In De La Salle head coach Derick Pumaren's mind, a return to the university he once steered to two UAAP titles was always within the realm of possibility.
"I had a gut feel na I'd come back sa La Salle," said Pumaren, who won back-to-back championships with DLSU in 1989 and 1990, on the Aclan Sports Skill Factory webcast. "Even when I was with CEU na, parang may feeling ako na babalik ako sa La Salle.
Pumaren, hired by La Salle in January, said he only chanced upon the job after reaching out to the team's officials asking if they wanted to take in CEU center Malick Diouf, who eventually transferred to the UP Fighting Maroons.
Blackwater's hiring of coach Nash Racela, who was rumored to be the next La Salle coach before the Elite swooped in, also solidified Pumaren's belief that he'd find himself back with the Green Archers soon.
"I was surprised when I met with (team manager) Mr. Terry Capistrano sa isang steak house, inoffer nila 'yung coaching sa akin," he shared. "And Nash, all of a sudden, accepted a PBA job. So sabi ko, 'Mukhang talagang babalik ako. Maybe God has prepared me for this.'"
The Green Archers looked sharp in its first two runs under Pumaren during the currently-suspended 2020 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup, winning both outings before the league halted play last March.
Pumaren said Justine Baltazar (18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists in two games) and Aljun Melecio (15 points, eight assists in opener) were impressive, but he also noted how La Salle still needs to have a more rounded offense to improve on a 7-7 finish in Season 82.
"Right now, 'di masyadong inside (ang offense). But we will get a frontline that can score inside. Baltazar, we'll look for him inside. Then we'll try to create a lot of things from the guards," he said. "And I want continuity on offense."
Speeding up the development of Senegalese center Amadou Ndiaye is also one of the many tasks Pumaren will have to closely oversee in order to help the Green Archers fulfill its true potential. The coach said Ndiaye "is a work in progress" and hoped the 6-foot-11 center was further along in his development upon his arrival.
"He's a work in progress," Pumaren said. "When I got on board, I was expecting ready na to play. Ang nangyari ngayon ay parang we are preparing him to get ready."
Ndiaye looked solid on paper and averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in his first two games for La Salle, but the big man's youth and inexperience stuck out for Pumaren as he fouled out both times.
"Hopefully he'll be there in time. He's a good offensive player, I must say. Defense, medyo suspect because he still doesn't have the right balance. Natutumba, nafa-foul trouble siya," described Pumaren. "That's why biro ko sa kanya is, 'What's your average foul in the D-League?' Six kasi 12 fouls na siya sa dalawang game namin eh."
All these and more are on Pumaren's to-do list in order to help La Salle, which last won a title in 2016 and missed the Final Four for two consecutive seasons, retain its status as the league's best.
"The immediate goal is making the Final Four, but the ultimate goal is getting back the championship for La Salle," he said.