MANILA, Philippines – The University of the East (UE) Red Warriors were one of the feel-good stories of UAAP Season 80, with Alvin Pasaol's high-scoring ways putting the spotlight on a team that has languished in the league's backdrop for some time.
Thanks in part to Pasaol's explosive offense, UE racked up three victories in Season 80, including upsets of University of the Philippines and National University. Yet their most memorable game was against defending champion De La Salle University in the first round, when Pasaol exploded for 49 points – a modern day record in the UAAP.
Ultimately, his exploits – and head coach Derrick Pumaren's head-turning fashion sense – was not enough to produce victories for UE. Pasaol averaged 20.6 points per game, the most among locals, but the Red Warriors fell well short of the Final Four – extending a drought that stretches to 2010.
"I think we could have done better, if we played consistently, individually and as a team," said Pumaren when asked to assess their performance in Season 80.
Indeed, even Pasaol was the subject of Pumaren's criticisms early in the season, when the burly forward often suffered from foul trouble and thus was unable to make much of an impact on their games.
"I think that was the problem namin nitong season na ito," said the coach. "We were not playing consistent ball throughout, as an individual, and as a team."
Still, it cannot be denied that the Red Warriors played some inspired basketball in Season 80, particularly in the second round when Pumaren started showing up to games dressed in preppy outfits.
Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if UE will be able to build on their Season 80 campaign. Following a season-ending loss to erstwhile winless University of Santo Tomas on Sunday, Pumaren bared that he is unsure if he will renew his contract with the school.
"I am still thinking if I'm going to renew for next year," he admitted.
This is because "Manong" is still waiting to see what direction the team's management plans to take, before he makes another commitment to UE. Pumaren is the longest tenured coach in the UAAP right now, having coached the Red Warriors since 2014.
"UE has to revisit what direction they want to go," Pumaren stressed. "That is one thing also that I have to think about."
In particular, Pumaren wants to know UE's plans regarding recruitment. The Red Warriors are the lone team without a foreign-student athlete this season, which puts them at a disadvantage at the frontcourt.
"Imagine, wala na kaming import, 'di ba?" said Pumaren. "When it comes to recruitment naman, getting the local guys… I would say we are far, compared to the other teams. Maybe, we are last."
"We already have a disadvantage without an import, and recruiting local guys, mahirap also," he added. "So as I've said before, I need horses. I need players, too."
Pumaren admits that at times he feels envious of other teams who have the luxury of playing with a foreign big man. He pointed out that even UST, which finished dead last in Season 80, had a promising "import" in Steve Akomo.
"Kami, kahit isa, wala eh. It's so hard to get a 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 Filipino now, 'di ba?" said Pumaren, who counts on Wilson Bartolome and Rey Acuno as his slotmen.
Pumaren stressed that if the UE management wants him to produce a successful basketball program, he will need plenty of help from them in luring blue-chip players to the school.
"That's why I said, I don't know the direction," he said. "Siyempre, of course, they're looking for a win, but they have to give me also what I need."
"Hindi pwedeng papasok ako ng giyera, na ano i-o-offer ko? When I recruit, it's just my basketball program that I offer," said Pumaren.
"I might have a good program, but still, I have also to have the materials. Hindi pwedeng parang participation lang kami," he stressed.
Pumaren has compiled a 21-35 record as UE's head coach. He nearly led them to the Final Four in his first season in charge, but the Red Warriors lost to National University in a playoff for the last spot in the Season 77 semis. The Bulldogs went on to win the title that year.
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