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Good vibrations: Falcons salvage measure of pride, respect

The Adamson Falcons pose after getting their first win in the 77th UAAP men's basketball tournament Tuesday

This was probably the happiest bunch of 1-13 guys in UAAP men’s basketball annals.

Despite losing a bunch of players to graduation and three-fourths of their starting unit, not much was expected from a team of bench players and rookies. Their opponent for the day, the UP Fighting Maroons, as early as the summer, penciled in two wins over the Adamson Falcons (three in fact as they figured they’d pull the rug from underneath another team).

Hindi kami papayag ma-bokya,” promised Jansen Rios before the match. “Gagawin natin lahat. Maging pisikal man o magpalitan ng mukha. Basta hindi pwede matalo.”

Two riveting hours after Rios made that promise, the Falcons eked out their first win of UAAP Season 77, a 67-63 nail-biter to avoid finishing winless and earn back a measure of respect.

As huge as the win was for Adamson, it isn’t the only reason why the team is a happy bunch.

Even when the team was strong and a championship contender, they weren’t a solid bunch. Graduating point guard Ryan Monteclaro hinted that one teammate had a world of his own and his aloofness affected team unity.

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Hindi tayo nanalo masyado this year pero pamilya tayo,” summed up Monteclaro during a post-season speech.

Family.

Before the series of post-season speeches began, courtside reporter Gianna Llanes, who incidentally goes to school in Ateneo, was in tears. This season, she lived and breathed the life of an Adamsonian. Their losses were her losses. When they were crushed, so was she. The team showed its appreciation for her by giving her a bouquet of flowers. “Thank you for making me a part of your family. I will always remember this,” said Llanes while fighting back the tears.

On cue, first year forward-center Ivan Villanueva then led the team with a chorus of, “Sapatos! Sapatos!” By virtue of their morale-boosting victory, the players hoped that management would buy them new shoes.

So make that family and kicks.

“Boracay! Boracay!” the Falcons segued.

After they compete in the University Games, they’ll head off to nearby Boracay for a couple of days as a perfect way to relax and unwind before heading back to school for the final semester.

This isn’t by any chance celebrating mediocrity. Led by first-year head coach Kenneth Duremdes, it’s all about creating good vibes.

“There has been a lot of negativity in the past few months to last a lifetime,” noted Duremdes. “We all understood and accepted our limitations from the beginning. So why point fingers? Move forward na lang kami.”

And “moving forward” has been the cry for the season. After the successful stint of former head coach Leo Austria, who led the Falcons to heights not soared since the days of its head coach, they fell flat last campaign. And it continued all the way to this year.

The season hit its nadir when they were blown out by National University, 62-25.

“Even I needed some encouragement after that,” admitted Duremdes, who has come back to help his alma mater with former Adamson teammate Marlou Aquino along with then rival Vince Hizon who starred for Ateneo.

At 0-13, they were staring at a winless season and being the butt of endless jokes and bashers not to mention another UP bonfire at their expense.

The Falcons shot a league-worst 55.9 points per game. They also had the worst field goal percentage with a paltry 32 percent accuracy rate.

However, Adamson was up against a UP team that had its own dubious records – worst defensive team as they conceded a high of 75.5 points per outing while rebounding a poor 34.5 boards a game; dead last in the eight-team field.

Maybe both teams were even after that. True enough, both squads battled through four deadlocks and six lead changes. The two teams each posted their of 12-point lead. But it was Adamson that led UP by a dozen at 59-47 after Don Trollano scored off a spin move inside the lane at the 6:57 mark of the fourth period.

Looking to win going away, the Falcons – much to the chagrin of Duremdes – committed seven turnovers that allowed the Fighting Maroons to tie the match for the last time at 63-all after Diego Dario hit two free throws.

Adamson quickly responded with a basket in transition off a brilliant drop pass by Jansen Rios to a trailing Dawn Ochea for a 65-63 lead.

Both teams traded scoreless possessions before Axel Iñigo clinched the game with two free throws after a Mikee Reyes miss to notch the final count at 67-63. The Falcons finally avenged their first round 77-64 loss.

Inside the jubilant Adamson locker room, a smiling Vince Hizon reflected.

"Oh, yeah. Definitely. But I miss this more," he said referring to the locker room camaraderie and banter. "The college game is more family and school spirit than the pro game."

Hizon can relate. His Ateneo teams, despite having him and high scoring gunner Richie Ticzon, didn’t win much.

On the other hand, at that time, Adamson with Duremdes, Aquino and EJ Feihl were contenders to then powers FEU, UST and La Salle.

Mahirap yung transition from playing to coaching,” admitted Aquino whose son, Matthew, is a rookie with Adamson. “Siguro yung communication, pagtuturo at pasensya ang pinakamahirap na adjustments. Kailangan paulit ulit at dapat patient ka kasi mga bata ‘to. Kailangan matandaan mo rin yung dinaanan mo nung player ka nung college.”

While the Falcons of Duremdes and Aquino didn’t win a UAAP championship (they did cop a national title though), it was all about representing the school.

“The important thing,” reminded Duremdes, “is you represent your school in the best way you can. And I think today you did just that. Finishing 1-13 is a lot different from a 0-14 record. No one can take that away from you because it is in the record books. And you did the school proud.”

As the graduating players – Monteclaro, Rios and Don Trollano – were paraded up front to give their farewell speeches, the seated Falcons couldn’t wait for the latter, the team captain, to speak.

“Quiet,” shushed shooting guard John Ryan Gumtang, “mag-speech si Asiong… in English!”

The room burst into laughter.

“Asiong” is Don Trollano. The nickname was hung on him by former Falcon Rodney Brondial after the Joseph Estrada film on the late gangster Asiong Salonga. Trollano was best pals with Brondial, the “Erap” of the Adamson team.

Trollano offered a toothy grin then spoke in the vernacular. After a two minute oration where he thanked a lot of people, Barrera protested…. “English!”

“Work hard… mga pare!” he closed to another barrage of laughs.

This past season, it was all about “moving forward.” These young, inexperienced, and battered Falcons saw the fruits of their labor. Next year, it will be time to roll up their sleeves and put their work boots on. It will be time to “work hard.”

And just maybe the good vibes and times will continue to roll.

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