MANILA, Philippines -- Derrick Pumaren knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he agreed to return as the head coach of the De La Salle University Green Archers.
Pumaren took over the position in January, returning to the job he first held in 1986. He led La Salle to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 before going on to coach University of the East and Centro Escolar University.
According to Pumaren, he was immediately informed of the challenge that awaits him when he returned to Taft.
"Noong nag-sign up ako for La Salle, alam ko ang pinapasok ko. In fact, one of the managers told me na we're looking for a championship," Pumaren said during an appearance on "The Chasedown."
But Pumaren is unfazed. Indeed, he welcomes the challenge, as his goal is for the Green Archers to regain the standard of excellence that they maintained for so long.
For "Manong Derrick," two championships in the past decade won't cut it.
"Hindi naman ako pumunta dito just to work or just to coach. I'm here to win. Alam ko 'yun," said Pumaren. "And sa La Salle kasi there's a standard that we have to maintain."
"But so far, in the last nine years, we've only won two championships and got eliminated the last two years," he noted.
The Green Archers won the UAAP title in dominant fashion in Season 79, thanks to the formidable 1-2 punch of Ben Mbala and Jeron Teng and the "mayhem" system popularized by Aldin Ayo. They ceded their throne to archrivals Ateneo de Manila University the very next year, however, and failed to make the Final 4 in Seasons 81 and 82.
Pumaren's first order of business is to bring La Salle back to the semifinals.
"Medyo we're in unfamiliar territory right now. So I have a job to do na ibalik ang La Salle sa Final 4," he said. "That is the immediate goal ngayon ng team, and probably get the championship for La Salle."
In recent seasons, the road to the UAAP title has gone through the Blue Eagles. Under the tutelage of Tab Baldwin, Ateneo has claimed the last three championships, and in Season 82, they completed a perfect season by winning all 16 of their games.
Pumaren understands that in order to regain the UAAP crown, they have to find a way to topple Ateneo which has set the bar for the league in the past few years.
"Right now kasi sa UAAP, ang barometer will be Ateneo, so you have to put up a team that will be able to match up sa Ateneo, and to be competitive with the team," said Pumaren.
"They play disciplined basketball and that's what we should play also this coming UAAP season. So medyo malaking task, pero we're up to it, we're up to it to face that," he added.
Pumaren will have a solid squad anchored by veterans Aljun Melecio and two-time Mythical Team member Justin Baltazar for Season 83, but he is already building his team for the future as well.
In the offseason, La Salle acquired Evan Nelle from San Beda University and the pair of Mark Nonoy and Deo Cuajao from University of Santo Tomas. Kevin Quiambao, one of the top prospects in high school, has also committed to the Green Archers.
"Right now, hanggang 86 ang program namin. 83, 84, 85, 86. That's why kung titingnan mo, ang mga recruits namin, there are recruits na papasok ng 84, there are recruits na papasok ng 85, and then there are recruits ng 86," said Pumaren.
"That is the program that we are establishing right now."