Adamson basketball's knack for finding diamonds in the rough has been a persistent source of pride for head coach Franz Pumaren, the man responsible for turning the Falcons' fortunes around in the UAAP.
Pumaren, hired by the university in late 2015, pointed to his philosophy of being a catalyst for player growth as the reason for the emergence of stars and prized contributors under his time with the program.
"My definition of being a college coach is you know how to develop players, you know how to bring the best out of each individual," he said on Thursday's episode of the Coaches Unfiltered podcast. "If you look at big schools, they want instant results. Parang they don't want to develop, which is like the PBA's style eh. Gusto kunin 'yung ripe na agad."
The Falcons are currently reaping the benefits of patient player development through Jerrick Ahanmisi and Jerom Lastimosa, both originally seen as projects by other universities in the recruitment process before finding their niche under the five-time UAAP champion coach.
Lastimosa flew under the radar of many schools but developed into a reliable floor general for Adamson, averaging 8.5 points and 3.2 assists for the Falcons in Season 82. Pumaren expects the 22-year-old guard to make the jump next season.
"Who would recognize Jerom Lastimosa? He came from the province, a small school, but now probably I can consider in the coming UAAP [season] he'll be a top-three, top-four point guard," raved Pumaren. "I think everybody will be surprised come next year. I assure you he will surprise a lot and people will start talking about Lastimosa come next year."
Ahanmisi, on the other hand, defied projections of a low ceiling by eventually evolving into the Falcons' most potent offensive option.
"Kahit ako when I first saw the guy, he was kinda weak, he was young. But one thing that I noticed right away is he can shoot. Ang bottom line is: how do you develop that? How do you maximize that? How do you make the most out of it?" said Pumaren. "We were able to develop him, and the rest is history."
The 6-foot-1 guard and 2018 Mythical Five member turned in another solid season after norming 13 points and three rebounds last season while leading the league in threes made (2.2) per game. But Pumaren said Ahanmisi needs to be a little more "cocky" and assertive in order to be fully recognized as a legitimate star.
"Si Jerrick is too nice. I think kailangan i-improve is maging selfish siya, maging assertive siya," the coach bluntly observed. "Down the stretch, he should at least ask for the ball. Kaya lang he's too nice eh. He's so happy just being part of the team. If you look at history, 'yung mga players na nag-e-excel even down sa crunch time 'yung sobrang cocky, sobrang confident talaga."
"He needs to be a bit cocky. When I say cocky, hindi naman 'yung mayabang. Ibig sabihin 'yung talagang confident ka eh," Pumaren continued. "I guess that's one thing we've been trying to develop. This coming season, he'll be the captain ball of our team. More likely, he will start being assertive. 'Yun lang naman kulang sa kanya, na may konting yabang."
Adamson is expected to continue being a development hub for under-the-radar players under Pumaren, who said cultivating a player's skill set and playing to his strengths is also part and parcel of the recruitment process.
"One advice that I can give to aspiring coaches is [that] recruiting is a process. But trying to spot a player, it takes time. Ang style ko kasi when trying to recruit a player, you have to see certain qualities that you feel he can excel eh," he said. "You try to expose and maximize the potential of one player, and you try to hide kung ano man ang weaknesses na meron siya."
Gripes over recruitment
As "rock solid" as Adamson's program is, Pumaren can't help but rue how the university's basketball program still sometimes loses out in recruitment wars that have supposedly gotten out of hand.
"'Yung ibang aspeto na lang, do'n kami natatalo eh. And we know that for a fact," the coach said about recruiting. "It's sad for me to say, but it's getting out of control."
Pumaren shared a conversation he had a few years back with one UAAP board representative, who posed a simple question about player allowances.
"One of the board representatives of the UAAP schools asked me, 'What's an ideal allowance for a student-athlete?' Sabi ko an ideal allowance would be eight to ten thousand lang. But we have to accept reality," he remarked. "Even though you pass that sa board na the allowance should be like this only, you think mawawala 'yung other supposed goodwill na binibigay? It's futile.
"It's a nice idea if everybody will follow that. Because if everybody will follow a certain amount to be given to student-athletes, it's gonna be fair to all the schools. Ang titingnan diyan ng parents at ng student ay who has the best basketball program. Pero right now, talagang secondary na lang 'yung basketball program. Ang titingnan 'yung what's in it for the athlete, for the parents and everything. I don't know if the schools will react. Maybe I'll hit a nerve. But it's reality, it's an open secret eh."
To reinforce his point, Pumaren, without dropping names, recalled instances when blue-chip recruits Adamson recruited and developed later transferred to another university all of a sudden.
"What's funny is may mga players that tried out for other schools, they didn't get them. Pero when we trained them nung bumalik, kinuha," he said.
Pumaren could have been pertaining to anybody, but two years ago, a couple of Filipino-American players he personally recruited in Tyrus Hill and Kurt Lojera were notably embroiled in a transfer controversy after moving to De La Salle University despite telling Adamson management they would move back home to California.
"Kagaya nga ng mga dinevelop kong players. Ginagamit eh (kaya) lumipat ng eskwela. Sasabihin mo lumipat lang siya because of that? Come on, who are you joking 'di ba?" he quipped.
These issues haven't stopped Pumaren and Adamson from scouring other areas in search of new talent. Just recently, the Falcons landed another recruit in Ateneo Blue Eaglets team captain Joaquin Jaymalin, a raw but talented shooter in the junior ranks who will be eligible to play right away next season.
"I'm expecting him to grow an inch or two. He's been under the radar because of course Ateneo is still a solid team, their rotation has been solid. But he can shoot. I've watched him. I think he's a welcome addition on our part, and I'm confident we can develop him into a better all-around player," he said.
Pumaren said the Falcons will also strive to orchestrate a quick turnaround from last season, when the team, a year removed from nearly breaking into the title round, missed the Final Four for the first time during his tenure after finishing sixth with a 4-10 card.
"That's the problem when you start winning. You start spoiling everybody, the community, the basketball fans," he said of the expectations on Adamson and last year's campaign. "It was a very young team, no experience at all. Of course, you could see the flashes of brilliance of the younger guys. Hopefully this year, it's gonna be different."