One does not simply forget a coach who brought a terribly undermanned team all the way to the Finals.
That’s how Derrick Pumaren’s stint with Centro Escolar University will always be remembered. Against the odds, he led a seven-man Scorpions side to the championship round of the 2019 PBA D-League.
It was one of the most awe-inspiring playoff runs local basketball had seen, given the predicament of one of the most successful teams outside of the UAAP and NCAA.
Game-fixing allegations rocked the Mendiola-based school’s men’s basketball program. Seven players got kicked out, putting CEU in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
It also happened in the midst of the D-League quarterfinal,s when the Scorpions were on the verge of losing their hard-earned twice-to-beat advantage in the hands of Go for Gold-St. Benilde.
The Scorpions only had eight players on their roster for the second game — CEU originally planned to play with only seven, but league rules require a minimum of eight players.
So the odds appeared to be against them. But it was only the start of a truly impressive run.
The Scorpions refused to surrender their twice-to-beat advantage. They played with their hearts out, taking down the veteran-laden Scratchers, 84-74, to make it to the semifinals.
They then faced St. Clare College-Virtual Reality in the penultimate phase. And it was yet another challenge for them, since the Saints were amongst the contenders in that conference.
Still, they overcame the hurdle. With their backs against the wall, the Scorpions delivered in the deciding Game Three, 89-72, to book a meeting with Cignal-Ateneo in the Finals.
At that moment, Pumaren was already beaming with pride over what they had achieved.
“For me, this team is already a champion. With all the adversities na nangyari, we still made it.”
Given the Blue Eagles’ pedigree, though, the result was inevitable. The cagers from Katipunan captured the crown to successfully cap off their maiden campaign in the developmental ranks.
But no Scorpion was hanging their head, despite their Cinderella run coming to an end. And they had nothing to be ashamed of, as they fought as hard as they could despite their situation.
They may not have won the title, but they proved doubters wrong in that series. Entering the title bout, many believed that Cignal-Ateneo would sweep its way towards the championship.
That looked like it when CEU got blown out by 55 points, 66-101, in the opener. But the Scorpions came out with a stunner and took Game Two, 77-74, before bowing in the last two games.
It may just be a small win for some, but it was the last time Ateneo would suffer a loss in a tilt. The Blue Eagles then swept the competition in the UAAP Season 82, all the way to the PCCL last March.
So it could be said that CEU is the last team to have beaten Ateneo, the reigning three-time UAAP gold medalists who have become the barometer of college basketball in the country today.
And, yes, CEU did it with just seven active players — Senegalese big man Maodo Malick Diouf, Jerome Santos, Rich Guinitaran, Franz Diaz, Dave Bernabe, Joshua Abastillas, and Kurt Sunga.
“Bragging rights ng CEU. I think we’re the last team to beat Ateneo in a tournament,” said Pumaren proudly in the Hoop Coaches International Webinar hosted by the Blackwater Elite.
Even Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin had nothing but praises for Pumaren and his gutsy chargers.
“I think Derrick’s been around too long for me to say that I’m really proud of him. But I think I’m proud to have competed against them,” said Baldwin after clinching the title in Game Four.
“You know, because they really brought everything and [overcame] the adversity that they’ve been under.”
CEU has since been reeling from those events, and the program has also seen major changes. First was Diouf’s departure, as he transferred to University of the Philippines late last year.
Then just last January, Pumaren bade goodbye to the school as he returned to the De La Salle University.
That ended his stint with CEU, which began in 2018 when he was named general manager of basketball operations before becoming its head coach that saw him win an NCRAA gold.
Taking over the head coaching reins is former Colegio de San Juan de Letran chief bench strategist Jeff Napa.
Pumaren’s stay with CEU may have only been short, but there’s no question that he will remain a beloved figure there.
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