It’s quite apt that the UAAP is rolling with the theme “It all begins here” for the new season. The 81st season of the league feels like a fresh start, not just for several teams competing, but for the league itself.
UAAP Season 81 is all about new beginnings.
Franz Pumaren is scary.
There, I said it. He scares the shit out of me. And I’m not even one of his players. I haven’t even been in the same room as him. He doesn’t know I exist. I sure hope he doesn’t get to read this.
When I think of Pumaren, the image that comes to mind is his game face—not smiling; big fiery eyes that can burn through paper; eyebrows curving like an upside-down V. The Resting Pumaren Face has four default settings: serious, intense, angry, scary.
Then there’s the postgame conference after being eliminated in the Final Four of Season 80, where Pumaren, repping Adamson, ripped the officiating. He could only shake his head and spew sarcasm at the freethrow discrepancy (his team shot five while the opposing team shot 39). He was at times angry (eyes burning; eyebrows shooting up), then flustered, then laughing, then angry again, then vindictive. He made a vow: we should be tougher next time.
Since Pumaren made a UAAP comeback two years ago, his objective has been clear and repeated many times for emphasis: inject a winning culture in Adamson.
In his first attempt, Adamson was able to sneak into the Final Four, uninvited, just happy to be in the winning circle for the first time in five years. His second try was more convincing as Adamson joined the Final Four as the third seed—still ahead of schedule and lightly cooked, still in the process of buffering.
Both times, Adamson—still adjusting to the new blood transfusion—fell to Pumaren’s former team La Salle, a school familiar with the winning culture, thanks largely to Pumaren himself.
I recall the golden era of Pumaren’s coaching career, that long four-year span when his Green Archers hounded opposing teams with an unrelenting, merciless full-court press. Pumaren likewise hounded his own players by pushing them in practice to (reportedly) the point of vomit. He benched star players in an attempt to light a fire under them and scolded gunners to boost their confidence.
Pumaren was—and probably still is—ruthless. His ruthlessness got results (four straight titles from ’98-’01 and another title in ’07). The results earned him respect. Or was it ruthlessness, respect, then results? Either way, I’m scared of Pumaren, which is to say I respect him, his ruthlessness, and the results.
His ongoing fight on the Adamson side is a new era in his coaching career and Season 81 is Year One. Seasons 79 and 80 were nothing but flirting, Season 81 is the year Adamson is locked in to go all the way.
There will be no more excuses left, no more “we just want to be competitive.” The lessons, heartaches, and goddamn irony of being ousted by Pumaren’s former team for two straight seasons should be enough motivation to power Adamson into the Finals.
Still, it won’t be easy. Adamson lost a lot of key names (Rob Manalang, Dawn Ochea, Ty Hill, Kurt Lojera) and its roster is a mixed bag of rookies and veterans and a lot to prove. I’m curious to see how a steady, finally settled in Jerie Pingoy takes control. I want to see if Jerrick Ahanmisi can out-Ritualo a league of shooters. I’ve got my eyes on Sean Manganti, who moves like a star and talks like a star.
But mostly I’ll be thinking about Pumaren and his coaching career trajectory.
Coaching in the UAAP is a tough job. There’s pressure from the alumni, from rabid titos and titas, from parents who want more playing time for their child. There’s pressure to look fresh like Manong Derrick.
If you’re Coach Franz, there’s pressure to bring the trophy back to San Marcelino, a place it hasn’t been to since 1977. There’s pressure to bring back his own golden era, a time when he can turn any team into a winning team with his mantra of discipline and hard work. There’s pressure to topple La Salle, an institution he helped build; a constant roadblock in Adamson’s roadtrip to the UAAP Finals.
I always wonder why, after a long break, Pumaren keeps coming back to his humble roots in the UAAP despite already having his foot in the PBA and in politics. I’m scared that he has plans that I don’t know about. I feel like, as he enters this new era of his coaching career, the UAAP should be scared of him too.
UAAP Season 81 Previews: