A generation of Ateneo swingmen: Wesley Gonzales & Von Pessumal
A generation of Ateneo swingmen: Wesley Gonzales & Von Pessumal
Rick Olivares (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2014 - 12:49pm

If you were to define the Ateneo swingman, the requisite characteristics and skills would be that he’s tall, can shoot from beyond the arc, can put the ball on the floor, and when confronted by a roadblock, find the open man with a nifty pass.

They’re sleek, agile, and with a heart that beats blue that makes them all the more willing to die for that ball and give his all.

Rainier Sison and Larry Fonacier are some of the names that come to mind.

And there’s Wesley Gonzales, junior champion in 1997 and seniors champion in 2002; and Von Pessumal, juniors champion 2008-10 and seniors champion from 2011-12.

The two sat next to one another and talked about the differences and similarities from their respective teams during one scene for the annual Gatorade Brand Ambassadors shoot at Blue Eagle Gym last Thursday.

Wes, 6’4”, a 10-year PBA veteran, has finally called it a day. He’ll be working with HSBC in a couple of weeks. He’s older now but that gift of gab remains. He’s still as makulit as ever. Even on a dreary Thursday afternoon with the rains seemingly never relenting, he brightened up the shoot with his anecdotes, wild gestures and one-liners that kept everyone in stitches.

When Wes was playing for the Blue Eaglets, they lost in the finals of 1996 to Emerson Oreta and the UST Tiger Cubs (with Alwyn Espiritu as their center). The following season, they (along with BJ Manalo at guard – “our Kiefer Ravena then” as Wes described his former teammate) faced each other again in the juniors finals only this time, Ateneo had its revenge.

When Wes moved up to the seniors team with Enrico Villanueva, the Blue Eagles were still mired in its Second Dark Age as they struggled to stay out of the cellar. The games weren’t all televised back then (by Silverstar Productions on PTV-4). “

“There was no pressure on us to win,” recalled Gonzales. “In hindsight, that made it easier for us to win.”

Pessumal smiled. He was just getting started in grade school at that time Gonzales was a college freshman. Things sure have changed in those years. College ball is even more massive now. The games are regularly televised. Recruitment is a black art. Training camps abroad are routine.

Parang biyaheng Cubao lang,” quipped Wes of the Blue Eagles annual preseason training rite.

For Pessumal and today’s Blue Eagles, the pressure is bigger. To quote the team patron, Manuel V. Pangilinan, “Any time you put on the blue and white you are expected to win.” Success begets that as well. 

However, the way the team went through Season 76 (as they saw their streak of Finals Four appearances and five consecutive championships snapped) and the long wait until the next season, Pessumal says it only made them hungrier.

“I don’t think we ever get tired of winning. We had to learn from last year and have to learn from that loss to NU. Hopefully, we’ll be better for it,” he said.

Gonzales learned what playing for the school meant when he found himself cut from the team in 2001. He never watched a live game that UAAP Season 64. “Only on television,” he revealed. “It was painful not to be a part of that team.” 

Gonzales was cut on the last Friday of the summer and he remembered feeling empty as he left the campus that day. In order to stay in shape, he joined Chot Reyes’ Pop Cola team in the PBA as a practice player. There he went up against the likes of Ato Morano, Rudy Hatfield and others, where he learned a lot from. And that helped him become a better player when he returned to the Blue Eagles as he became an integral part in their title run of Season 65.

"Sweet homecoming," he described that 2002 dream season.

In one of his most impressive performances while wearing the blue and white, Gonzales carried the Enrico Villanueva-less Ateneo team (post-2002 championship) during the Bantay Bata post-season tournament against the UE Red Warriors that counted James Yap, Paul Artadi and Ronald Tubid in its roster. Wesley was a one-man gang as he danced around defenders en route to score 33 points off 3-pointers, post-ups and drives as he led Ateneo to a huge win.

Over at the pros, Wes arguably played his best basketball when he started for the San Miguel Beermen when regulars Danny Seigle, Dondon Hontiveros and the others were injured. When the starters returned to active duty, Gonzales was relegated back to the bench.

“I played for six teams in my PBA career and it was hard to get by as I had to learn and unlearn different systems from 10 different coaches,” he said of his journeyman status in the PBA. “But I am thankful that I got to play 10 years in the PBA. And to be a part of one championship team (the San Miguel Beermen that won the 2009 Fiesta Conference over Ginebra San Miguel) is good as well.”

For Pessumal, the transition from high school to college was a little difficult. “I had to be patient because we had a loaded line-up,” he recalled. “I knew I’d be given my chance.”

Season 76 was supposed to be just that as Pessumal was firing great guns in the pre-season until he broke a finger during a match against Lyceum of the Philippines. While he was healthy in time for the UAAP tournament, his shooting touch deserted him.

This season, Pessumal, now a senior on the team, is averaging 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 23 minutes per game. He had his breakout game against La Salle in Ateneo’s second game of the campaign where Von scored 21 points. He has quickly blossomed into one of Coach Bo Perasol’s go-to players.

When Von Pessumal was an Ateneo Grade School kid, one of his goals was to play for the seniors team. “Wes, Larry… those guys are my idols.”

Gonzales looked sheepish when he heard Pessumal say that.

“Enjoy your college career, kid,” he advised. “It’s pure basketball; truly for the love of the game. Sa PBA… well, that’s another story.”

Generations and legacies.

And some sound advice from one generation of Ateneo swingman to another.

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