SEPTEMBER 10, 2008
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Last Tuesday, I got a call from a fellow La Salle alumnus asking my opinion on a plan to slip coach Franz Pumaren out of Tehran in time to sit on the La Salle bench for the Saturday UAAP senior men’s basketball game against Ateneo.

Pumaren was in Tehran to call the shots for the Philippine team in the FIBA-Asia Under-18 Youth Championships. He left Manila last Aug. 25 and missed the Archers’ games against UST (Aug. 28) and Adamson (Aug. 31).

In Pumaren’s absence, assistant coach Jack Santiago piloted the Archers to wins over the Tigers, 81-79, and Falcons, 84-79. According to the alumnus on the line, Santiago would be severely distracted in the Ateneo game because his father is gravely ill – in which case, another assistant Tyrone Bautista may likely fill in. Bautista, however, was considered too raw to handle the Archers in such a crucial game.

“Why can’t Franz just come home and let his brother Derick coach the Philippine team in its last two games?” wondered the caller. “Anyway, the Philippines is already out of semifinal contention.”

My reply was firm and unconditional – Pumaren should stay in Tehran and end the tournament with the national team, regardless of the results. That was the honorable and patriotic thing to do.

The day before, Japan crushed the Philippines, 86-78, and wiped out the Filipinos’ hopes of advancing to the semifinals.

For the record, Pumaren – Franz, that is – steered the Philippines to a 2-1 record in the eliminations with wins over Chinese-Taipei (106-105 in double OT) and the United Arab Emirates (73-54) and a loss to Lebanon (87-84). That earned for the Filipinos a ticket to the quarterfinals.

Alas, the Philippines got it flush on the jaw in losing a 98-80 blowout to South Korea to start the quarterfinals. The loss to Japan ended the Filipinos’ dream of finishing in the top three to qualify for the World Junior Championships in New Zealand next year.

Franz went on to coach the Philippines to an 85-84 victory over Iran to end the quarterfinals on a somewhat upbeat note. The Filipinos showed grim determination in coming back from 15 points down to upset the hosts who played without top scorer Emad Salmani, averaging 16.8 points.

It was a no-bearing game for Iran so the key hometown players were rested. Iran sent in only nine players compared to the Philippines’ 11. Win or lose, Iran was headed to the semifinals against Syria. So the victory was not as meaningful as it seemed.

* * * Last Thursday night, Franz quietly arrived home. He was at the Araneta Coliseum to coach the Archers against the Blue Eagles last Saturday. Ateneo spoiled his comeback with an emphatic 65-57 decision.

Derick was left behind in Tehran to coach the “abandonados” who lost an 86-63 verdict to China then wound up the tournament trouncing Lebanon, 74-63.

The Philippines ended up seventh in the ladder behind Iran, Kazakhstan, Syria, Japan, China and South Korea. While the players gave it their all and must be congratulated for their gritty performance, finishing seventh is surely no cause for celebration. The showing was mediocre, to say the least, particularly as the Philippines used to dominate this age bracket in Asia.

Ironically, newspaper ads hailed the Philippine team for a “good job” and an “excellent effort” in representing the country. “Well done,” the ads proclaimed. How can you motivate future national teams to excel when a seventh place finish is considered a job well done?

As for Franz’ desertion, there is absolutely no excuse for abandoning the national team. The fact that the Philippines had already been eliminated from title contention only made it even more important for Franz to stay in Tehran – to be with his boys in their hour of defeat.

When Franz accepted the job to coach in Tehran, he knew there would be a conflict with La Salle’s schedule. He didn’t agree to take on the responsibility for flag and country blindly. It was an unconditional commitment through thick and thin. There was no escape clause to allow Franz an excuse slip in case things turned sour.

What if the Philippines qualified for the semifinals? Would Franz have left Tehran and hurried back home to coach La Salle against Ateneo? Of course, Franz would’ve stayed if the team remained in title contention – which only made his decision to leave even more deplorable.

* * * Like Franz, I am a La Salle graduate. I was taught by the Christian Brothers to be a man of my word, to honor my obligations, to live the Word of God, to stand by my principles and to love my country.

What Franz did was against the principles that we learned at La Salle. It was an act of treason because whether you like it or not, Franz was guilty of desertion. To compromise his commitment to the country for a school game is not only unpatriotic but also unconscionable. It smacked of a poor sense of priorities. I am surprised that the Christian Brothers allowed him to come back and appalled that no one in the school raised this moral issue against Franz.

Someone mentioned that several years ago, UST gave up two stars in Patrick Fran and Dennis Espino to play for the national team during the UAAP season and as a result, lost the chance for the championship. Although it was a painful decision, nobody from UST complained because the sacrifice was for the country.

As an elected government official, Franz should’ve known better. He should be reminded that first and foremost, he is a Filipino. He accepted the assignment to coach the national team in Tehran, with honor and without conditions. His decision to abandon the country to coach La Salle last Saturday is beyond justification. It was so unlike a La Salle Christian gentleman.

Lions, Knights clash in crucial encounter Wednesday, September 10, 2008

San Beda guns for the top seeding while Letran goes for the second Final Four berth and the other twice-to-beat incentive as they clash today at the close of the elims in the 84th NCAA basketball tournament at the Araneta Coliseum.

Gametime is at 4 p.m. with the Lions seeking to advance to the semifinals with a 10-3 (win-loss) slate.

On the other hand, the Knights, with a 9-4 slate, try to book the No. 2 ranking and avoid falling into a four-way tie with San Sebastian, Mapua and Jose Rizal U, which all wound up with 9-5 slates.

“It’s going to be a big game for us,” said San Beda coach Frankie Lim. “We want to stay on No. 1 and show the team’s passion for excellence.”

“Beating San Beda is a tall order but it can be done. We just have to match their rebounding, intensity, fast break and transition points,” Letran mentor Louie Alas said.

Using the FIBA classification point system, a win by Letran will force a playoff for No. 1 with San Beda with the winner getting the top seeding.

That will leave San Sebastian, Jose Rizal and Mapua in a three-way tie at No. 3. But the Stags will advance outright to the Final Four with the highest tiebreak score of seven points.

The Cardinals and the Bombers, who emerged with six and five tiebreak points, respectively, will knock each other out for the last semis seat and another playoff with SSC for the No. 3 seeding.

A victory by San Beda, however, will make it more complicated.

While the Lions will make the Final Four as the top seed, the Knights would slide to a four-way tie for second with the Stags, the Bombers and the Cardinals.

In this scenario, San Sebastian will battle Jose Rizal while Mapua will take on Letran in the first round of knockout matches.

The winners will then slug it out for the No. 2 seeding and the other twice-to-beat edge while the loser will end up at No. 3.

The losing teams in the first round of playoffs will figure in a sudden death for the last semis ticket.

Alas said he might give extra extension to Nigerian behemoth Sam Ekwe, the 2006 rookie MVP, and San Beda’s main man.

The 6-9 Lagos, Nigeria native scored 25 points as he powered the Lions to a 71-67 win over the Knights in their first encounter.

“I thought he was just on a zone that particular game. But he kept nailing his jumpers the rest of the second round, he’s really for real,” said Alas. – Joey Villar

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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