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COVER STORY: Jerom Lastimosa is for the people

Jerom Lastimosa has done a lot for the Adamson Falcons. Then he did more. And he’s about to do more.

WORDS by Migs Flores

Not a lot of people dream of becoming an Adamson Falcon.

Kids are told about the “top four” schools – Ateneo, La Salle, UP, and UST. Taking the UPCAT is still a benchmark experience for most high school students. In the UAAP, Ateneo or La Salle have won the championship 15 of the last 22 seasons (16 if you count the one La Salle forfeited to FEU in Season 67).

This is all to say that most kids grow up wanting to go to those schools. If you’re a Pinoy hooper, Ateneo and La Salle or maybe even UST or FEU were the vision. Schools like Adamson don’t really come into the picture until you need options.

This was the case for recent Adamson alums turned PBA pros like Jerrick Ahanmisi and Sean Manganti, who came to the Philippines to try out for other big programs, but wound up at Adamson. Rodney Brondial was plucked from a pickup game and into Leo Austria’s Adamson squad. Nobody knew about Don Trollano or Jansen Rios until they became Falcons. Simon Camacho was recruited after he tore up Adamson intramurals.

Ask enough questions and dig deep enough into their background and you quickly learn that Adamson was not Plan A for most students or players that came through there. That’s the case for Jerom Lastimosa, a kid from Dumaguete that through a unique set of circumstances, made it out of obscurity and became the star at Adamson.

For someone like Jerom who’s done so much for Adamson from two Final Four runs to countless heroic performances, why would he still choose to stay with a bag filled with Korean won or Japanese Yen waiting for him? He’s already shown so much loyalty for sticking it out and playing his best hoops for Adamson, why pass up a pro opportunity?

I was prepared to see Jerom leave and for the Falcons to go through a rebuilding phase in Season 86.

From the perspective of an Adamson fan that’s seen every high and low of the program since Season 73, this last season was probably the most special. There were some great moments in recent Adamson history like the Season 74 team beating then three-peat defending champs Ateneo and earning a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four or the Season 81 squad that had so many fun players that took us to another twice-to-beat advantage. But those seasons ended in monumental heartbreaks. Terrence Romeo, RR Garcia, and Ping Exciminiano led FEU to two convincing wins in the Season 74 Final Four over the Falcons. Jerrick Ahanmisi, Sean Manganti, and Papi Sarr ran into the Atin ‘To UP Fighting Maroons in the Season 81 Final Four, producing two of the best games in league history – games that I and other Adamsonians would probably rather forget.

The Season 85 Falcons weren’t as hyped or successful, they did manage to capture everyone’s attention. There was a grit to this Adamson team, thanks to Jerom Lastimosa. While they lacked flash, especially on offense, all the other Falcons played way above expectations. There was also a clear understanding among the team that this was Jerom’s team. They were only going as far as Jerom could take them.

At first, the Falcons didn’t look like they were going to Final Four after a rocky 2-4 start. It all seemed to turn around for the Falcons in the final game of the first round when they outlasted La Salle in an overtime thriller in Antipolo.

Jerom hung 29 points on the Archers that night, his best performance of the season.

The following game was the most devastating for Jerom and the Falcons. Going up against UP, Lastimosa landed on JD Cagulangan’s extended foot, which would result in a foot injury that needed at least a month to heal. In that game, veteran big man Vince Magbuhos also injured his knee in a non-contact incident. That’s three Ls in one game that Adamson had to persevere through.

What followed was the true turning point for Adamson’s season. Without their star, the rest of the Falcons were forced to find ways to win and they did. With Lastimosa in a walking boot, the Falcons came back from down double-digits in their next game to beat UST with a Cedrick Manzano game-winner.

The biggest break for Adamson was the near two-week FIBA break that came after their game against UST. When the UAAP resumed in November, Lastimosa was already being penciled in for a return, if Adamson stays in Final Four contention.

The Falcons absorbed a loss to La Salle coming from the break, but, with Lastimosa back in tow, they rattled off three consecutive wins to UE, FEU, and NU. The win against the Bulldogs was made sweeter with Lastimosa’s huge game-winner.

They wound up losing to Ateneo in their final elimination round match, setting up their playoff against La Salle for the last spot in the Final Four. This was epic poetry.

On one side, we had the underdog Adamson with their plucky point guard loved unanimously by his team, opponents, and opposing fans. On the other, we had La Salle, one of the season favorites as they insisted. They were wrought by injuries at this point, but they also just exiled probably the best player to don their colors since Ben Mbala. Looking back, it was wild how Schonny Winston exited.

The game itself didn’t disappoint and was probably the game that would make it to the Hardwood Classics collections from Season 85. La Salle came out firing, but Adamson turned it around in the second half thanks to a couple of flurries from Lastimosa. In the end, Adamson had just enough to outlast La Salle and enter the Final Four.

That was my favorite moment ever as an Adamson fan. In my mind, the season ended there. Sure, the Falcons still had a game in the Final Four. But, they needed two miracles to get past the eventual champions Ateneo. Seeing the Falcons overcome injury and teams more talented than them was the happiest I’ve been as an Adamson fan. Watching Lastimosa get showered by MVP chants after they lost to Ateneo, I felt like I was in a sports movie. This was probably how Billy Bean felt when Scott Hatteberg hit that home run.

When I was a student, we were required by our PE teachers to watch UAAP basketball games live. Not all of them, just one or two a season. That’s why a majority of the Adamson fans you see at the arena come in their PE uniforms. The average Adamson alumnus doesn’t have the expandable income, time, or emotional bandwidth to go to games every weekend and fill the patron section like alumni from other schools. We need a reason to invest our resources into a team.

We have that in Jerom Lastimosa. The type of magic he conjures hasn’t been seen since other flashy point guards like Terrence Romeo or Roi Sumang. Unlike Romeo or Sumang, there’s something unassuming about how Lastimosa breaks ankles.

He’s fully aware of his abilities and the massive responsibility of initiating the team’s offense, but he doesn’t flaunt it. The best thing about Season 85 was how his teammates rallied around him, making it their goal to survive one more game for Lastimosa to have more time to shine.

It’s easy to embrace stars like that. At Adamson, guys like Lastimosa just aren’t recruited every year, who are special right out of the box. So we shower him with MVP chants, we urge him to come back for another year. And maybe that’s why he’s using up his final year of eligibility. You can’t find love like this anywhere else in the world.


[Photos by Vyn Radovan, Ino Muñoz]