MANILA, Philippines – Putting that aside… well deserved championship and congratulations to the UP Fighting Maroons. They did it and how.
And as painful as it sounds, let’s try again in Season 85, Ateneo Blue Eagles. I’m still proud but I’m in pain just like you.
History repeated itself.
No, not the 13-0 losing team in the last game of the elimination round and then in the first game of the final. It’s established.
Two months before the start of the ’84 season, a Blue Eagles player asked with an ominous foreboding…
“What can we do to help Jolo, Gian and BJ graduate with a championship,” I was asked.
The player referred to season 77 of the junior tournament in 2016.
It’s not like they didn’t win, but a title is always a nice graduation gift for yourself and for the Ateneo community.
Heading into the ’77 season, Ateneo lost three of its five starters in Matt and Mike Nieto, and Marc Salandanan. Enzo Joson could still play but was eliminated by academics.
Remained to hold Fort Jolo Mendoza, BJ Andrade, Gian Mamuyac and Sean Ildefonso. Young players on the team included SJ Belangel, Jason Credo, RV Berjay and Dave Ildefonso.
Defending champions Ateneo Blue Eaglets were dismissed by De La Salle Zobel, 75-68, in the stepladder format.
My response to this survey was to make sure everyone was on the same page and everyone believed they could win it all, that when players didn’t have game time they should talk to their teammates and make everyone understand that whatever you do – big or small will help the overall effort.
The cracks were there.
While I believe in team play, you still need your stars to rise and be counted when it comes time to check guts.
Ateneo beat UP in the first match of the season. Since then, the Fighting Maroons had regained their verve.
I wasn’t expecting an unbeaten season but was pleasantly surprised when they came close.
I thought NU and UE were showing teams how to beat Ateneo… a fast moving team that beat them on the boards and in the bustle games, the physicality of their game. Also, was the inconsistency of the players.
In the first game of the season – the victory over UP – six players did very well – Dave Ildefonso, Angelo Kouame, Raffy Verano, Belangel, Mamuyac and Mendoza.
Against FIRE, it was Dave and Tyler Tio.
Against Adamson, it was Angelo and Tyler.
Against La Salle, it was Angelo, Dave and Gian.
Against NU it was Dave, Angelo, SJ and Tyler.
Against UE it was Dave, Angelo, SJ and Gian.
Against UST, Tyler and BJ hit the cudgel.
In the second round against the Green Archers, it was SJ and Gian.
Against the Red Warriors, it was BJ, Angelo and SJ.
Against the Growling Tigers in a monstrous victory, six players scored in double figures.
Against the Bulldogs, Dave and Angelo played well.
Against the Soaring Falcons, it was Angelo and Matthew Daves.
Against the Tamaraws, it was Verano and Tio.
Against the Fighting Maroons to complete the elimination round, it was Angelo, SJ and Dave.
When the 82 season ended, I wrote at the time, how Ateneo replaces Thirdy Ravena in the trio will be the success of a quadruple round.
Enter Dwight Ramos. The pandemic is coming. Fate Dwight Ramos.
Dave Ildefonso returned to Ateneo after spending his first two years of college at NU and showed he could be that man to scout Ravena. But it was largely inconsistent. And on the big stage, he faded.
If you look at La Salle after season 79, they lost Jeron Teng. And that vacancy in the three spots was too glaring to fill even if they had MVP Ben Mbala. La Salle was also weakened by the loss of Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent.
Ateneo, after the ’82 season, lost four-fifths of their starting five, their sixth man and that guy supposed to replace Ravena.
When you think about it, the only remaining players with significant exposure from previous seasons were Kouame, Belangel and Verano. Everyone else is either new or haven’t had much playing time, so that meant they were on the same level as UP.
But UP had more in terms of size and staff.
UP’s size, physique and defense gave Ateneo some adjustments. But they had the stallions that carried their previous teams like Ricci Rivero (La Salle), CJ Cansino (UST), Malik Diouf who was the anti-Kouame (CEU), Carl Tamayo (NU), and Joel Cagulangan (LSGH).
They had built themselves with big recruits but also talented recruits like Cansino, Cagulangan, Rivero and Diouf. Not to mention CJ Catapusan who played well for Adamson.
Ateneo had come unstuck after the loss in Game 1. The team that was so stable in the final stage found themselves in this unfamiliar situation.
One can even posit that losing to UP at the end of the second round was a fluke. But when they took Game 1, no it wasn’t. They had taken the full measure of Ateneo and regained that confidence.
As for the Blue Eagles, the team that selflessly played the ball couldn’t find someone who wanted that ball, needed that ball, and more importantly, shot that ball. This traditional Tyler Tio UP killer was silent.
UP had been knocking on the door to greatness over the past few years. Many would laugh at Bo Perasol when he returned to his alma mater to coach and develop the UP program. While Goldwin Monteverde deserves a lot of credit for his outstanding coaching that has been on display since his days at Chiang Kai Shek, Adamson, NU, and now, UP, Perasol had his fingerprints on every player that is in their current roster. And this victory is also his.
The Fighting Maroons ended Ateneo’s long winning streak and their Finals winning streak. They are truly deserving champions.
Ateneo have just come across a hungrier and better team.
And so history was made and history sadly repeated itself for Mendoza, Mamuyac and Andrade with graduate players Tio and Verano.
Ateneo may seek to learn from the history of college basketball.
Dave Ildefonso had a tough final. Disappears badly in both losses.
Maybe he can talk to Enrico Villanueva and how he bounced back from the 2001 final when he withered in Game 3 and La Salle had his quadruple trick. Villanueva returned the following year with a monstrous season and Ateneo ended the Green Archers’ march to a fifth consecutive title.
SJ Belangel has had a tough first season as the main point guard.
In season 78, without Mamu, Jolo and BJ, he played alongside Kai Sotto, Credo, Berjay, Joaqui Manuel and Dave. They lost in the Final Four to FEU which had RJ Abarrientos, LJ Gonzales, Xyrus Torres, Daniel Celzo and Royce Alforque.
If SJ wants to graduate with a championship (and he did in high school in season 79), he needs to elevate his game and play with manic consistency.
Ateneo will end up with players who had good playing time with Chris Koon, Dave, Joshua Lazaro and Daves (not to mention Angelo). How they rise is anyone’s guess.
And here’s a shopping list…
They really need to work on those free throws and those rebounds. They have to work on the quality of those passes. The search for a good four-seater and a replacement for Angelo is absolutely necessary. They need to grow, faster. I really wish they would play faster. So much for playing small ball when you can’t really run. In the end, it was Ateneo who pursued UP’s well-spaced shooters.
Ateneo must learn from 1988 when they failed to defend back-to-back titles, 2003 when they lost to FEU in the final, 2013 the season after the fivefold.
The common denominator is that after being unable to defend a title, Ateneo is unable to return to the Big Dance. It took a few years before they had enough veterans to besiege the title.
It may be time to break that streak and rewrite history.
But by God, what a race. In the end, all you have to do is take your hat off to UP and Ateneo for a well-played and agonizing final. It could have gone either way and that’s all you ask.
Well deserved, UP. You have fought the good fight.
And there is motivation for you now, Ateneo.