My Ateneo Blue Eagles won the UAAP Finals for the second straight year — one big fight! As a blue-blooded Atenean for 20 years, from prep to law school, nothing beats the feeling of being crowned champions of this highly contested tournament. The entire Ateneo community is jubilant and the date has been set for the traditional bonfire at Loyola. I myself can’t wait to buy this year’s championship shirt, another necessary expense in honor of this feat.
“It was obvious that the team respected the system instilled by coach Tab and this made them more disciplined and intelligent individuals.
If I may share, this UAAP season is probably the first time I was not able see a live game, mainly because my wife and I have a more important concern — her pregnancy with our son, due to come out in a few weeks, our future Atenean. Cheering for the Blue Eagles is a family affair, a reason for us to shout our lungs out like crazy college kids. In fact, in last year’s Game 3 of the Finals against archrivals De La Salle Green Archers, we brought our then 1-year-old daughter, who served as the lucky charm that, in my opinion, helped the Blue and White beat the strong DLSU Mayhem team, led by the fierce Ben Mbala.
Yet, I daresay that Ateneo winning the championship is something that does not come as a real surprise. The team was the pre-season favorites, having participated and excelled in the Jones Cup and overseas in Greece. In fact, all UAAP coaches cited Ateneo as the team to beat. It likewise maintained its core players and added a monster of an import, Ange Kouame, a taller and more athletic version of last year’s Chiz Ikeh. Early season losses to Adamson and FEU may have cast some doubt on this prediction, but Ateneo quickly bounced back and started clobbering its opponents with consistent double-digit wins.
Credit belongs to coaches Tab Baldwin, Sandy Arespacochaga and the rest of the staff.
With the exception of Thirdy Ravena beasting in the Finals, every game exhibited a different guy who stepped up to the plate. Ateneo’s “next-man-up” attitude eliminated hero-ball, lessened the tendency of doing excessive showboating and celebration and made the players more level-headed and focused. It was obvious that the team respected the system instilled by coach Tab and this made them more disciplined and intelligent individuals — traits they will bring with them after they graduate and if they decide to go pro.
Only one player, sharpshooter Anton Asistio, will graduate this year, letting Ateneo again retain its core players, readying itself for a possible 3-peat next year. Ateneans, however, should not get over their heads, since the biggest threat next year is definitely the team that made the biggest surprise this year — the UP Fighting Maroons.
Let me say this: Ateneo may have won the championship but UP won the hearts of all basketball fans. UP beat all expectations by making it to the Finals in such an outstanding fashion. The two games it played against the Adamson Falcons were remarkable and Game 2 of the said series has got to be one of the best games in UAAP Basketball history, cementing the legendary status of Paul “Atin ’To” Desiderio.
UP has eradicated its cellar-dweller status that made them the laughing stock of the UAAP.
Case in point: A Twitter account named “Did UP Win Today” was created four years ago just to remind people that it still has not won a game. And when UP won a single game a few seasons ago, a bonfire was held at its Sunken Garden, a self-deprecating jab on its then sorry state. This is now all gone.
Next season, college superstars Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras will join MVP Bright Akheutie, Mythical Five member Juan Gomez de Liano, Jun Manzo and the rest of the feisty squad, making them instant title contenders. The experience gained this season carries so much weight and brings confidence to the team. Should this be enough for a championship run next season?
“Ateneo may have won the championship but UP won the hearts of all basketball fans.
I cannot help but compare this year’s UP #AtinTo squad to the Ateneo “We Believe” team in 2001, the breakthrough year that ended our status as cellar-dwellers. The 2001 Ateneo team finished the season as second in the rankings but eventually lost to first ranked DLSU in three games at the Finals. The following year, Ateneo overcame twice-to-beat UE Red Warriors in the Final Four, thanks to the heroics of Gec Chia, then again faced DLSU in the 2002 Finals. Alas, Ateneo won its first championship in 14 years. Hence, in the event that UP and Ateneo again meet in 2019, history may be on the side of the Fighting Maroons, but never count out my Blue Eagles, who will be back with even more maturity and experience. ’Til we meet again!