WHATEVER the result of the 2019 PBA D-League Finals was, Centro Escolar University is already a champion in coach Derrick Pumaren's eyes.
"In my book, you’re already a champion because you’ve done something incredible. There was nothing to be ashamed of. That’s why I told them put your heads up when you get out of this room because we’ve overachieved. We already did a big accomplishment," said the veteran mentor.
The eight-man Scorpions crew fell to the much-favored Cignal-Ateneo Blue Eagles in four games of the championship round, but the team truly showed their heart as they made it this far despite their roster being hounded by game-fixing allegations that escalated to half of the team being shed.
"We feel bad but we lost to a better team. Ateneo is strong and they showed their dominance," he said.
"Medyo pagod na rin yung mga bata and I just tried to push them but hanggang doon lang eh, wala nang maibigay. Pero masaya naman ako, that in spite of an eight-man lineup and a seven-man rotation, we still made it here."
In hindsight, Pumaren does agree to the notion that had a complete lineup been at his disposal, CEU might have had a better chance against the powerhouse Cignal-Ateneo.
"I would be lying if I did not say na hindi pumasok sa thoughts ko yun," he admitted.
But hindsight is 20/20, and as much as he thinks a better fight would have been in store, there's really no guarantee that the championship would have been for the Scorpions' taking.
"I’m not saying that the result will be different, but what I can say is that we can give a better fight sa Ateneo and not getting walloped by 30 points. I’d like two to three more players para may konting fresh legs din," he said.
It is what it is, and for CEU, it can take solace knowing that whatever the circumstance was, it still has a case for being known as one of the best basketball programs in the country.
"CEU can play against UAAP teams. CEU can play in the NCAA," said Senegalese big man Maodo Malick Diouf, who at only 20 years of age, is the team's heart and soul. "To me, we’re the best team. So of course we’d want to play in the UAAP and NCAA. It’s the big leagues, and we want to play in the big leagues."
Pumaren agreed, using this as a confidence-booster in the next tournaments the Scorpions will join.
"In spite of all the issues, all the distractions, we still made it all the way here to the Finals. We were able to steal one game from Ateneo, but we can use this as a springboard for the next conference ng D-League," he said. "Hopefully, we’ll have enough time to fill in players dahil we’re back to the drawing board because nawala yung ibang players." with reports from Andrew Mencias