The foreign student that no one wanted turned out to be the one needed by the CEU Scorpions to tide them over their most important victory not just as a basketball program but, more importantly, as a school and as a community.
Maodo Malick Diouf finished with 25 points and 29 rebounds as the undermanned Scorpions won a drama-filled Game 2 of their quarterfinal pairing against Go for Gold-CSB, 84-74, at the Ynares Sports Arena to qualify for the final four of the 2019 PBA D-League season.
After the game, an exhausted Diouf covered his eyes that were already starting to turn red as he received a hug from CEU head coach Derrick Pumaren.
"When he came to us through Karim (Abdul) of UST, nobody wanted him," said the coach about his prized player. "He was just 19 then but I saw his dedication to the game and I saw that he wanted to be good so we took a chance on him."
Diouf, a Muslim, competed in the quarterfinals while taking in no food from three in the morning to 6 PM because of the observance of Ramadan. In their do-or-die game, he almost played to exhaustion as he was there for the entire 40 minutes as Pumaren had no other choice.
CEU had just eight players in uniform, the minimum required by PBA D-League regulations, but only seven saw action. One less body on the bench would have cost the school 350,000 pesos in fines. Pumaren only used two substitutes as Jordan Intic was not fielded in.
No Judel Fuentes, Christian Uri, Keanu Caballero, Tyron Chan, Jan Formento, John Edcel Rojas, and John Lisbo. Among the Scorpions who saw action, only Diouf and substitute guard John Ray Diaz saw regular minutes this season as their ace scorer Rich Guinitaran was just coming back from a fractured arm which put him out of commission for three months.
CEU got help elsewhere as Jerome Santos who was averaging a single point per contest dropped 15 markers in the knockout game while Dave Bernabe who had not seen action all season long chipped in 10 points.
'Why would you throw away your future?'
"We cannot cry over spilled milk. It already happened. We'll just look for new players who fit into our system," said Pumaren addressing the issue of game-fixing that ravaged their lineup before the game.
"Right after practice (yesterday), it happened," the coach continued after he was asked to backtrack the events that led to their decision to play without their key guys. "We had a late practice yesterday because we had a UCBL Summer League game. It ended at about 3 or 4 PM and that's when we found out that some of our players will not be able to play. The sad part is that it happened even in a summer league game. It was so disheartening, so frustrating to find out they were doing it there and in other leagues as well."
The Scorpions have been very busy as they're also seeing action in the Fil-Oil Flying V Pre-Season Tournament but now they are faced with the challenge of only having seven players in action.
"There's already strong evidence and the players have admitted to it already. We cannot let them play and tolerate the mistake. We're a school, an institution of learning. We have to bite the bullet. If we lose, we lose. We'll just have to move on," added Pumaren.
"We love the sport of basketball. It has been good to us, good to our families. We have a chance to win but why would you throw away your future for that?"
The CEU head coach explained that they wanted to talk to the PBA officials about adding more players into their roster but these have already been finalized at the start of the playoffs.
"We'll play with the same lineup because we cannot add players. That is the PBA's rule," the coach said. "We wanted to ask for an exception but I doubt that Go for Gold would agree to it. So we just threw away Xs and Os and focused on motivation. I was surprised we got the win but I'm proud that our players gave it their all."
They will now prepare to take on another collegiate team in the St. Clare College-Virtual Reality squad, who only needed one game to punch their semis ticket against Metropac Movers-SBU.
More than that, however, Pumaren is looking to rebuild his team from the ground up.
"We're be going back to the drawing board," he said. "There might be changes because of the investigation happening now."
Asked whether Intic will be fielded in for their next game. Pumaren refused to commit.
"I don't know if I'll use him. I don't know what we'll find out with the investigation."
As for Diouf, he was dead tired after the match but still managed to spend a few minutes with members of the media to share his thoughts.
"We needed to win. We did a great job in the first half and I told my teammates that we could win," Diouf who managed to play all 40 minutes even if he already had three fouls in the first half. "I told coach I can manage because I was the only big man there."
"I play for my teammates left. I know they like me," Diouf went on. "We knew we were only going to play with seven players so they came into my room..." he trailed off, losing his train of thought as the tears started to flow.