Ateneo Blue Eagles see tougher challenges next UAAP season
Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — With Ateneo’s active streak and the championship core primed for more battle, one can’t stop people from thinking about a possible Blue Eagles dynasty in the offing. Three-peat, four-peat, maybe five-peat like before.

But coach Tab Baldwin, architect of their back-to-back UAAP men’s basketball crowns, won’t think that far ahead. Next year’s title defense hasn’t even crossed his mind yet.

“I have no idea,” Baldwin said about their prospects for Season 82. “We’ll have to see what presents itself next year.”

For sure, he said Ateneo will stick to its trusted winning formula.

“We’ll try to build a team that can win the championship again but we focus on day-to-day, that served us pretty well the last two years and I don’t see any reason to change our philosophy,” he said.

“I think the buy-in from the players is pretty good; when we all buy in to the same belief, same philosophy, it’s a lot easier to make it work. These guys are fun to work with, tremendous group of guys and I think this will be fun. I’m very blessed to be with these guys.”

Hold your horses on gunning for the feat in 2008-12.

“Back-to-back doesn’t look so important if put up next to a five in a row; it’s just like a little bump on the road,” said the Kiwi-American coach.

“We want to pursue excellence. The championship is one measure of excellence. If that’s a by-product of the way we do things, we hope to continue getting championships in the future.  

“At the back of our minds, that’s the end game of a team – to get a championship, but we don’t talk too much about it. We talk more about how each of these guys can be the best player they can be,” he stressed.

Only Anton Asistio will be missing next year’s quest for a hat-trick having maxed out his playing years but the rest of the gang led by Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena, Rookie of the Year Angelo Kouame, Matt and Mike Nieto, Raffy Verano and Isaac Go will be back for more.

Challengers are expected to be more determined than ever to dethrone the Eagles, led by Season 81 runner-up University of the Philippines, which will still have MVP Bright Akhuetie, Juan Gomez de Liaño and his brother Javi, and Jun Manzo teaming up with transferees Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras who take over from graduates Paul Desiderio, Diego Dario, Jarell Lim, Gelo Vito and JJ Espanola.

“They (UP) will be a force to reckon with and I don’t think it gets any easier next year,” said Baldwin. “Their season has a lot of character to it because they were struggling early on. I don’t know how they did it but they sure got it together. They got these guys playing as a team, playing extremely hard and they put together a great season.”

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