At First Glance: Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles

Pio Garcia - The Philippine Star

Let’s check out the five-peat champions, the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.

The Good

If there’s one thing Ateneo has plenty of, it’s championship experience.

Oh, and a nice set of trophies too.

But apart from those, they are boasting probably the best set of players in their 1- to 3-spots. Heading the agency is former Rookie of the Year and MVP shoo-in, Kiefer Ravena, point guard Juami Tiongson, wiry Von Pessumal, hard-nosed defender Nico Elorde, newcomer Chris Newsome and Ryan Buenafe, who is poised to have a breakout season in the coming UAAP wars.

We haven’t penciled in guys like Anton Assistio, who was the Blue Eaglets’ Mr. Bigshot. And RP Youth standout Earl Murphy. While not yet the final lineup, Ateneo can also call up Team Glory Be mainstays Joma Adornado and former NBTC SeaOil HS All Stars MVP Ace Basas, who are bidding their time to step into the limelight of the UAAP hardcourt.

The Blue Eagles are stacked as they come especially when it comes to the backcourt and guard-oriented coach Bo Perasol. They can score with the best of them. They can defend with the best. They can keep up running with the best.

Ravena will now cement his legacy into Blue Eagle lore. This is his team, as much as the last was his to begin with, even with (literally) big brothers  Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva and Justin Chua gone. And while this may seem like a herculean task for a guard hovering at or a little over six feet and hitting the weights at around 140-160lbs, Ravena is the man for the task. No one else. See, people doubted how a tiny dynamo like the incumbent King Eagle could’ve lifted the Blue Eaglets to even a UAAP crown after the likes of Mike Gamboa, Bacon Austria, Tonino Gonzaga, Alec Rivera and the rest of the seniors graduated. They were gifted with three courtesy of Kiefer.

What’s more fun nowadays is that he’s back in the hardcourt with his most trusted lieutenants in Magic Tiongson, who has rediscovered that high school feel, and Von Pessumal, who’s back in form and validating that RP Youth selection with Ravena and current Green Archer, Norbert Torres. The troika have been scoring heavily for the Blue Eagles in what is shaping to be a dangerous Run N Gun attack. Then you add a little seasoning of Newsome and Buenafe, who’s rounding into shape despite not seeing action in the ongoing preseason tourney.

Elorde would provide the stability for the second unit that will most probably carry Pessumal and Buenafe, who’s really primed to take over in his last playing year and graduate a champion like fellow members of his recruiting class, Justin Chua and Nico Salva. Murphy and Assistio may get minutes here and there as they continue to develop.

However, it is intriguing to take note if Joma Adornado, son of PBA great Willam “Bogs” Adornado, who once coached the Adamson University Falcons, and Ace Basas decide to have a shot at Team A slots. If both do, then golly wow, that’s a deep guard line to contend with, especially if they are all firing hot on all cylinders.


The Bad and The Ugly

These two come hand in hand for the Blue Eagles. And everybody knows why, hoops critic or Ateneo hater alike.

There’s a big, gaping hole down the middle and no, Ateneo doesn’t have Justin Chua who can step in and fill it ably while a celebrated big guy finishes his residency.

When Ateneo lost Rabeh Al-Hussaini, people in Loyola did not cringe that much even if Chua’s game at that time was very much cringe-worthy. Chua stepped up into the plate come Season 73 and plugged that middle as if Al-Hussaini never left. He had that reliable 18-footer the former UAAP MVP provided.

But now, there’s no Chua. Frank Golla is left to fend for himself, and most Ateneo fans very much cringe at that thought. Add in unproven greenhorns like G-Boy Babilonia, Vince Tolentino and even Gwyne Capacio.

We’re not calling Golla soft here. In fact, he was instrumental in that Season 73 championship run by being the Blue Eagles leading rebounder. Yes, he led Ateneo in rebounds per game. Imagine that. But that was in spurts, not full time. This time around, he’ll be leading that Ateneo frontline, full time.

At times, he still looks lost defensively. It seems that the Black Magic did not rub off off Frank the Tank. And the jumpshot? Flat as it was since high school. The gimme putbacks still miss, mysteriously. Frankly, there’s no Ateneo frontline to speak off until 6’7” defensive demon Poy Erram rounds into shape and remind people, especially the Green Archers, of Severino “Nonoy” Baclao.

Bo Perasol has to solve this via his platoon of developing bigs. And no, I’m not including oft-injured Kris Porter who’s just a poster boy at this time.

Watch out for…

Always watch out for Ryan Buenafe. He may not play in the offseason or sometimes the postseason due to academics, but this guy would kill you even if it seems like he’s just going neutral. He hasn’t lost since high school, playing with Eric Salamat, Paul Lee and Arvie Bringas at San Sebastian. He’s a winner. And he’s not afraid to bury home that dagger time and again.

Just ask FEU. They still smart from that BuenaTHREE!











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