This appears on philstar.com
UAAP Season 79 Preview: Is the third time the charm for Derrick Pumaren's UE Red Warriors?
by rick olivares
Two years ago, Derrick Pumaren arrived in his alma mater of UE with the summer tournaments just about to start. His Red Warriors struggled to grasp the system he implemented and although they went on an inspired second round run that year, they fell short. Last year, they struggled with the untimely loss of their African centers. The Red Warriors showed glimpses of that full court press but they oft got killed in the endgame and they tumbled to sixth place, the same spot in the defensive rankings. Now, with a team finally and seemingly fully grasped of what “Manong” or what the coach is fondly nicknamed, are they poised for a better finish?
Let’s get this out of the way, if this were an all-Filipino tournament, these Red Warriors will make the finals. What makes me say that?
For one, they are deep and talented. They’ve got the veterans, workhorses, and a mean streak in them.
The veterans in this team — Ronnie De Leon, Edgar Charcos, Renz Palma, Mark Olayon, and Paul Varilla tasted off-season success with their former coach. They came close, oh so painfully close in the UAAP but missed the bus ride to the Final Four. “Konti na lang,” says De Leon using his fingers to indicate the mere inches his team came close.
De Leon has gotten better every year adding a super medium range jumper. The onus is on him and his other fellow batchmates to raise the level of play even higher.
Case in point: Renz Palma and this year’s team captain, Paul Varilla. Both are gifted athletically. I’ve previously said that Palma could be UE’s version of Ed Daquiaog or even CJ Perez because of his ability to get to the rim, stuff the stat sheet in every category, find the open man, and make things happen. What he needs is consistency. It is the same with Varilla who has a tendency to disappear when his team needs him the most which is why Pumaren has opted for his younger players to step into the breach.
During the summer, Varilla showed flashes of consistency and big time contributions. He must now show it on the big stage. Even his future demands it because if you plan on a pro career, you gotta stick that medium range jumper with consistency. Go see how players like Bryan Faundo, Kelly Nabong, and Reynel Hugnatan have found their place in the league. Except that Varilla is a small forward so he can drive to the hoop better.
Last year, Pumaren brought in Clark Derige who was the player you never knew but suddenly knew for his immediate impact. This year’s model is the tough pitbull who goes by the name of Alvin Pasaol. Under-sized but he sure can grab those rebounds and battle inside better than many centers much taller than him. Plus, he’s got an outside shot.
Forward Ralph Penuela had an okay pre-season two years ago but was promptly buried on the bench for UAAP Season 78. This past pre-season, he had an even better pre-season. Can he be consistent enough to get minutes and contribute?
And there’s Edson Batiller, Pumaren’s first recruit out of the Holy Trinity College of General Santos City (he was discovered during the Filoil tourney three years ago). He was the man last year and opposing defenses have geared themselves into stopping him. With a tougher frontline with De Leon, Pasaol, Derige, and Nick Abanto, he will have the space to operate.
And this leads me back to my original question, what makes me say that they could really compete? I think I have just answered that… this is a team that plays tough defense, they have the players who can score, they are tenacious off the boards, and they are hungry.. They hit a huge road block when they go up against the Ben Mbalas and Papi Sarrs of this league.
Now it’s also on the coaching staff to devise a way to counter that because in the pre-season, that was their one glaring weakness.