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Where to, Red Warriors?

Derrick Pumaren reacts to a call. | Philstar.com/Denison Dalupang

MANILA, Philippines — When you look at the team bus of the University of the East Red Warriors, on both sides are some of the finest players to don not only the red and the white but also go to the professional ranks.

From left to right, there’s Elmer Espiritu, Roi Sumang, Mark Borboran, Hans Thiele, James Yap, Paul Lee, Raffy Reyes, Rudy Lingganay, Rob Labagala and Val Acuña. Talented, solid and game-changers — that’s what these players are. However, the one thing they do have in common is they were unable to lead UE, proud UE, back to the Promised Land of an UAAP title.

Unfortunately, it looks like they will once again come away trophy-less… for the 32nd consecutive year. The last title they won was in 1985 with Allan Caidic, Jerry Codinera and Boycie Zamar at the helm. The latter two tried to lead them back to glory but both left, disenchanted. They wanted to serve their alma mater but instead, they got burned by ungrateful players or politics.

And now this season… shake your head here and hold that thought.

Las Sunday, September 17, with 5:47 left to play, and UP leading 74-53, the Red Warriors seemingly threw the white flag. Their best player, Alvin Pasaol, was subbed out for Nick Abanto.

Pasaol never got back in the groove after he was pulled out in the first half on account of two fouls. Previously, they rode his luck and foul trouble and came out lacking in firepower when they needed him the most. Perhaps wanting to manage his fouls, he was kept on ice. And by the time he re-entered in the third period, UP has seized control and Pasaol simply never had any more influence in the game.

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When he got yanked for good, he pulled out his shirt didn’t look like one happy camper. Not because he was pulled in my opinion, but even this early the Red Warriors seemingly are going nowhere fast. At 0-3 and the new UAAP season only eight days old, that sinking feeling is fast creeping in. And they have yet to face Adamson, Ateneo and La Salle. They cannot even take UST that despite being 0-2 doesn’t look like a bad team. The potential is there.

Do the Red Warriors lack talent?

Not really. They have it. It is just a young team that has to get old real fast. What that means is that no way should this team be in the dumps if they still had the team they had. Meaning a lot of players transferred. Where is Edgar Charcos —at Perpetual Help serving his residency? Bon Bon Batillier, who was the first recruit by Derrick Pumaren when he joined UE, is with Letran. Jordan Sta. Ana is making a case for the next King Growling Tiger. Joshua Gonzales is with La Salle. Fran Yu is studying in Thailand. Ralph Penuela is now with San Beda. Gino Jumao-as is somewhere. You can even go as far back in the previous years when Roi Sumang opted out of his last playing year and African players Charles Mammie and Moustapha Arafat were booted out even before they finished out their stint.

Yes, there are reasons, but when you keep losing people left and right especially when you consider that even assistant coaches Dindo Pumaren and Noynoy Falcasantos are gone, what does that say? During the Filoil Flying V Cup last summer, Dindo stood at the far end of the bench instead of the customary seat next to head coach and older brother Derrick Pumaren. Word is they clashed and the split was coming.

I thought that Renz Palma could be UE’s version of Ed Daquioag, a wrecking ball on offense and defense. I thought that Paul Varilla would be really good. But no. Not even in their final years did they improve.

Ironically, brother Franz cleared out Adamson to make way for his Fil-Am recruits. Spring cleaning is in vogue with them.

This UE team was so promising two years ago. They found their voice and style after they rebuilt from the ashes of Zamar’s talented but underachieving team (at least for the UAAP because they won some outside tourneys). Their hellacious defense was fun to watch. Yet theirs was a haphazard way of playing that was half-entertaining and half-maddening.

I thought that the job Manong did was incredible and make no mistake, I am a fan of his. He’s done a great job with La Salle, Jose Rizal University, and initially, UE. The trick about coaching is not to leave the ship in worse shape when you came in.

The four corners of hell defense looks like hell — a wasteland of turnovers and poor shots.

There’s talent. Mark Maloles is going to be good — unless he too bails out. Chris Conner will only get better. I think Jason Varilla will amount to something. Clark Derige could be something. Yet like Mark Olayon, it’s confidence and consistency.

This coming Sunday, they’ll face top-ranked Ateneo. It is both good and bad. Good because in the past two preseasons, they defeated the Blue Eagles. The problem is, it was the preseason because come the UAAP, it was UE that got clobbered.

Not a bad sign? Maybe, but at this point, they have nothing to lose but to go out and flat our play.

And maybe next time, the player they add to the side of their team bus, will have led them back to the Promised Land.

 

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