Missed free throws. Missing six players. And missing #6.
MANILA, Philippines -- Years ago, I attended a practice of Adamson at their campus gym. Alex Nuyles had a year of UAAP experience under his belt and Rodney Brondial was serving his residency. Job de Leon was about to begin his first year of courtside reporting for the Falcons after having taken over the slot from Aaron Atayde.
Leo Austria took me aside and spoke highly of Nuyles and said the lad from Bicol had loads of potential. “He will be a star one day,” said Austria. Knowing coach had an eye for talent, I took his word for Nuyles.
I remember Brondial very well and as I recall it, he was from Australia and had good skills but was still raw.
“Mayroon potential ‘tong team na ‘to,” pronounced Austria. Not only was he a great evaluator of talent but also he had the makings of a modern-day Nostradamus.
After falling flat in Season 74, the team lost six players – Lester Alvarez, Jerick Cañada, Genesis Manuel, Janus Lozada, Jan Colina, and Austin Manyara. Austria still had Nuyles for his final year. There was bullstrong Eric Camson who could put up a ton of points one moment but disappear in the next. Brondial had shown what he could do in Season 74 and no doubt could only get better. Roider Cabrera, I thought, was the X factor here. If he could score in the UAAP like he does in the pre-season then opposing teams will not be able to key off on Nuyles, Camson and Brondial. Ryan Monteclaro was definitely not made of the stern stuff of a Cañada or Alvarez. But all he had to do for now is to be steady and then the Falcons would be a potent crew. You know. Like the 1986 Boston Celtics. A starting five that could compete with the best of them and one sixth man who can contribute. That’s it.
I wasn’t the very least surprised that they hung tough against Ateneo for about 25 minutes as they still had that carry over pride from beating the Blue Eagles in the final game of the second round of Season 74. But Ateneo is a team that doesn't take loses lightly. They can't wait to repay foes back in spades. And that I think is something that Adamson has yet to learn or adopt. That killer and give-'em-no-quarter instinct.
Against the surprising FEU Tamaraws, a team that knocked them out of the title picture last season, I thought they'd come in with snorting nostrils and all. Well, the Falcons gamely battled them for a good 14 minutes before a spate of errors and missed free throws allowed the Morayta-based team to put some space between them at the half, 35-28.
I turned to Jan Colina (who I had become pals with over the years and I did write a nice piece about him for Rebound) who sat behind the south basket of the Araneta Coliseum. “Miss mo 'to, 'no?” I probed.
“Sobra,” he answered shaking his head. “Hindi mo alam kung ano 'yung ma-mi-miss mo kapag wala na.”
We spoke a bit then he pointed to his left. “Sir, si Jerick…”
Holy cats! It was Jerick Cañada! I didn’t recognize him as he put on weight and wore long hair.
The former Adamson guard offered an embarrassed smile.
“Hindi kita nakilala." (He laughed.. Akala ko nag-audition ka sa Eraserheads." (More laughter.)
I turned to the court and noted of this current edition of the Falcons. “Ang sama. Hindi ma-establish 'yung tempo at 'yung gusto nilang laro." (Both Colina and Cañada nodded in agreement.) "At masama laro ni Alex.”
Heading into Season 75, knowing that they were minus six of the crew that helped them to a great finish last year, I felt that they would go only as far as #6 (Nuyles) could take them this season. I like the kid but I am not sure if he could strap this team on his back. I remarked to Coach Leo two years ago that Alex would make a great pro basketball player. “He has to be strong and focused every game,” intoned coach.
And that was not the Nuyles that was playing right before me and everyone else. He scored only one basket and that was in the first quarter. By the game’s end, there would only be two turnovers next to his name in the official score sheet. But in truth, he should have been tacked on with much more. He suddenly reverted to the unsure rookie that he was years ago as he fumbled drives, drop passes, and his decision making.
In the Falcons’ final play, he was given the ball to do something with it. Instead, he passed off to Camson. Truthfully, I wondered why he was kept on the floor. Jericho Cruz will one day lead this squad in scoring but for now, he is what Nuyles was during Season 71, a talented but unrefined player. I felt that Cruz along with the equally talented but gangly Harry Petilos should have been on the floor with Cabrera, Camson and Brondial.
Instead, the Falcons shot themselves on the foot with Cabrera hoisting up three consecutive bricks without so much as a conscience. That and the flubbed freethrows did them in (18-28 from the 15-foot line).
Had Nuyles even been one half of his usual self then Adamson would have won this (he finished with five assists but you have to watch the game to see how out of it he was). But instead, they succumbed to a second straight defeat while the Tamaraws, getting heady plays from their three-guard lineup of RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo, and Mike Tolomia came through in the clutch. It was, incidentally, their third straight loss to the Tams after losing twice in last year's Final Four. Streaks. For sure the Falcons hate them.
And once more, the outcome came down to the final shot but this time FEU got its largest winning margin of the season --- three points, 65-62. But that’s not so bad considering they are 3-0.
I looked to Colina after the game. We both shrugged. “Matagal pa naman,” he hoped.
Sure it is. But Adamson has yet to play contenders DLSU, NU, and UST. Ouch.
But who knows? When you’re down the only way to go is up.
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