MANILA, Philippines – Just as athletes bask under the spotlight after a win or of history made, they also fall to their knees and succumb to tears at the pain of defeat.
A year ago, Roi Sumang raised both his fists in the air with a fiery, intense look on his face after he drained a go-ahead 25-foot three-pointer along with the foul from Ray Parks with 3.7 ticks on the clock. That 4-point play gave the UE Red Warriors a 71-67 upset of a win over the NU Bulldogs.
Fast forward to Sunday, August 3, Sumang faced the Bulldogs again and was once more put in a position to salvage a victory for his team. But this time, the result left him sprawled on the Smart Araneta Coliseum hardwood and sobbing while his school hymn was played.
It was the second straight game in which UE went to Sumang for the final shot to change their fate.
In a stinging 60-58 loss to defending champions De La Salle Green Archers, Sumang had the final possession in his hands as he used a screen, drove past his defender and stopped for a jumper. The shot was short, there was no foul as Sumang had hoped, and UE lost.
A week later, Sumang and the Warriors swallowed another bitter pill with a 57-55 loss to the Bulldogs. Sumang tried for a lay-up against big man Alfred Aroga in the last possession once again but his attempt simply bounced off the board.
The 23-year old playmaker could barely muster any words as he faced reporters after the game on Sunday, August 3. But once he found his voice, he quickly took the blame for his shortcomings.
“Oo, ako na yung mali. Ako na naman. Ewan ko. Short (yung tira), so sa akin na naman,” he said dejectedly. (Yes, it’s my mistake. It’s my fault again. I don’t know. It was short so it’s on me again.)
“Siguro kulang lang talaga,” he added. “Siguro dapat nag-extra pass pa ako. Wala na ako nakita after ko mag-drive. Open lane na rin, malaki lang talaga si Aroga kaya hindi ko nakuha.” (Maybe I just came up short. Perhaps I should have made the extra pass. I didn’t see anybody after I drove to the ring. It was an open lane I guess, and Aroga was just really big so I didn’t get it to fall.)
The loss stung more because it was also the hosts’ third straight after starting UAAP Season 76 at 2-0.
“Sino bang hindi iiyak pag tatlong beses tayo natalo?” (Who will not cry after 3 straight losses?)
Even before he entered the locker room Sumang already knew he would be in for tough criticism. He is dubbed “Super Sumang” after all. And crunch time for UE, the last possession with the game on the line, is affectionately known as “Sumang Time.”
Not surprisingly, expectations are high from last season’s Mythical Five member who normed 19 points and 5 assists last season.
“Ngayon medyo may pressure na sa akin,” he admitted prior to the start of the season as he admitted he worked on settling in more as a facilitator for his teammates rather than going one-on-one against his defenders. So far this season, he is averaging 12 points and 5 assists. (Now there’s more pressure on me.)
“Sobra ko na-improve yung pagiging leader ko ngayon. Every possession naghu-huddle na ako.” (I improved a lot on being a leader now. I huddle up my teammates every possession.)
No stranger to social media and the backlash it can direct to a misfiring collegiate star, Sumang braced himself for the worst. At the very least, he finds solace in his teammates.
“Sa dugout gusto ko yung sinabi ni RR (De Leon) na sigurado sa social media ako na naman yung kawawa,” he relayed how his teammates rallied behind him in spite of the loss.
“Sabi niya, ‘Protektahan natin yung teammate natin.’ Sa akin, handa na ako doon.”
(I liked what RR said in the dugout that for sure I’ll be the target on social media. He said, ‘Let’s protect our teammate.’ For me, I’m ready for that.)
The Warriors are among the dark horses this season with a more mature Charles Mammie combined with Chris Javier and Moustapha Arafat at the frontline and with guys like Gino Jumao-as and Bong Galanza on the wings. (RELATED: A new era of UE basketball)
Add to that their inheritance of coach Derrick Pumaren’s signature pressure defense, then UE is quickly bumped off the non-contenders list.
However, in their last 3 outings, they’ve had some difficulty closing out. They battle neck-and-neck throughout the contest but lose steam towards the end as their opponents pull the rug right from underneath them to come away victorious.
“I think the problem is the execution,” Pumaren explained what problem he sees in his young squad. “Last two games we were not playing as a team offensively. I think there is no sharing of the ball. Instead of making the extra pass, we’re not doing it.”
Against NU in particular, Pumaren added that it was “the little things” such as getting offensive rebounds that did them in.
“I told them time and again those little things will win ballgames for us. But they just took it for granted.”
Pumaren also explained his decision to sit out Mammie and Sumang for the majority of the fourth.
“I think it’s just right to keep them there (on the bench). Charles (Mammie) is not giving us anything defensively. I think we were doing better with Arafat. We made a come back with those guys there.”
Sumang, on the other hand, points out a lack of communication on the court – something vital when executing defensive schemes such as the full-court press.
“Siguro yung sa team effort lang may kulang and communication sa defense. So now nag-adjust kami. Hindi kami gaano nag-press kasi isang week wala kaming rest. So medyo hindi gumana yung press namin.”
(Maybe we lack team effort and communication on defense. So now we adjusted. We didn’t press too much because we did not have rest for a week. So the press did not work that well.)
Questions and doubts now hang over the heads of the Warriors midway through the first round of eliminations.
At 2-3, they still have two more games to build momentum via some wins heading into the second round, and in the process exorcise all negativity and uncertainty from within themselves, more than those hurled by outside forces.
“Wala akong pakialam sa kanila,” Sumang declared, a growing conviction in his tone. “Kung ano man yung gawin nila sa akin, kung ano man yung sabihin nila sa akin, basta ready lang ako at maglalaro pa rin ako for UE.“
(I don’t care about them. Whatever they do, whatever they say about me, I’m just ready and I will still play for UE.)
Up next for them are Ateneo and UST. Pumaren expects his wards to take the positives from the pile-up of defeats and weave them into a comeback, morale-boosting win.
He is managing the confidence of his players by constant reminders that “the war is not over yet” and they are “still in pretty good shape.”
A win on Sunday will certainly right the Warriors’ rocking ship.
As for Sumang, after two consecutive failures at crucial moments, the questions are: Has his confidence and subsequent killer instinct wavered? Will he still be the fearless Super Sumang? Will he still take the last shot with everything on the line knowing full well he could just miss it again?
It took but a split second for him to answer.
“Wala, ako pa rin. Kukuunin ko pa rin yung bola. For sure. Hindi naman ako natatakot sa ganyan challenge. Siguro hindi lang talaga bingay ni God sa amin yung win. Siguro next game baka sa amin na.” (No, it will still be me. I will still get the ball. For sure. I am not afraid of challenges like that. Perhaps God just did not give us this win. Maybe next time he’ll give it to us already.) – Rappler.com
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