HOW’D THEY DO LAST SEASON? 13-1 after eliminations, 1-1 in Final Four, 2-1 in Finals, champion
YES, THEY’RE STILL HERE: Anton Asistio, Isaac Go, Gian Mamuyac, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, Thirdy Ravena
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY: SJ Belangel, Matthew Daves, Angelo Kouame, William Navarro, Adrian Wong (returning)
GOOD LUCK ON FUTURE ENDEAVORS: Chibueze Ikeh, Vince Tolentino
WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM ATENEO?
As it should be, defending champion Ateneo de Manila University is the favorite to repeat.
“We recognize the quality of the opposition. Anytime you have a successful season, you not only have to fight your own complacency, but you also have to fight the elevated determination that kind of season creates on your opponents.” – head coach Tab Baldwin
While the Blue Eagles’ championship team lost big man Chibueze Ikeh and glue guy Vince Tolentino, they are installing in their places 6-foot-10 Ivorian tower Angelo Kouame, Filipino-Canadian high-flyer Matthew Daves, and former San Beda University sweet-shooter William Navarro
And oh, they now also have SJ Belangel of UAAP Juniors champion Ateneo high as well as returning swingman Adrian Wong.
Safe to say, the defending champions only got better – and that much was evident in their strong showing in the 2018 William Jones Cup.
“We try to make sure that we see each animal distinctly. The summer leagues, each of them was different, but there’s no doubt as to what we really exist for and that’s the UAAP. All of these things are in preparation for the UAAP.” – head coach Tab Baldwin
Still, Ateneo is tuning out all the noise from all over and instead, as always, have decided to focus on themselves.
“Expectations are irrelevant to us. We have our own expectations and we believe in ourselves. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove, but that doesn’t mean I would accept losing.” – head coach Tab Baldwin
WHO IS/ARE THE PLAYER/S TO WATCH OUT FOR FROM ATENEO?
Thirdy Ravena has been runner-up to MVP Ben Mbala for two seasons running. Now that Mbala is in Korea, it’s not that farfetched to see Ravena finally hoisting the trophy for top individual player.
Matt Nieto and Isaac Go are also still here and even better than ever – especially after gaining valuable experience as Gilas cadets.
All eyes are on Kouame who wowed in the Jones Cup as well as the Filoil Preseason. He is as raw as they come right now, but likewise has the potential to be the best foreign student-athlete the school has ever had.
“Angelo has very little background in basketball and there are some complexities to our system, but he’s an intelligent kid. He’s very hungry and incredibly willing to do what’s asked of him. We believe in him and his future – both short-term and long-term. I think he has a big upside.” – head coach Tab Baldwin
When it all comes down to it, however, Ateneo is still Ateneo and they don’t really have players to watch – just a team to watch. That means that what we can only expect is that there will be different top scorers, different top rebounders, and different top assist-men in each and every game.
WHY SHOULD WE ROOT FOR ATENEO?
Ateneo is the defending champion and the heavy favorite, but remains grounded on team play, selflessness, and brotherhood.
That same balanced offense and disciplined defense is still here – and perhaps, even better than ever.
“We just try to continue to grow. There’s so much to learn for these young players in the game of basketball and there’s so much development for them to achieve. We don’t get bored because tomorrow is another day to grow and improve.” – head coach Tab Baldwin
And so the Blue Eagles are the team-to-beat for opponents, but also remain the team-to-love for fans.
WHERE WOULD ATENEO BE AT THE END OF UAAP SEASON 81?
Ateneo will be in the Finals once more – living up to its billing as favorite to repeat.
A season sweep also isn’t out of the question, but even the Blue Eagles know that doing such thing is more difficult than winning the title or going back-to-back.
WHEN IS ATENEO’S FIRST GAME IN UAAP SEASON 81?
Ateneo’s first test in the tournament will be courtesy of another championship contender in Adamson University on September 9.
Of course, It All Begins Here on S+A, S+A HD, LIGA, LIGA HD, and livestream.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.