AIR21’s 113-92 victory over Globalport on Wednesday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum meant more for Franz Pumaren than just keeping the Express’ playoff hopes.
It also meant the head coach has already equalled his win total from all of last season.
In his rookie year at the helm, Shopinas/Air21 could only come up with five wins in 32 games while going 0-14 win-loss slate in the last Philippine Cup - a win total the Lina franchise has matched after just the elimination round of the season-opening tournament.
“We’re just due of redemption,” Pumaren said after the Express notched their fifth win in 14 games. “I’m not trying to wash my hands or justify our performance last year, but you have to remember we went to the tournament (after being) formed barely two weeks.”
Bannered last season by Ren Ren Ritualo and Nelbert Omolon, veterans who are arguably past their prime, the Express languished at the bottom of the standings throughout the campaign.
But with the addition of KG Canaleta, Mike Cortez, and Bonbon Custodio, the Express have shown marked improvement from last year.
“Nothing against my former players, they hardly played and they had little exposure. At least now, I have some materials. I’m the type of coach who won’t dwell on situations like, 'Sayang, I didn’t have this player.' Whatever players I have I just try to make the most out of them,” Pumaren said.
True enough, Pumaren is already making the most of two of his new players.
Cortez, in just his first game since being traded from Barangay Ginebra last month, exploded for 24 points, six rebounds, six assists, and five steals as the Express beat Barako Bull, 86-85, last November 9.
It was the athletic Canaleta’s turn to shine on Wednesday night. Rarely utilized when he was with Barangay Ginebra, Canaleta is now getting the playing time he deserves and he has repaid his coach’s faith by exploding for 41 points, the most by a local since Gary David fired 42 in October last year, to lead the Express past the Batang Pier.
With Cortez and Canaleta showing the way, there's no way but up for Pumaren's troops.