Ateneo-Adamson: A deeper basketball rivalry than you think

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
Ateneo-Adamson: A deeper basketball rivalry than you think
Ateneo's Chris Koon is surrounded by a slew of Adamson defenders.
UAAP Media Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – When the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles entered the UAAP in 1978 (Season 40 if you want to be precise), the defending champion at that time was Adamson.

The Blue Eagles saw many key players not come back after the ill-fated finish of the final NCAA drive of 1977 that culminated in a loss in the championship game to San Beda.

Among those who bowed out because they didn’t want to play in the UAAP were star forward Steve Watson, who went to Australia, and guard Jojo Gamboa, who decided to coach Ateneo’s PAYA team, among others. There was unhappiness in the way those players’ NCAA tenure ended, and said players certainly weren’t happy going to what was deemed a “lesser league” in the UAAP.

That 1978, the Falcons (sans the adjective “Soaring”) looked like a juggernaut under head coach Moises “Barok” Urbiztondo as they looked to annex their second consecutive title. 

Obviously, the Blue Eagles were waylaid in their maiden year in college basketball’s junior circuit, and they finished with a 0-12 record.

However, Coach Barok would make one indirect contribution to Ateneo that would lead to its current dominance. But we’ll get to that later. 

Adamson returned to the finals of Season 41 where unfortunately, they lost by a whisker, 86-84, to a UE Warriors squad led by Rudy Distrito and Alex Tan — who both went to the PBA — and a young point guard named Derrick Pumaren, who has gone on to make a name for himself in coaching.

Following the finals loss, the Falcons did not return to the championship game but continued to have a good team — one that often had Ateneo’s number. In fact, during the 1986 season, Ateneo was on course for a championship seat when the Louie Alas and Nandy Garcia-led Adamson Five tripped them in back-to-back games (to close the first round and to open the second round; costly losses that derailed the team’s ambitions). That is until 1987 when the pendulum finally swung the Blue Eagles’ way.

It would be another seven years before the San Marcelino-based squad reasserted itself as the dominant bird in the UAAP. This time, they had Marlou Aquino, EJ Fiehl and Kenneth Duremdes in tow.

Over at the juniors level, Adamson was back-to-back champion in 1976-77 but come Season 41, Ateneo stopped them cold and bagged a three-peat from 1978-81 and a four-peat from Season 46-49 (1983-87).

Adamson wasn’t done, and it broke Ateneo’s four-peat with a six-peat in juniors competition from 1988-94. When the Blue Eaglets regained the upper hand in 1995, Ateneo went on to cart home 12 championship trophies — the most in that span and in league history. 

Toward the end of the 1990s, Coach Barok made one last return to Adamson. He also recommended that a colleague of his take over from Charlie Dy, who was coaching the Baby Falcons at that time. 

Dy, who is a sports super agent today, didn’t like the back room wheeling and dealing so he resigned. His sudden departure forced Lumeng Tenorio to seek Dy’s help in moving her son, one Lewis Alfred “LA” Tenorio who was then playing for the Baby Falcons, to another school. Dy sent him over to Ato Badolato’s San Beda Red Cubs. 

Had LA Tenorio stayed and possibly moved up to the senior Falcons, Ateneo Blue Eagle history might be different. That is because Tenorio’s San Beda teammate, Magnum Membrere, was also instrumental in convincing LA to go to Ateneo for college. 

And by the time Tenorio was ready for the seniors division, Ateneo’s basketball program was in place. And by 1999, Ateneo seized the advantage not only versus Adamson but the entire league. Since then, Ateneo went to win nine league championships and are chasing a 10th this Season 84. And at one point, the Falcons suffered a 29-match losing streak to Ateneo. 

After snapping the skid, Ateneo went on another pair of runs. The current Blue Eagles win streak versus the Soaring Falcons is seven. 

Now, if you look at the list of coaches during the 79th season of the UAAP, only one head tactician is still with his original team — Tab Baldwin with Ateneo.

Nash Racela was the coach of FEU and is now with Adamson, his first season in San Marcelino. Racela, incidentally, is a product of Ateneo. 

Pumaren was with the University of the East Red Warriors but is now in his first year of his second stint with La Salle.

The question entering that Season 79 was, “Can anyone stop the Ben Mbala led La Salle Green Archers?”

Not for that tournament. However, the next season, it was all Baldwin and the Blue Eagles.

The question four years later is, “Can anyone stop Ateneo?”

Adamson, on the crest of a four-match win streak, is one of the last three teams to stop Ateneo from grabbing an outright final seat. 

These Soaring Falcons of Racela have the makings of another talented team sans Filipinos born overseas — one not seen since Alex Nuyles, Eric Camson, Rodney Brondial, Lester Alvarez and Jerick Cañada.

Perhaps even more satisfying for Adamson alumni and fans is that the team is homegrown and there is continuity. Mike Fermin, the architect of those talented Baby Falcons teams, is with the seniors staff. 

Fermin’s presence ensures coach learns from a top mentor like Racela, and that he is able to funnel their talent to the college squad.

Unfortunately for Adamson, after a calm and composed first period, Ateneo ratcheted up the defense and held the Soaring Falcons to a measly seven points in the second period while dropping 20 of their own. The game had been blown wide open and there would be no spirited rallies for Adamson. 

And there was a little run in between two former Blue Eaglets teammates in Dave Ildefonso and Joaquin Jaymalin, who is now with Adamson. 

Jaymalin is the third former Blue Eaglet to don the Adamson colors after Roy Literal and Chris Eusebio. 

Ateneo won, 91-57, to go to 12-0 while Adamson fell to 5-7 — their first loss in five matches this second round. 

Despite the loss, the stage is set for another long and arduous rivalry with the squad from San Marcelino. 

And college basketball will be better for it.







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