With every new UAAP season comes even greater expectations for Tab Baldwin’s Blue Eagles

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo courtesy of  UAAP

The hardest part about being a champion is the pressure of having to defend your title. This is something the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles are well aware of, which is why the challenge for the back-to-back champions only gets tougher this season. For the third consecutive year, the Blue Eagles are being tagged as the team to beat in the most prestigious collegiate league. 

“It’s quite obvious already. It’s Ateneo and they should be rated number one. From player one to sixteen skills-wise, they’re all the same,” says Adamson Soaring Falcons head coach Franz Pumaren in this season’s press conference.

University of the Philippines’ head coach Bo Perasol had the same thoughts about the Blue Eagles: “It’s a given that Ateneo is going to be on top.”

The reason why the Blue Eagles have prospered in the past few years is because of their head coach Tab Baldwin. Though it’s easy attribute the Katipunan-based squad’s to their outstanding roster (Thirdy Ravena, Angelo Kouame, and Matt Nieto), ultimately, it’s Baldwin’s mentorship that’s brought the best out of the team. In the four years Baldwin has mentored the Blue Eagles, he’s fostered a culture of elite championship–something that has been critical in building the Eagle’s current reputation as arguably the best Philippine collegiate basketball team.

But with every new UAAP season comes even greater expectations for Baldwin’s Blue Eagles.

“I know expectations are high on our team and it’s our job to play the best basketball as we can. Knowing that each opponent is gonna come at us really hard, I don’t think we’re gonna get any days off when it comes to games,” Baldwin says.

Blue Eagle Band of Brothers

What sets Baldwin apart from the other coaches in the UAAP is his international style of play. He’s coached for several national teams such as New Zealand, Jordan, and Beirut. His coaching system has thus been built on standards meant for professional international basketball players, and this system happened to translate so well in the UAAP and perfectly suit this Ateneo Blue Eagles roster.

The Blue Eagles’ offense last season looked like a basketball orchestra. Which is the thing about Baldwin’s style: Every single player wearing the Ateneo jersey gets a shot to operate around the ball and a chance to take over the game. There’s no need for Ravena to put up monster numbers in every game (even if he can easily do this), or for Matt Nieto to score the most points—all because Baldwin’s offense promotes unselfishness and operates on a game plan made for those playing at a higher level of basketball, which is a strategy that’s been unbeatable for the past two years.

Knowing that each opponent is gonna come at us really hard, I don’t think we’re gonna get any days off when it comes to games, says Baldwin

Wise Words from the Veteran

Isaac Go, one of the many veterans in this current Blue Eagles roster believes that the best asset of Ateneo this season is indeed Tab Baldwin. Baldwin’s mentorship is one of the reasons why Go has seen success in the UAAP and why he’s also made a name for himself outside the league. Just last June, Go was named the MVP of the 2019 PBA D-League MVP.

“I think our biggest advantage is really coach Tab. I’m not saying that other coaches are bad, all are really good. It’s just that none of them have the same level of experience as coach Tab—be it all over the world, coaching in the world games, and the Olympics. It’s really tough to find coaches of that level in the Philippines,” says Go. 

Last year, Go’s playing time decreased due to the presence of Angelo Kouame. Many veterans would consider this as a slap to the face, but for Go, it was a way for to show what true leadership is all about. Go will be taking on the role of Anton Asistio as the team’s leader, saying that his leadership will be his biggest contribution to the team this season.

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“I know that Angelo Kouame will be the one to start this year and he’ll be the one dominating the minutes so I have to lead in a way to show that hey, I’m a veteran but I’m only getting this minutes and I’m making the most out of them,” says Go. If you show [everyone in the team] that you maximize every minute out there, they will follow,” added the center.

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