The Adamson Soaring Falcons came into the season with heightened expectations. They were coming off a promising offseason that saw them bag third place during the FilOil Preseason tournament while also finishing with a silver medal during the Smart City HOOPS Manila tournament.
While they did lose veterans Papi Sarr and Sean Manganti, replacing them were promising young pieces in Lenda Douanga, Joem Sabandal, AP Manlapaz, and Aaron Fermin. Couple that with a core of Jerrick Ahanmisi, Jerom Lastimosa, and Simon Camacho, and there was every reason to believe in these Falcons.
Majority of the coaches had Adamson as the next best team this season after Ateneo and UP. Even fans thought highly of them. Yet fast forward to the end of the season and the Soaring Falcons find themselves missing the Final Four completely. What went wrong for Adamson?
A lot of the blame has been directed towards Jerrick Ahanmisi and it’s easy to see where the frustration comes from. Ever since Season 79, Ahanmisi has been tagged as the league’s best shooter. He’s slowly made improvements to his game as it culminated last year with a Mythical Five finish. It was a well-deserved distinction. From being just a shooter, he made the leap to scoring off pick and rolls and polishing his floater game. His shooting will always be a weapon, but his use of other moves made him an even deadlier weapon than before.
That hadn’t been the case this season. While he’s made the second most threes, averaging 13.6 points this season so far, his percentages have dropped dramatically. He currently has shooting splits of 33-29-77 which in layman’s terms can be translated to: yikes. It hasn’t been a pretty season for Ahanmisi and it hasn’t helped that he’s been mostly hesitant with his decision making all season long.
It isn’t just Ahanmisi’s fault though. As a matter of fact, he’s a victim of why Adamson struggled so much this season. It’s boiled down to two factors; the loss of their veterans and one big injury which derailed their plans this entire season.
A number of people didn’t think losing Papi Sarr and Sean Manganti would be THIS big of a hit given their talented rookies coming in. That’s the problem though; the two players they lost were veterans while the ones coming in were rookies. They were unproven commodities who were expected to fill roles left by players who had already made a mark in Adamson lore. There was always going to be a risk to giving young players that much responsibility.
More than just the youth of the team, the unfair expectations from Jerom Lastimosa and Simon Camacho also took a toll on how the team operated.
The understanding wasn’t for Lastimos to suddenly transform into Stephen Curry. What was expected from him was to continue building on his promising Final Four run so he could begin to establish himself as the best point guard of the UAAP this year.. To be fair, these were reasonable expectations. Lastimosa is a very talented player who has all the tools to be the league’s premier quarterback. But the problem was with what kind of point guard he was expected to be. This is where Adamson started to run into problems.
The issue was, Lastimosa was projected by many to suddenly be a monster, ball-dominant creator who could create for himself and whip passes for the scorer in Ahanmisi. But he isn’t that and it’s safe to say he will never be that kind of player. He’s a pure point guard through and through who is best at setting up an offense while playing hard-nosed defense. It’s why he did so well last season. He orchestrated an offense that had three great scorers and it allowed him to flourish in other aspects of the game.
Simon Camacho faced the same problem this year. He was given the heavy responsibility of filling the void left by Manganti as the team’s primary forward.
It isn’t that Camacho can’t fill this void. The issue was with what KIND of peg Camacho was expected to be to fill this hole. The expectation was for him to be a scorer like Manganti. But that isn’t Camacho’s game. He’s at his best as a hard-nosed, high-motor guy who flies for rebounds and put backs. It isn’t a coincidence he played at his best versus the NU Bulldogs in the second round when he started to showcase his relentless energy and drive by being a hustle player.
With Lastimosa and Camacho struggling to fill these pegs, Ahanmisi’s performance dropped as well. It’s not like Ahanmisi didn’t try. But the thing is, Adamson has always operated with multiple players easing each other’s burden. That’s what Sarr and Manganti brought to the team. Their gravity gave Ahanmisi that extra space to pull-up off the pick and roll or to shoot floaters when the lane would open.
Val Chauca was one of the few bright spots of this Adamson season. The problem was, while being quite the scorer, defenses found ways to adjust against his game as the season wore on. He’s quite small physically and that allowed opposing teams to put bigger, longer players on him to disrupt his flow.
There was one player, however, who could have filled that creator role if not for a hand injury versus Ateneo in the first round. While AP Manlapaz has received the most hype this season owing to multiple breakout performances, Joem Sabandal was supposed to be one of the most valuable players for the Soaring Falcons this season.
Supposed to be.
Everyone got teased to a preview last Saturday when Sabandal broke out for 18 points versus the UST Growling Tigers. The beauty with how Sabandal produced then was it didn’t look like he was consciously trying to have a career game. It’s like the flow of the game came naturally to him, like he was trained himself to be this damn good in this type of atmosphere.
While Lastimosa is a more old school point guard, Sabandal is built as a combo guard who’s capable of creating off the pick and roll. That’s the kind of player Adamson and Ahanmisi would have loved to have this season. The problem was, injuries robbed the Falcons of that possibility.
Tomorrow the Falcons will end one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory. But everything isn’t lost for the program. They’re only losing a handful of players to graduation while their young core has an entire offseason to further polish their game. Jerrick Ahanmisi will also be back for one last ride.
Maybe by next season, Ahanmisi is able to add more to his already potent game. Maybe Fermin and Douanga show better skill sets on the offensive end. Maybe Manlapaz plays more consistently. Maybe Sabandal finally has an entire season to showcase his skill set.
For now, Adamson will operate with maybes. By Season 83, the hope for Adamson is, they bounce back and no longer think of what could have been and instead focus on what can be.