OPINION: Reflecting on Coach E leaving NU

Rick Olivares

Posted at Dec 01 2016 01:20 PM

Eric Altamirano. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

Minutes after the National University (NU) Bulldogs defeated the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws for the UAAP Season 77 Men’s Basketball championship, the school’s owner, Hans Sy, who purchased the school several years before, was asked about Coach Eric Altamirano, who led the school to the Promised Land.

“He can stay for as long as he likes,” said the business magnate.

Well, two years later, six years after he helped turn NU around, Altamirano stepped down. There are rumors that he was pushed out and he just resigned to give him a graceful exit.

Whether true or not, all I can say is, he should have been asked to stay at least another year.

While some may say that the program has gone down, let’s take a look at the chart here.

Season Win-Loss Record Finish
74 6-8 5th
75 9-6 Final Four
76 10-6 Final Four
77 14-6 Champion
78 7-8 Final Four
79 5-9 5th

After six years at the helm of NU, Altamirano finished with a 51-43 record in the UAAP. Every single basketball trophy inside their silverware cabinet was won during his watch.

Sure, NU finished in the same placing as Coach E’s first year – in fifth spot. But then, as in now, that is a young team.

If they are looking to a program where every year the Bulldogs compete for a Final Four slot then that raises many eyebrows.

Even if NU has climbed out of the cellar, keeping the team at a Final Four contender level needs constant work. Landing blue chippers still isn’t easy. Most would still opt to go to the top programs. Yes, school pride is there. But just because it’s there it doesn’t mean you stop working at it.

School pride, spirit, or the quiet confidence in one’s gait -- now that takes decades to embody. The school is getting there but do not take it for granted. The day you do not require a student to watch a UAAP game and they go because they want to be there to support your team – now that is something else.

Now, let’s a look at their current line-up:

Freshmen: Joshua Sinclair, JV Gallego, Kins Go, Chino Mosqueda, Tzaddy Rangel, and Marc Diputado
Sophomores: Reggie Morido, Nico Abatayo, and Matt Aquino
Juniors: Matt Salem, Alfred Aroga, Rev Diputado, Meds Salim, Dave Yu, and Michael Pate
Seniors: JJ Alejandro

Aquino, Salem, and Pate are transferees.

Of that line-up, five were on the title team of three years ago. And only two of them received significant playing time.

When I broke down NU’s problems before, I pointed out why I thought they ran into trouble.

One, they are obviously a young team. They have talent but the maturity isn’t there yet. The youth movement in the league is obvious. Adamson, Ateneo, FEU, UST, and NU.

The other teams like La Salle, UE, and UP have veteran line-ups.

When young teams lose a couple of consecutive games, the tendency is for them to fall into that rut rather than them finding a way out of that hole. Because they are young.

Two, did their pre-season showing where they finished 7-2 (losing to the Arellano University Chiefs in the semi-finals) get their hopes up? Did they pin their hopes on Alfred Aroga? If ever, this can be traced to the coaching staff. He did very well before because they had loaded teams. When it became his turn to carry the team, he was more of a complementary player than the star to lift them up.

So if Ateneo is in the same boat as them, why did the Blue Eagles go all the way to the finals?

I think there’s a lot of motivation for Ateneo. Who they lost, the adversity on and off the court, and a tremendous support system, the specter of last year’s failed final four drive…

As for the former question about their summer finish, as good as it sounds, the pre-season, is just the pre-season. It doesn’t mean one of going to finish at the top of the heap.

But it’s done. Altamirano and his staff resigned.

I thought that they lost a darn good coach who is known for turning teams around and leading them to a title (Mobiline, Purefoods, and NU). Furthermore, he is a good and principled man. I still think he merited one more year. But what do I know?

What is sure here as death and taxes is that “as long as he likes” actually means, “as long as he is winning.”

In this win-at-all-costs world, I guess that’s the true answer.

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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.