Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Man on a mission: Derrick Pumaren returns to UE

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Man on a mission: Derrick Pumaren returns to UE
by rick olivares

He returns to the school he called home for his high school days and his first two years in college. He won a UAAP Juniors Championship during his senior year in high school then when he transferred to another school two years into college, his former teammates copped a seniors crown.

Derrick Pumaren has had success in leading teams to collegiate championships (La Salle in 1989 and 1990) to amateur titles (Magnolia and Triple V) and the pros (Sunkist in 1995). Now, he hopes to lead his alma mater back to the Promised Land that is a UAAP title; something the UE Red Warriors have not taken back to Recto since 1985. “Twenty-nine years…” he said with his voice trailing. “It’s been that long.”

Pumaren admitted to being intrigued with returning to his alma mater. When he last donned UE’s colors in 1978, Hector Calma’s Adamson Falcons ended up league champions. The follow year, when his father, Pilo, who was also UE’s coach, transferred to La Salle, Derrick followed suit.

But life has a way of making one go back to where it all began for him.

“I would be lying if I said that I do not want us to compete for a championship,” he said during a sit down with media at the Coffee Bean shop at Promenade in Greenhills. The veteran head coach has slimmed down considerably; the product of “eating right” as he explains. “It is also setting an example to the players to get fit. Everyone has to make sacrifices.”

Sacrifice indeed. Pumaren recently gave up his consulting job with Hong Kong’s Men’s National Basketball Team. “They have been calling but I could no longer commit because with UE, my plate is now full. But international basketball is always wonderful. There is so much to teach and learn. Now that applies to UE.

Pumaren has only been on the job for seven days. “Not enough time to get to know the team and the players,” noted Noynoy Falcasantos who will join Derrick on the bench as an assistant.

The Red Warriors lost six players from a disappointing last season – team captain Adrian Santos, JM Noble, Jai Flores, Ralf Olivares, Lord Casajeros, and Jay-R Sumido. After annexing the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, the Red Warriors were seeded to compete for a Final Four slot. Instead, they floundered and limped to the finish line.

But hope spring eternal… or does it?

“When I looked at the stat sheet from last season, aside from Roi Sumang and Charles Mammie, I am left with players who played four, five, or six minutes a game last year so we will have our work cut our for us. Hopefully, we will still have time to recruit…. whoever is left out there.”

The coach returns to a college basketball landscape that is vastly different from the one he left. Recruitment has spiraled out of control. “Our work isn’t only confined to Xs and Os but to also the entire program. Do we compete with everyone else?”

For now, he has to figure out the weapons he has left in his arsenal. And that is point guard Roi Sumang and center Charles Mammie.

Pumaren was a point guard when he played for both UE and La Salle. “The point guard is the extension of the head coach,” he pointed out. “I am not going to stop Roi from getting his points but I will also ask he to direct the plays and become a better playmaker. We do not have enough scoring options. If we can get others to score that will ease the burden on Roi and even Charles.”

Charles Mammie.

Talented. Enigmatic.

“I spoke with Charles and laid down all my cards. I am a no-nonsense coach but I am also a fair man,” explained Pumaren by way of sending a message to the Sierra Leone native who sometimes coasts or lives in “Mammie-time or “Mammie-world” as some of his teammates put it. “I have to show fairness to everyone. They have to all work hard. Right now even the veterans have to qualify for a spot on the team. Nothing is a given. Every one works hard or they do not play at all.”

The past two weeks (not counting the brief Holy Week break) have been one of observation. “It’s all been practice,” bared Falcasantos who played for Pumaren with the Triple V team in the old Philippine Amateur Basketball League. “Pagdating sa Filoil tournament marami kaming matututunan.”

“There are a lot of challenges,” summed up Pumaren. “But no one ever said it was easy. And that is why we do this.”

The road to bringing back UE to glory is long and hard. New powers have risen up. Recruitment is way even more insane than the PBA.

The veteran coach knows that. But as he said, “I would be lying if I said that I do not want us to compete for a championship.”

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