Ateneo vs UP 2.0?

LIKE a true Eagle, Thirdy Ravena spreads his arms to acknowledge cheers from Ateneo fans after winning the UAAP men’s basketball championship. ROMAN PROSPERO

Building a dynasty is furthest from Ateneo de Manila University coach Tab Baldwin’s mind.
His primordial concern always is to see his Blue Eagles reach their full potentials and be the best versions of themselves.

Minutes after pocketing his second University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball title at the expense of the overachieving University of the Philippines, building a dynasty was brought up during the post-game interview on Wednesday.

After all, only Anton Asistio will be leaving this Season 81 while Thirdy Ravena, the back-to-back Finals Most Valuable Player, will still be there for his final year and Rookie of the Year Angelo Koumae, the 19-year old Ivorian center, will only get better when Ateneo eyes a ‘three-peat.’

But the always unassuming Baldwin does not look that far ahead but admitted winning the championship will always be their goal.

“First of all, a back-to-back does not look so important when you put it next to five in a row. It’s like a little bump on the road compared to the mountain that they deal,” said Baldwin, referring to coach Norman Black’s five-peat feat with the Blue Eagles from Season 71 to 75.

“We wanna pursue excellence. Championship is one measure of excellence. If that’s the by-product of the way we do things, we hope to continue to have championship in the future,” the American-Kiwi mentor added.

At the start of Season 81, Ateneo was the unanimous choice to win the title this season and even Far Eastern University coach Olsen Racela once said he will be shocked if the Blue Eagles fail to sweep the tournament.

But the defending champions started the season with a shocking loss to Adamson University, 70-74, and Racela’s Tamaraws dealt Ateneo’s second loss in the first round with a 63-60 victory.

Those twin losses made the Blue Eagles realize that they have a lot of work to do not just in their game but also with their attitude.

The result: Ateneo won all seven games in the second round to clinch the No. 1 spot, beat FEU in the Final Four in a convincing fashion and swept the hard-fighting Maroons in the best-of-three championship series with an emphatic 99-81 win witnessed by more than 23,000 fans that filled the Araneta Coliseum.

And Season 82 won’t be different for Ateneo as the Loyola-based squad is again tipped to win the UAAP again.

“Of course, that’s on the back of our minds but in all honesty, we just don’t talk too much of that (championship). We talk more about how each one of these guys can be the best player they can be. It’s not just something we say to the media,” said Baldwin.

“As long as the by-product continues to be the championship, I don’t think MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan) gonna tell us to do it differently. He wants the championship there’s no doubt about that and we’d love to give it to him. But there’s a greater purpose for what we do.”

Baldwin shared the limelight with UP, undeniably the well-loved basketball team in the past weeks because of its unbelievable run to the finals captured by the mantra “Atin’ to!” (This is ours!) that was coined by Fighting Maroon shooting guard Paul Desiderio.

Back in the finals after 32 years, the Fighting Maroons proved their doubters wrong with a Cinderella run only to be stopped by the almighty Blue Eagles.

“I don’t know what they did but they sure got it together and got these guys playing as team,” said Baldwin on UP, which started the season with 3-5 mark and upset the No. 2 seed Adamson in the Final Four.

“At the end of the day there’s only one champion. There are only two teams that last played the last game of the season. So, the one that does not win just must have done a lot of things really well. I think you gotta give credit to every single one of them.”

The Fighting Maroons will be losing Desiderio, Diego Dario, Jireh Lim, Gelo Vito and JJ Espanlo in Season 82 but they will have former La Salle players Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras to team up with season MVP Bright Akhuetie and the Gomez de Liano brothers – Juan and Javi.

“They will be a force to reckon with. I don’t think it will get any easier next year,” said Baldwin.

Chapter One of the so-called Battle of Katipunan went to Ateneo but it will not be surprising to see a second installment of that epic duel of the two neighboring schools next season.

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