Graduating King Eagle Thirdy Ravena celebrates their third straight championship after defeating UST at the Mall of Asia Arena. Photograph by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
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The Blue Eagles have swept Season 82–and we'll be better off for it

Tab Baldwin and his boys have punctuated their three-peat with a clean 16-0 record in a season filled with on-and-off court drama. The message is loud and clear: Ateneo has set the standard. Who's going to meet it? 
Josh Buenaventura | Nov 21 2019

This season's UAAP basketball tournament did not fail to provide action and drama on and off the court. All eight schools have had quite an adventure since the games began on September 4. Here we take a look at how some each school’s journey and what it eventually means in the greater bball landscape.

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Season after season, it seems that teams are always trying to up the ante, whether by fielding a stronger, more skilled, and athletic squad, recruiting the most dominant forces in the land—thank you Ben Mbala and Ange Kouame—or simply having the best tacticians on the sidelines—hello Aldin Ayo, Franz Pumaren, and Tab Baldwin.

This year was nothing short of that. But even if all eight universities tried to field in their best, there were those who simply failed to meet expectations.

Many say that Ateneo's Ange Kouame is just too good for the UAAP. Photograph by Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

NU Bulldogs

Head coach Jamike Jarin welcomed the challenge of leading the Bulldogs into its post-Eric Altamirano era. He had a great vision for the squad with a growing following and steady support from the SM group of companies. Sad to say that, with each passing year, his team has regressed. From five wins in Season 80, they won just four last season, two games each versus UE and UST.

Jamike Jarin now has a sliding 11-31 record in his three seasons as NU head coach. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

Many didn't expect that they will slide down even more. How could they, with the growth of Shaun and Dave Ildefonso from last year and the return of some key veterans? But coming off a title in the summer league, they won just two games, both against the FEU Tamaraws.

 

Adamson Falcons

After a strong run in Season 81, Franz Pumaren’s Falcons squad slipped all the way down this season, flipping a second place, 10-win-and-4-loss-after-elims-finish to a woeful 4-win-and-10-loss card.

Adamson's Jerrick Ahanmisi had a dip in overall performance in season 82. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

They tried to weather the loss of Sean Manganti and Papi Sarr—both key players in their run last year—by bringing in one-and-done Fil-Peruvian guard Val Andre Chauca. But teams were able to stop the fiery Stephen Curry-like guard come the second round. A sub-par foreign player replacement in Lenda Douanga and the worst showing from Jerrick Ahanmisi’s collegiate career only doomed this San Marcelino-based team. They stumbled to just 1 win in the 2nd round to bow out of the Final Four race for the first time in Pumaren’s stint.

 

De La Salle Green Archers

La Salle, meanwhile, brought in a three recruits to bolster a team that missed the Final Four last year. The only problem though, was all of them would all be playing for just one season and were brought in just a few weeks prior to the tournament.

Jamie Malonzo was part of DLSU's trifecta of one-season wonders. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

The additions of slam dunker Jaime Malonzo, Kyrie-like Keyshaun Meeker, and seven-foot James Laput eventually hurt the team as it spurred dozens of rumors and issues that hounded them all season. But unlike Adamson, La Salle ended up with a 7-7 record and was actually in the playoff hunt until the very end. If not for very careless losses against the UE Red Warriors and two close matches against the eventual 2nd seed UP Fighting Maroons that didn't go their way, they would have sneaked in.

 

FEU Tamaraws

If there was a program in the UAAP that is San Antonio Spurs-like in its consistency, it would be the FEU Tamaraws. Year in, year out people count them out. And yet they barge into the Final Four almost every season.

Barkley Eboña's and the Tamaraws lost twice to the Shaun Ildefonso-led Bulldogs. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

This year’s squad, with graduating players in Comboy, Cani, and Eboña, busted all the pre-season predictions and clinched the third seed, even beating a stacked UP squad in Round 2. But even if their stellar play to end the elimination round brought them the third seed, their old woes in shooting and defense haunted them in their knockout game against UST. This is the fourth straight year they have failed to survive the Final Four round since winning it all in 2015. Maybe it’s time to bring back Nash Racela to replace brother Olsen on the sidelines?

 

UE Red Warriors

As is the case with every UAAP Season, drama and off-the-court issues will befall teams one way or another. Some fans, though, think it breathes even more life into the best but shortest basketball tournament in the country.

One-and-done Rey Suerte surprised many in a rocky season for the UE Warriors. Photograph by Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

University of the East’s problems was brought into public consciousness just the day before the season when they parted ways with second-year head coach Joe Silva. Team manager Bong Tan—who passed away recently—replaced him with consultant Lawrence Chongson, much to a lot of fans chagrin.

Despite that, they surprisingly won four games, shocking many by dealing La Salle its first loss—one that proved to be crucial for the Archers in the end. Solo season player Rey Suerte plus the dominant play of Senegalese Alex Diakhite proved wonders for this squad.

 

UP Fighting Maroons

For all of its talent on paper, the UP Fighting Maroons had many of its fans worried when it seemed that they couldn't get a comfortable double digit-lead win. With a star-studded lineup that included Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero, the Maroons had a tough time putting away teams that were not considered as contenders.

Lack of time together, cohesion of playing style, mismanagement of egos, too much hype—one cannot really pinpoint which could be the main reason for their relatively subpar showing this season.

Kobe Paras is UAAP Season 82 Men's Basketball's top scorer as he has produced double-digits in points every game. Photograph from ABS-CBN Sports

Of course, a third place finish this season isn't bad given the Maroons' record in the past decade. But with the spectacular play they showed last year, and the added pressure of how they reloaded, people can't be faulted for thinking that this is a regression.

There was just a lot of expectations thrown on this year’s team. It’s sad that they were not able to reach meet them and prove the doubters wrong after losing their twice-to-beat edge against the UST Growling Tigers.

 

UST Growling Tigers

Everywhere Aldin Ayo goes, he weaves his coaching magic. When he took his talents to España in 2018, he was quick to temper expectations as this school’s team is different from the championship squads he had at his disposal in Letran and La Salle. Even though they bowed out early last time, they showed their potential to the world.

UST head coach Aldin Ayo weaved his coaching magic and helped catapult his team to the finals. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

UST only had a two-week break after Season 81 and buckled down to work for the next. Looking back, it paid dividends for this team that fielded nine rookies this year. They beat the Maroons in just their second game, and almost defeated the Blue Eagles in their first encounter, losing by just one.

But for all of their success this season, UST was also put in a bad light with the rumors circulating impressive swingman Rhenz Abando of La Union. The lengthy forward with great defense and hot shooting raised his stock from the first moment he stepped on the UAAP floor. But for him to actually be involved in recruitment/poaching rumors in the middle of the season is a first for the league.

While controversy circulated Rhenz Abando mid-season, he publicly announced his commitment to UST for the rest of his collegiate career. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

Fortunately for the Tigers, all the rumors were just that, and Abando has reiterated his commitment to UST for the "rest of his collegiate career." The guy has shown great flashes of brilliance this season. Imagine if he actually took that to La Salle, one of the school’s that was rumored to be wooing him?

Whether you hate him or you like him, there is no denying that Ayo is one of the best coaches, one of the greatest motivators in Philippine basketball. He may not have the most talented or most famous team on paper, but he will make sure they will never quit until that buzzer sounds. Losing just two key graduating seniors in Renzo Subido and Zach Huang, it’s scary to think how much better Ayo can still mold this team into after a runner-up finish.

 

Ateneo Blue Eagles

Everyone knows Tab Baldwin is the main reason why Ateneo has achieved this three year run. For the last four years, the American-Kiwi mentor has made the league his own playground, transforming the whole Blue Eagles team, on and off the court. And the results are a beauty to behold.

Since taking over the team, Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin has amassed an impressive 58-7 record. Photograph courtesy of UAAP

Since Manny Pangilinan hired him as replacement for Bo Perasol in 2016, Baldwin has amassed a 58-7 win-loss record for the Katipunan-based team. Even Norman Black, who led this school to five straight titles from 2008 to 2012, had a lower winning percentage than Baldwin’s.

Becoming the first coach to win a title via a 16-0 sweep in the Final Four era is no joke, especially with all the hype, recruitment, and social media buzz surrounding today’s UAAP basketball tourneys. In punctuating this three-peat with a sweep, Baldwin may have just solidified his place as the best UAAP men’s basketball coach in history. And, bad news for other teams, that doesn’t seem to be coming to a close any time soon.

People say the coach is too good for the UAAP, or even that Ange Kouame is too big and too strong for our best collegiate players. But at the end of the day, it is actually guys like them who can make the league better, who raise the standard of play, and at the same time raise our expectations with every season that comes our way.

It's official — Thirdy Ravena is no longer just Kiefer's younger brother anymore. "I took myself out of my brother's shadow," the Season 82 finals MVP said. Photograph by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

If we really want to compete in the international basketball stage, it starts with the game played within our borders. If all people do is whine all day about how great Baldwin is or how too good Kouame is, then we might as well throw out all hope of the national team Gilas Pilipinas to compete and make waves in the World Cup and Olympics.

At this point, these Blue Eagles are the standard, the level that each team here should aspire to be. Selfless, hardworking, relentless, and un-rattled. You can blame their amazing alumni support, the brains and experience of their coach, or maybe the investment MVP has made in them for the past 20 years. At the end of the day, they get the job done. And that is what matters.

Despite losing the big name seniors in Ravena, Go, Wong, and the Nietos, they already have replacements coming in to continue the process—really good ones from what we have heard. They recruit from within the best schools in the metro, to the farthest ones in America and Europe. This three-peat could very well extend to – just as Lebron James said in 2010 – ‘Not four, not five, not six, not seven…"

It doesn’t look like they are looking to stop anytime soon. It will take one hell of a big fight from everyone else to knock the bar they have set.