This Day in PBA History: Derrick Pumaren bags 1st league title, leads Sunkist to crown

Rey Joble

Posted at May 21 2022 04:54 PM

Derrick Pumaren, one of the most successful coaches in the amateur and collegiate ranks, finally won his first championship as a PBA coach, on this day, May 21, 1995, guiding Sunkist to an 87-78 overtime win over Alaska in Game 7 of the PBA All-Filipino Cup finals.

Pumaren had been highly regarded for steering La Salle to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. He was also the head coach of the Magnolia Ice Cream team and Triple V squad, which he led to titles in the now defunct PBL.

But for Pumaren to become an elite coach, he knew he had to win one in the PBA, and this was exactly he did when he piloted Sunkist to one of the two championships the franchise won that season.

Looking back, Pumaren felt the coaching switch with Yeng Guiao – his former assistant coach at the 1989 Southeast Asian Games – proved to be beneficial in winning his first PBA title.

“Nagkaroon kami ng switching,” Pumaren said. “He went to Pepsi, I went to Swift (Sunkist). Nu’ng nangyari ’yun, I was very happy. I was inheriting a strong team, finally. Almost all the teams that I coached before, nag-champion ako. ’Yung elusive na lang was a PBA title.

“I have a feeling when I moved there, it’s God’s will and he put me there on the spot to win my first championship. We placed second in 1994. I knew right there and then, we’re going to be better. Coach Yeng put up a good team there.”

Pumaren and Guiao traded places before the start of the 1994 Governors’ Cup. It was a move that turned out to be beneficial for “Manong Derrick”, who quickly led the Swift Mighty Meaties to a finals run against the Alaska Milkmen, but they lost in six games in the best-of-seven championship series to Tim Cone and his troops.

But the following conference, Pumaren got some sort of a payback as the Juicers, led by Vergel Meneses, who had an MVP season, edged Alaska in seven grueling games.

Alaska drew first blood in the championship series, winning 110-104, as Jojo Lastimosa presided in offense and knocked in 34 points, while sophomore Johnny Abarrientos, Bong Hawkins and rookie Jeff Cariaso delivered the finishing touches.

Sunkist was able to equalize the series as its defense held Alaska scoreless in a five-minute stretch in the fourth period while Nelson Asaytono scored six in a blistering 10-2 run to lead the Juicers to a 92-85 victory.

The Juicers made it back-to-back and this time, it was gentle giant Bonel Balingit, who stole the spotlight as he knocked in a career-high 22 points to power Sunkist to a 98-92 victory and put his team to a 2-1 lead.

Teams traded victories in the next four games, but in the seventh and deciding game, it was grizzled veteran Yoyoy Villamin, who stepped up and delivered the game-tying basket in regulation off an assist from Meneses.

Alaska and Sunkist forged a rivalry as the following conference – the 1995 Commissioner’s Cup – the Juicers will once again dominate and beat the Milkmen in six games.

But in the season-ending Governors’ Cup, both teams didn’t meet in the championship series, but it was Alaska which eliminated Sunkist.

“The rivalry was interesting because Alaska was really winning,” Pumaren said. “Parang sila na ’yung nagiging benchmark noon. We felt that if we want to win a championship, we have to be at par with them or be better than them.”

“Vergel was playing an MVP season, but Nelson was the star, but I have to sell to them that winning a championship is more important,” added Pumaren. “In all teams naman, may battle of egos. But it’s a matter of how you handle it. The advantage I had was I was able to handle Nelson when he was with Magnolia sa PABL, then si Vergel naman when he played for me sa national team. We had that communication na nagkakaintindihan na kami. Malaking bagay rin si Yoyoy to patch up the differences nu’ng dalawa.”

Pumaren is probably one of the best bench tacticians who is not coaching in the PBA now, but for one season at least, when was blessed with a good team, “The Manong of Coaching” made sure that he can rise to the occasion.