Part Two: New Man in Charge
True enough, after that I joined the PBL (Philippine Basketball League). Back then, the rule was you had to play two years in the UAAP before getting in. I joined the Welcoat team, a powerhouse team at the time coached by Junel Baculi. I was one of their prized recruits, along with Don and Ren-Ren. I wonder sometimes why our players today don’t make it to the PBL even when they’re already in their third, fourth, or fifth years. Whatever the reason, it was a blessing because it made me a stronger player. They made me the main point guard and what Ron Jacobs told me really boosted my confidence. I became part of the Mythical Five that year, as well as Finals MVP.
Then things in the team changed dramatically just before the 1998 season, when Franz Pumaren took over. Honestly, it was hard at the time, and I was part of that group that really questioned the change. But don’t get me wrong, it was never about his credentials or abilities, it was just about the timing. The team was intact but had to start over and we were scared because we wanted to win the championship. They (team officials) called this breakfast at Jong Uichico’s house for whatever reason, and that’s when he announced he was leaving. For us it was quite wild. When he told us, we were very disappointed, again not because Franz was coming in but because of the timing. I mean, you just can’t see 48 days forward; we were just saying that if they wanted to change him, they should have done so right after the season.
It was hard in the beginning. Franz put in a totally different system. Total difference – with Ron Jacobs, the philosophy was that basketball is such a short game, so you get the ball in the hands of the best players all the time. If you watch our tapes, you’ll notice it was just Ren-Ren and Mark, Ren-Ren and Mark. No wonder I was leader in assists that year.
When the Pumaren group came in, there were plays (with Ron Jacobs, it was just motion, pass-screen na lang). With the Pumaren group we had about one hundred plays to memorise – there were plays for the point guard, plays for the shooting guard – and it was controlled and made us all offensively useful. If I wanted to shoot, I knew what play to call so that I’d be free.
But what impressed me and the entire league was of course the pressing. Watch the games before 1997 and you will not see any team pressing. If I was averaging two steals a game and leading the league, during that first year of Franz, I averaged five steals a game, 4.8 steals, because of the defence that he and his group instilled in us. And really, if you look at it, La Salle was always a good offensive team. Defensively though, it was touch and go. Some top players – you don’t have to mention them – just didn’t play defence. But when they came in, even Allen Patrimonio, all 280 lbs of him was playing defence! Sa offence, kanya-kanya bili, but one thing that was clearly different was the defence.
Plus, we had three to four presses to really confuse the opponent. I was talking to one of the other UAAP coaches then, he said, “you know your press is a 1-2-1-1, etc.” I said, “no, it’s just man to man, we pick up and every time you turn your back we’re there.” The whole time they were trying all these strategies but they just didn’t know how to play us. People didn’t know what our press was. Once you turned your back, we were there doubling, but really, there was no formation with two guys there or what. People thought it was a full court press but it was just aggressive man-to-man defence: forcing our opponents to turn their back then double-teaming.
To be Continued