WORDS by Miguel Caramoan
After four seasons, the Adamson Soaring Falcons are back in the Final Four. Thanks to Jerom Lastimosa’s heroics, they gutted out an 80-76 win over the DLSU Green Archers to claim the fourth and final spot on Sunday.
I’m sure, us UAAP fans haven’t fully recovered from that game. It was a showcase between the two premier point guards of the league, with Lastimosa having the last laugh (shouts to Evan Nelle!).
But Adamson’s road in achieving such a feat wasn’t just about their star player, it took a team effort to make it into fruition. That’s what we’re about to delve in.
The Soaring Falcons had to win three of their last four games, including a big dub over the NU Bulldogs, which put them in a position to control their Final Four destiny and forge a playoff. In this stretch, we saw the improbable return of Lastimosa that boosted Adamson’s chances and a comeback of a forgotten (sort of) piece in AP Manlapaz.
If you’ve been following amateur basketball intently the past few years, Manlapaz wouldn’t be a foreign personality. For the ones who only know him now, my advice is to go type his name in YouTube, and you might just see how freaky athletic he was back in high school. Ask Kai Sotto.
Coming into the collegiate ranks, pedigree wasn’t a question really for Manlapaz. Even in his rookie year back in Season 82, the upside he flashed of him being 6’4” and having good guard skills isn’t something usual.
Unfortunately, the excitement to watch Manlapaz develop and ball out in the UAAP was halted by multiple injuries, which sidelined him the whole Season 84. What sucks more is when he was ready to suit up again in Season 85, a minute in, he sustained another injury.
So seeing him back healthy is not only a win for Adamson fans, but for all UAAP fans. The long wait for Manlapaz didn’t disappoint, as he instantly became an instant spark for his squad.
Before we extensively dig into Manlapaz’s game, let’s provide some numbers first. Crossing out his debut this Season 85, where he only played one minute, Manlapaz had averages of 9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists on an efficient 64.6 TS%. Sample size might be a bit small, so it’s fitting we go check the film for a better perspective.
His return against the UE Red Warriors wasn’t that pretty if you just check the box scores. Manlapaz didn’t even have a single field goal to show for, but there was a wrinkle that he quickly flashed in his first few possessions. Take a look.
Those two sequences showed the true value of Manlapaz: a secondary ball-handler to aid Lastimosa to make plays for Adamson. The rim pressure he poses to the opposition is enough to draw multiple people on the ball, which enables him to spray passes to wide open teammates, either for a kick out to the outside or a dump-off to the dunker spot.
Playing time isn’t still that much for Manlapaz, in fact in their contest versus the NU Bulldogs, he got court time for less than seven minutes. Yet, he made sure to impact the game offensively.
Contrary to the first clip, where UE sent doubles early to Manlapaz, this time he was able to fend off the single coverage and was able to find the seams in the defense of NU (with some help of Lenda Douanga). If you’ve reached this part, I just want you to peep at the ease to his game on blowing by his point of attack defender or how he finishes in the paint effortlessly. Just so smooth and satisfying to watch.
It’s tough to pit or justify numbers just yet, but the early returns have been good for Manlapaz. According to InStat, he has garnered 1.5 PPP on catch-and-shoot opportunities and 1.25 PPP on catch-and-drives. These statistics were worth mentioning because Manlapaz indeed exemplified them in their game against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Though it resulted in a loss, that particular showing might have just signaled what the other UAAP schools could expect from Manlapaz. He tallied 22 points, 5 rebounds on a stellar 9/13 shooting, including a 57% clip from rainbow country.
Visible in Manlapaz’s performance in this game was his confidence. No wasted movements, no hesitations. Again, the small sample size states that he is a 46.2% shooter from 3 this season (only 13 attempts so far), so it’s interesting to evaluate how much of this shotmaking is real for Manlapaz.
Aforementioned earlier was how much of a high leaper Manlapaz was back in high school. Recovering from his injury setbacks could probably have taken a toll in his initial games, but it was a different story in this game. This might be a warning and glimpse of what Manlapaz can do when he’s on flight.
We are not doing Manlapaz film for their playoff match-up against DLSU, because we are reserving it for the legend Jerom Lastimosa. What we are not neglecting is the production of Manlapaz, scoring 11 points on 67% field goal percentage that was a vital contribution to secure the win.
Now the hope is that Manlapaz stays away from the injury bug, because it’s been a treat to watch an exciting player like him. I know that Adamson gladly welcomes his presence, as they try to make Cinderella run to a UAAP crown.
For the Adamson Soaring Falcons, all eyes will remain on Jerom Lastimosa. But going up against Ateneo, head coach Nash Racela will surely demand production from his whole team to be able to clear the twice-to-win disadvantage.
[Photo by Vyn Radovan]