THERE was hardly any surprise that rookie guard Simon Atkins played his career-game in the PBA under coach Franz Pumaren.
Player and mentor, afterall, go a long way back in a partnership that has withstood the test of time, and even produced a memorable UAAP men’s basketball championship for La Salle in 2007.
Atkins had come to know Pumaren very well from head to foot that he said the veteran mentor usually shows his love by getting angry at him.
“Everyday pinapagalitan niya ako when I made mistakes. But that’s how coach Franz shows his love. If hindi ka niya pagagalitan matakot ka na,” said Atkins, son of a British and a Filipina lass from Tarlac.
The hard work and Pumaren’s constant nagging finally bore fruit on Sunday night when Atkins had a career-high 22 points in Air21’s stunning win over Alaska, 121-107, in the final day of the Governors Cup eliminations at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Air21 freshman highlighted his best game as a pro by going 8-of-9 from the field overall, including a flawless stint from three-point range where he finished 6-of-6. In doing so, he tied the league’s all-time record for most three-point field goal without a miss held by Glenn Capacio, Vic Pablo, Dondon Hontiveros, and RenRen Ritualo.
“The way I played, it’s the first time I feel that I belonged (in the PBA),” he said.
It helped indeed, that Atkins knows the system being employed by Pumaren by heart.
“Kasi I know naman what he wants. Yung hinihingi niya naman yung alam niyang kaya mong ibigay,” he said.
"The transition from UAAP to the PBA napadali na sa akin dahil kay coach Franz ako naglaro. I know na the system and me believing in the system. It’s just a matter of me pushing myself.”
Just how he trusted Pumaren was tested right from the start once he entered La Salle in 2006, the year the Taft-based team served out its suspension in the UAAP.
“He told me about the situation. But I said to him no matter what happens, I am willing to wait and play. You know, loyalty is a big thing for me. From high school La Salle na kasi ako, and they took good care of me, kaya I do believe in the La Salle community,” Atkins recalled.
Eventually, Atkins would win a UAAP championship with Franz in 2007, and continued playing for the Green Archers until 2011 under another Pumaren in Dindo.
“So my whole life, it’s a Pumaren system,” said the good-looking cager with a smile.
His loyalty to La Salle and the Pumarens were repaid in August of last year when Franz picked him first in the third round of the 2012 Rookie Draft for Air21 – ironically, the 21st selection overall.
“I love coach Franz for that,” he said with a laugh. “But I thank God for coach Franz getting me in the PBA. I didn’t have yung pinamagandang season sa UAAP, but he gave me a chance. He didn’t give up on me.”
But the feeling is mutual as far as Pumaren is concerned.
“We have a good start because of the torrid shooting of Simon,” said the Air21 coach shortly after the win over Alaska. “One thing nice about Simon is that there’s no substitute to hard work.
"He may be sitting on the bench most of the time but he’s the first one to come in practice and the last one to leave the court and do some extra work.”