MANILA, Philippines -- New leaders are expected to step up for the Ateneo Blue Eagles after the graduation of their veteran core at the end of the last UAAP season.
Twins Matt and Mike Nieto, Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and Adrian Wong have all taken the next steps in their basketball careers after leading the Blue Eagles to three consecutive UAAP titles -- a run capped by a perfect campaign in Season 82.
Ravena, who ended his collegiate career as a three-time Finals Most Valuable Player, has no doubt that their younger teammates are ready to take their places as leaders of the Ateneo men's basketball team.
"I'm very positive," Ravena said in a recent appearance on "The Prospects" podcast. "Dahil nga we have guys on the team na halos kasama rin namin mag-develop and mag-grow."
"Marami pa silang nandoon, and they know the culture. They know what needs to be done para nga mag-succeed," he added.
Among the players expected to rise as new leaders are SJ Belangel and Gian Mamuyac, who both came from the Ateneo juniors basketball program. Ravena has high expectations also for Jolo Mendoza, who is tipped to return to the team after skipping Season 82 due to academic issues.
Tyler Tio should also have a bigger role in the team come Season 83, and Ange Kouame is expected to take another leap after anchoring the Blue Eagles' defense last year.
"Sila SJ, lalo na sila Mamu (Mamuyac), talagang mga beterano na 'yan," Ravena said. "Kahit sa Eaglets, parang parehas lang din 'yung culture, kasi 'yung turo sa college noon, 'yun din 'yung turo sa high school. So talagang alam na nila 'yun."
"With guys, with sila Tyler din, they can really handle the team right now. I'm very happy with the development ni Tyler. Si Jolo, abangan niyo 'yun," he added.
The reason that Ravena is so confident in his younger teammates is that he saw how hard they worked in Season 82, when the Blue Eagles went on their undefeated run.
While plenty of the credit went to the Ateneo veterans and head coach Tab Baldwin, Ravena stressed that their young guns also did their part. Belangel, in particular, showed his readiness to take charge with a clutch performance for the Blue Eagles in the Season 82 Finals.
The young point guard drilled several backbreaking three-pointers that kept Ateneo in control against University of Santo Tomas, en route to an 86-79 triumph in Game 2.
"Sabay-sabay din kami nagpakahirap," Ravena said. "Kahit sa last year, people thought it was somehow like, easy for us. Pero grabe 'yung sweat na binigay talaga namin, especially noong preseason."
"'Yun 'yung pinakamahirap na preseason journey ko in my collegiate career, so talagang focused kami noon," he added.
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