FRANZ Pumaren’s kids never had the chance to see him play for the NCC-backed national team in the eighties, so much so that he had to describe himself as a player to his children by way of parallels with the present crop of Gilas Pilipinas heroes which he felt joked closely resembled his game.
“Modestly speaking, I’m just like the Jimmy Alapag then," he recounted telling his children, easily bringing the house down on this night when three national teams from different eras were feted by the PBA Press Corps during the 20th staging of its Annual Awards Night.
Pumaren, speaking on behalf of the 1985 NCC team that won the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship (forerunner of the Fiba-Asia), quickly added, “The shooting of Jimmy Alapag, the basketball savvy of LA Tenorio, and the quickness of Jason Castro.”
Then upon seeing in the audience Gilas assistant coach Norman Black, with whom he played for during his long stint with San Miguel Beer in the PBA, Pumaren promptly said, “You know, Norman Black is smiling because he can attest to that,” further drawing laughter inside Banquet B of Wack Wack Golf Club.
But seriously speaking, Pumaren sees striking similarity between NCC and Gilas, whose runner-up finish in the last Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship held here was the highest a national cage team achieved since legendary American coach Ron Jacobs steered Pumaren and Co. to the top of Asian basketball with an 82-72 title-clinching win over China 28 years ago in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“I think the '85 and Gilas teams are mirror images,” he said, noting how both groups were handled by basketball-loving patrons in former Ambassador Eduardo `Danding’ Cojuangco and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Manny V. Pangilinan, respectively.
While they may be amateurs back then compared to Gilas which is an all-pro squad, Pumaren observes both teams prepare the same way by travelling several times before the final tournament.
Inevitably, members of the 1985 champion team present during the affair such as Samboy Lim Hector Calma, Pido Jarencio, Jerry Codinera, Tonichi Yturri, and Elmer Reyes, can’t help but give a thought on how they will fare against the Gilas players of coach Chot Reyes.
“Sabi nga ni Elmer hamunin nga natin ng Dream Game ito, palagay ko kaya natin,” Pumaren said as laughter again filled the executive hall.
Now the head coach of Air21, Pumaren said it’s an honor for the NCC team to be associated with the `new darling of the crowd’ in Gilas.
He also lauded Reyes and his coaching staff for making the team a well-oiled machine despite the short two-month preparation it had leading up to the qualifier for the 2014 Fiba-World Cup.
But most importantly, he reserved the best praise for the players who worked hard and sacrificed a lot to bring back honor and pride to this basketball-loving nation.
“I hope you’ll make the Filipino really proud again and continue with the winning tradition,” Pumaren said.