BY MICHAEL JUGADO
IN THE midst of the dreaded coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the uncertainties hounding the 83rd UAAP basketball tournament, comebacking La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren said the target remains the same for the Green Archers—return to the Final Four after a two-year hiatus.
“We are trying to get back to the Final Four, so we cannot just be complacent. We cannot have that same attitude that we’ve had in the last two seasons. I know it’s a big challenge for me making it to the Final Four but it is not impossible,” Pumaren said during the Hoop Coaches International coaching webinar hosted by Blackwater and organized by Elite alternate governor and consultant Ariel Vanguardia.
“The players right now understand, we understand each other, what we’re trying to achieve here. We just have to be all on the same page. We just have to be there. If we want to achieve this, we need to do this, we need to sacrifice. It’s not gonna be a walk in the park for us,” added the veteran and multi-titled tactician.
After replacing coach Gian Nazario and active consultant Jermaine Byrd at La Salle’s helm last January, Pumaren hit the ground running for the Archers who, carrying the colors of EcoOil-La Salle, joined the PBA D-League Aspirant’s Cup that was suspended indefinitely since March 11 as the government placed Metro Manila and the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine.
With the chances of the UAAP cage wars’ opening in September looking dim, Pumaren is still making sure his charges are ready.
“The line of thinking for the team is that whether it starts January or February (next year), we must be ready. We don’t just start later on,” explained Pumaren, who piloted La Salle to its first two UAAP titles in 1989 and 1990.
“Until we get the final word, we still try to prepare the team as much as possible.”
Pumaren, 60, said the Taft-based squad has been working out to be in game shape.
“Well, right now, believe it or not, more than a month now, we’ve been doing online team workouts. The players aren’t doing just individual workouts but we have an online team workout at 8 in the morning every day Monday to Friday, and then we break on Saturday and Sunday,” said Pumaren.
“We want to be at least in shape maybe not in basketball shape but we’ll be in better shape when we come back… We do it with variety para hindi rin ma-bore ang team.”
The Archers, who last won the crown in 2016 under Aldin Ayo, wound up with a 7-7 card for fifth last season.
In 2018, under Louie Gonzalez, La Salle finished the season with an 8-6 record in the eliminations in a tie with Far Eastern University. The Tamaraws beat the Archers in the playoff for the last Final Four slot.
Center Justine Baltazar and guards Aljun Melecio and Encho Serrano, and 6-foot-11 Senegalese big man Amadou Ndiaye are expected to lead La Salle’s charge.
Pumaren said the Archers are out to reclaim lost glory.
“The La Salle community expects a lot from us. We are not in a norma; territory, we should be up there,” he said.
“We should not be down here. In the last five years, back-to-back fifth place (finish). I’m not here just to get fifth place. I’m here to win. They know that.”