Preview: After reality check, Ateneo battles tough FEU
Posted Aug 3rd 2014
By Paolo Mariano Posted Jul 7th 2014
Expectations skyrocketed for the University of the East (UE) heading into Season 76 after capturing the Filoil Flying V title in out-of-nowhere fashion.
Pre-season triumph, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to UAAP glory. Tagged as one of the favorites to win the crown, the Red Warriors didn’t even make it to the Final Four, their campaign mired by a heap of off-court distractions and player suspensions.
This season, expectations are more tempered along Recto. A Final Four finish, nonetheless, isn’t far-fetched. With spitfire guard Roi Sumang and the imposing, double-double tallying Charles Mammie at the forefront, the Red Warriors should be one of the more competitive squads.
New head coach Derrick Pumaren, who replaced the surprisingly canned Boysie Zamar, is no stranger to molding a fighting crew, being one of the veteran tacticians in the country.
“Rookies make up half of the team, experience will be a problem. But a mixture of discipline and positive attitude, that’s what I’ve been instilling,” said Pumaren, who steered De La Salle University to back-to-back diadems in 1989 and 1990.
The newcomers will need to step up quick though. A slew of key players are no longer around for UE, namely Ralf Olivares, Adi Santos, JM Noble, Jay-R Sumido, and Lord Casajeros.
The Red Warriors finished second in the league in scoring and rebounding last season with 74.4 PPG and 47.4 RPG, respectively. Their offense, however, will hit a snag this year with the exit of Olivares, Casajeros, and Noble. They need to improve on their defense as well, allowing 75.8 PPG—tied for league-worst—in Season 76, if they want to return to the Final Four.
“Of course they’ll have the same (bad) habits from last season. We’ve only been together for two months. That’s why I’ve been focusing on teaching and showing them drills,” said Pumaren. “But they have a positive outlook. Hopefully, we’ll have a better showing.”
Luckily for Pumaren, he has arguably the league’s most lethal in-and-out combo at his disposal in Sumang and Mammie. The former finished second in the UAAP in points and assists last year with 19.3 PPG and 4.5 APG, respectively, while the latter led the field in rebounds with an eye-popping 19.0 RPG on top of 15.0 PPG.
Both will be expected to deliver huge numbers for a rag-tag gang. Sumang is a dynamic one-on-one player and deadly in the clutch, while Mammie is a menace in the paint on both ends. But what’s critical for them is to stay focused, especially the biceps-brandishing import from Sierra Leone, who, in case you’ve forgotten, could’ve been Season 76 MVP if not for his pair of suspensions due to unsportsmanlike behavior.
“So far, Charles has not given me headaches. He’s just misunderstood and a little spoiled last year. But now, he’s a changed man. He can’t let his emotions get the best of him when playing,” said Pumaren.
It’s clear that Sumang and Mammie will carry most of the load, but the entire Red Warriors will also try to keep their opponents gasping for breath.
“Our strength is our speed. We’ll play up-tempo and (scrambling) defense. Definitely, the players are still adjusting but they’re embracing the system,” said Pumaren, who played for UE in the late 70s before transferring to La Salle.
Also expected to earn major floor time are holdovers Chris Javier, Gino Jumao-as, Mark Olayon, Dan Alberto, and team captain Pong Galanza.
UE has failed to qualify for the Final Four since making it to the Last Dance in 2009. With a pair of capable leaders, an underrated support crew, and towering expectations no longer a burden, the Red Warriors have a good chance of ending their four-year post-season drought, the longest in team history.
“Last year, UE faced high expectations. Unfortunately, the team fell short. But we can’t dwell on the past. This is a new team, a new system, a new season. We need to get back to the upper half of the league. It’s not going to be easy. Nobody said it can be easy. But it can be done,” said Pumaren.