the floor.
“Because I’m usually a guy who leads by example but he wants to make sure that everybody’s in the right positions so I think learning under Coach Franz has been great for me,” bared Manalang of the influence of Pumaren on his playmaking which led him to lead the league in assists this season. “I cherish it. I have one more season under him so I’m excited.”
More importantly, with Pumaren, Adamson bucked its losing culture where they were settled on simply just competing. Now, they have the confidence of believing in their respective capabilities to win.
“Personally, he’s a special coach. He’s one of the best or he’s the best in this UAAP because he showed everybody what we were capable to do,” said Sarr, having played in the Falcons’ losing culture.
Manalang, who didn’t play but was watching on the sidelines serving his residency said their is a big difference, “The past teams, they had talent too but when it comes to big games they’ll fold at the end of the game. So we learned that we can compete with anyone as long as we work hard and practice and execute and we listen to what Coach Franz and everybody says.”
“The culture right now has dramatically changed, especially with this experience of playing in the playoffs and in the knockout game,” Pumaren said with a satisfied smile.
To continue that winning culture though, the Falcons have to win. And to address that, Adamson would have bigger chances of winning now with some big new recruits from their Team B. A Team B that Pumaren and his players say are beating them sometimes in practice.
“You’re happy with Team A, I’m happy with what we achieved, but when they played Team B, talo sila sa (they lost against) Team B. That’s the simple analogy. I’m so excited for next year,” Pumaren shared.
“In practice it was tough playing them because they’re actually a good team,” said Ahanmisi. “I think it’s gonna be pretty big. We got good players in Team B coming up and hopefully they’ll be a good asset every single game”
Among the new recruits set to debut are Fil-Ams Tyrus Hill and Kurt Lojera along with former back-to-back UAAP Juniors MVP Jerie Pingoy who transferred from Ateneo.
“I’m excited to play with everybody,” said Sarr. “We’re all together here so I’m excited to play with Kurt, with all of those guys. It’s gonna be the choice of the coach who he’s gonna get with the Team A so I’m excited to play with everyone– Team A or Team B– we’re gonna play for Adamson. I’m excited to play with everyone.”
For Manalang, along with excitement, he thinks Pingoy, who’s likely to compete for his starting point guard role next year, would help him to improve his game, “We have battles in practice and he’s a great player. He’s a veteran so I’m sure he’ll help me to become a better player.”
“With a mix like that I think we’re gonna be even more stronger next season,” Ahanmisi said.
Along with their new additions, they will also bank on their newfound experience for next year. And, with them getting to taste the experience of the Final Four, the overachieving Falcons have gotten a big appetite for winning.
“Next season we’re gonna be even more hungrier than this season,” said Ahanmisi. “Because we’re just in our first year, everybody played in their first year this time and not everyone knows the feeling of the playoffs. Knowing that we were so close to get to the Finals we’re gonna be even more hungry next year.”
“This year was just supposed to be a gestation period for us. Getting to know, warming up, but we overachieved,” said Pumaren. “Even if we didn’t make it all the way, I can say it’s a magical run for us. Who would ever imagine or expect us to be in this kind of situation?”
“Next year we’re gonna go for the Finals and I know that the coaching staff will have a lot of adjustments. We have some new players also so we’re gonna practice hard,” bared Sarr on what their goal for next season is.
Realistically, Adamson going to the Finals and beyond next year is manageable as numerous stars like Alfred Aroga, Raymar Jose and Jeron Teng are set to exhaust their playing years. That leaves Adamson who will not lose anyone to graduation for next year– an in tact lineup for the team that almost got the twice-to-beat advantage.
“It’s gonna be a huge, a hungry Adamson,“ said Sarr. “We’re gonna bounce back we’re gonna be a different Adamson next year for sure.”
“So like we said in the locker room we’re already preparing for Season 80,” said Manalang. “We’ve been with Coach Franz almost a year now and something that he always preaches is not to be satisfied and to always learn, get better.”
Adamson will undeniably get better, barring any unexpected events. And hopefully enough that when they exit the floor on Season 80, Rob Manalang, Papi Sarr and Jerrick Ahanmisi, with cheers and applause showering above them from the Adamson gallery, would lift their heads up– along with a shiny bright new trophy.