MANILA, Philippines—Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin was ready to say goodbye to four of his senior players at the end of the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament.
He wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Adrian Wong, though.
Wong was still eligible to play one more season for the Blue Eagles, but the swingman decided to try his luck in the PBA Rookie Draft instead. He thus joined Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and Matt and Mike Nieto in leaving the Blue and White after their historic title run.
"I really didn't think that I was gonna lose him," Baldwin said Wednesday, as he waxed sentimental about all five seniors who played major roles in their perfect 16-0 UAAP campaign. "I thought he was gonna stay for another year."
Wong, however, did opt to forego his final season, after a campaign that saw him average 6.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game while playing just a shade less than 20 minutes per contest. As saddened as he was by his player's decision, Baldwin gave Wong his blessing when the guard told the coach that he was declaring for the draft.
"I told him I will support him in whatever he did. I haven’t told him this but it hurt when he told he was leaving," said Baldwin.
"I told him I love you, God bless you, go and I’ll support you no matter what you do. But I hate losing him. I hate losing any player I could have another go with."
In their run to their third consecutive men's basketball title, none of the Blue Eagles put up monster numbers on the court. Baldwin's egalitarian system meant that minutes are spread around; even Ravena, widely acknowledged as their best player, normed just 25 minutes per game and put up 14 points and 6 rebounds per contest. Ange Kouame, their defensive anchor, normed 12.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in just a little over 24 minutes per game.
This is to say, Wong's relatively pedestrian numbers did not reflect his true value to the Ateneo team, and certainly not to Baldwin, who spoke glowingly of Wong's abilities after Game 2, noting his performance on both ends of the floor.
"Man, two-way players, they aren’t around every day," said Baldwin. "He's a force at the defensive end and he’s such a reliable offensive player when it comes to shooting."
"His execution on offense, he’s just incredibly reliable," he added.
Wong rarely got a chance to show off his scoring punch, but he did so against La Salle in the second round. In that game against their rivals, he set the tone by scoring their first 8 points, and finished with a season-high 18 markers.
Baldwin is confident the team that will eventually acquire Wong's services will see for themselves how valuable the guard can be.
"He's a star in the making, this guy," said Baldwin. "Trust me. He's a star in the making."
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