Throughout the whole season, Ateneo outplayed their opponents with their methodical system and commitment to teamwork
Photos courtesy of UAAP
For the past three years, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles have defeated the DLSU Green Archers, UP Fighting Maroons, and now the UST Growling Tigers—arguably three of the toughest teams (at least in the last three seasons) in the UAAP. Since head coach Tab Baldwin took over the team, it’s not a coincidence that the Eagles have made it to the final four years in a row.
Baldwin’s methodical system is one of the most brilliant strategies the collegiate league has seen. Throughout Season 82, not a single team—including Aldin Ayo’s hostile mayhem system—could figure out the Blue Eagles. This system has worked wonders for the blue and white collective, earning them three of their 11 championships and making them the only men’s basketball to complete a sweep in the Final Four era.
“I can probably talk all day about this team, but I won’t. The 16-0 season is really something that we dreamed about. We didn’t talk a lot about it because we never wanted to set that as a goal,” says Tab Baldwin
“I can probably talk all day about this team, but I won’t. The 16-0 season is really something that we dreamed about. We didn’t talk a lot about it because we never wanted to set that as a goal. But I know that the players particularly dream about it and it is a dream season to go through unblemished, to be able to say to each one of those 16 days, no team was better than us,” says Baldwin.
Defense wins championships
The defensive system of Ateneo is the main reason why the Eagles soared higher than anyone else this season. In most of their games, there was never a time when they couldn’t get a defensive stop; their opponents couldn’t prevent their offense either.
As seen in Game 2 of the finals, the Growling Tigers went on a scoring run during the second and third quarters, but there was never a moment when the Eagles lost their composure on defense. Because of this, their offense managed to flow smoothly during the second half, which helped them close out the Growling Tigers.
That’s really been the story of Ateneo throughout Season 82. The ability to figure out every single team and expose their weaknesses in each game was what made this roster arguably the best team Ateneo has ever seen. Again, this all boils down to Baldwin’s superior basketball IQ and the coaching staff’s ability to scout their opponents.
Everyone has a role to play
Ateneo’s offensive system meanwhile is all about making the right play for your teammate. This way, the system doesn’t revolve around a single player but instead gave everyone a chance to hold the ball. If you look at the list of individual awards this season, there’s not a single Atenean in the mythical five, which shows that there’s no single dominant player in the roster.
In Game 2 of the finals, it was SJ Belangel that sparked the offense of the team with five of his cold-blooded three-point markers. In Game 1, it was Thirdy Ravena’s 32-point explosion that led the Eagles. Angelo Kouawme anchored the team’s interior defense and scoring, while players like Gian Mamuyak, Will Navarro, and Pat Maagdenberg showed everyone that a superstar-filled roster isn’t always the key to winning a championship.
Lastly, there were graduating players like Ravena, Mike and Matt, Isaac Go, and Adrian Wong who, with their well of experience, willed the team throughout the season.
“Masarap. Masarap hindi dahil nanalo kami, masarap kasi we won it in a way na we were playing for one another. It’s an incredible feeling, ‘di ko ma-describe eh. It’s an incredible feeling. I just want to thank the entire team. Tinatanong nila kung paano namin nagawa ‘yung 16-0, ‘yung sagot ko is that strength doesn’t lie with one person, with one player, or one coach, but it lies on all of us. It lies because we want to play for another and we preach servanthood,” says Ravena.
The age of Ateneo
This historic victory of the Blue Eagles is a great manifestation of the school’s remarkable basketball program. The ability to recruit arguably one of the best coaches college basketball has ever seen as well as some of the best players out of high school is the reason why Ateneo has been ruling UAAP basketball for three years in a row now.