Posted Apr 22nd 2015
Emotions pour out in Adamson's last gasp triumph
By: Paolo Mariano | Sep 18th 2014
Kenneth Duremdes was never the emotional one during his playing career. He rarely gives pep talks to his teammates. He doesn’t talk trash. He doesn’t celebrate after a thunderous slam on the break. He just plays—plain and simple.
But watching him coach his alma mater Adamson University, one would think he has always been a bundle of energy ever since he knew how to put the ball in the hoop. He rarely sits down. He’s usually on his feet with arms folded on his chest, while barking orders almost every single possession. During huddles, he transforms into a cantankerous cocktail of a drill sergeant and a motivational speaker.
“Papatay-patay tayo (We look dead on the court)! Come on, let’s focus! Make them pay!” bellowed the first-year coach in their huddle at halftime, while looking aggressively on his players.
Adamson was down by five, 30-25 against the University of the Philippines (UP). It was the Battle of the Bottom-Feeders once again in the final game of the elimination round. The Soaring Falcons were looking to avenge their first round loss to the Fighting Maroons.
While most teams were looking for the one, Adamson—hapless, talent-depleted, losers of 17 straight including last season—was hoping to win just one. With an entire half still ahead of them and the momentum slowly shifting in their favor after a good run to end the second quarter, the Soaring Falcons had a very good chance of avoiding seeing a big fat egg on their win column.
Prior to the season, the Soaring Falcons knew they were in for a double-round drubbing. They didn’t have any illusions of making it to the Final Four. With a roster made up of 11 newcomers and three erstwhile role-playing veterans, who were suddenly thrown into the fire of being go-to-guys, Adamson didn’t exactly sent shivers to the opposing teams.
As Duremdes consistently said in interviews, all they want is to compete. Unfortunately, even that proved to be difficult. They are dead last in most statistical categories. They’ve lost by an average of 15.7 points. Their 25-point output—for the entire game—against National University in the first round will be remembered in infamy.
The team reminds longtime UAAP fans of the Adamson teams of 2000 and 2001, who couldn’t count their number of wins because they didn’t have any.
Roller coaster of emotions
Thanks to stiffer defense and better play executions, Adamson clawed its way back to the game and took the driver’s seat midway in the third period. With 27.2 seconds to go, rookie William Polican drained a baseline three-pointer to extend their lead, 47-42.
“Yeah!” screamed Duremdes on the sidelines. It was accompanied by an emphatic fist pump like he just won the lottery.
In their next possession, Dawn Ochea scored on an undergoal stab off a broken play. Plus a foul! Duremdes, known for his high leaping ability, jumped in jubilation. The sophomore center sank his bonus free throw.
With 0.3 ticks left in the quarter, Polican fouled Dave Moralde, who scored on a put-back. Duremdes was adamant that his wards allowed another offensive rebound. He was spewing verbal venoms. Assistant coach Marlou Aquino wrapped his long arms around Duremdes’ shoulders and consoled him: “Okay lang ‘yun, 0.3 na lang naman (Let it go, there’s only 0.3 left).” Another deputy Vince Hizon, meanwhile, was a picture of encouragement as always, applauding the players' solid showing in the quarter.
Tears of joy
“Let’s finish and get this last quarter. How do we do that? Be smart. Go! Don’t stop playing!” said Duremdes in the huddle entering the payoff period.
Duremdes isn’t used to losing. The former PBA MVP won multiple championships during his pro career and represented the country in various international competitions. In the UAAP, he tore up the league with his high-scoring assaults, averaging over 30 points in his final year in 1993. He was also named to the Mythical Five thrice.
So if there’s one thing Duremdes knows, it’s how to play smart.
At the start of the fourth quarter, forward Don Trollano scored four straight points to give Adamson a 54-45 advantage. The bench was getting giddy. Like a grade school boy kissed by his longtime crush. Graduating guard Ryan Monteclaro repeatedly told his teammates to sit down to avoid getting a technical foul. But none was listening. Who can blame them? Chances for a win have come fewer and farther in between.
The Fighting Maroons, however, made a 13-4 run to slice the lead to three, 61-58 with exactly three minutes remaining. During the timeout, Duremdes looked worried, but he had to stay composed for his young team.
“We’re okay. We’re up,” reminded Duremdes.
But after two free throws from Polican and five straight points from UP’s spitfire rookie Diego Dario, the game was tied at 63 with a little over than a minute left. The entire Adamson bench has already stood up. Some of the few supporters were whispering prayers. Courtside reporter Gianna Llanes looked uneasy on her seat.
UP employed a full-court press. But the Soaring Falcons broke it easily as do-it-all forward Jansen Rios dribbled the length of the floor before making a nifty, perfectly timed drop pass to Ochea for an easy deuce and a 65-63 lead with less than a minute left. Instead of celebrating, Duremdes looked like a mad man blaring instructions to his team for defense.
The Fighting Maroons had several chances to steal the game or send it to overtime but Kyles Lao and Mikee Reyes clanked their shots. Axel Iñigo was fouled with 1.6 ticks left. UP was in penalty. The Adamson bench erupted, the players body-slamming each other like they were in a rock concert. Burly rookie Ivan Villanueva faced their fans, popped his jersey, and said “YEAH!” so loud, it could be heard all the way to San Marcelino.
Iñigo calmly sank both free throws. Game over. At last! Adamson won, 67-63. When the final buzzer sounded, Duremdes made another emphatic fist pump and forcefully screamed “YES!” with the veins on his neck screaming along. Then his eyes began to well up during the singing of the Adamson Hymn.
The graduating players, Trollano, Rios, who was also crying, and Monteclaro posed for photos. Their younger teammates were still brimming with joy, playfully rough-housing each other and showcasing their piggyback-riding skills.
Adamson finished with a 1-13 record, tied with UP for the worst record this season. Yet it didn’t matter. For an inexperienced team expected to “just compete,” the difference between going winless and notching a solitary victory is as huge as the mouth of the Grand Canyon.
“Nakaisa (We got one)!” hollered Trollano as they ran their way into their locker room.
A still emotional Duremdes, meanwhile, made his way to the press room for the very first time as head coach of Adamson. Awaiting him was a throng of reporters and photographers eager to extend their congratulations.
“Ganito pala dito (So this is what it looks like),” said Duremdes in jest.
“This is a sweet victory. We ended on a winning note. The dedication of the players and our program went to (something) positive,” added the relieved tactician. “We didn’t end the season winless.”
For the nth time, he mentioned the value of competing.
“Going back to our last three games, we were already competing for three quarters. Now, we were able to hold on until the fourth quarter. We saw a window against UP. We just needed to compete untl the final buzzer. That's exactly what happenend," said Duremdes.
Being used to winning, Duremdes had trouble accepting their string of losses. He questioned himself as a coach. But now that he finally earned a win, all those reservations were put to rest, at least for the glorious moment.
“I had doubts. Tama ba ‘tong pinasok ko (What have I gotten myself into)?” said Duremdes. “But now, it’s really a different feeling. Pakiramdam ko, coach na talaga ko (Now I can say that I’m really a coach).