'Overachieving' Ateneo brought back memories for Wesley Gonzales

Santino Honasan on Nov 29, 2016 06:44 PM
'Overachieving' Ateneo brought back memories for Gonzales
"Personally, I was expecting them to be in the final four, but not in second place. I think the team right now overachieved, and Iím really happy for them."

Back in 2002, the Ateneo Blue Eagles put on one of the most memorable campaigns in UAAP history, by capturing the UAAP men's basketball title, snapping a 13-year title drought, and in the process a four-year De La Salle dynasty. 

Fast-forward fourteen years later, the Ateneo Blue Eagles are back in the post season and are looking to break a three-year title and Finals drought. 

One of the pillars of that magical 2002 champion team, Wesley Gonzales, says that he sees some similarities between that 2002 team and this 2016 team, which includes the Blue Eagles' defensive presence. 

"I think, for one, they’re peaking perfectly, they’re picking up their game, especially in the second half of the league, and I think they really improved their defense. During our time, it was really our concentration, kumbaga main focus coming into the games."

One more similarity between the 2002 and 2016 teams were that they share the distinction of preventing a DLSU sweep in the eliminations. 

Back in 2002, the Green Archers were favored to win their fifth straight crown. With a team led by Mark Cardona, Mike Cortez and BJ Manalo, they appeared poised to sweep the season, until they ran into the streaking Blue Eagles, behind future professional stars in Gonzales, LA Tenorio, Enrico Villanueva, Rich Alvarez, and Larry Fonacier. 

In 2016, the Green Archers were once again an unstoppable basketball machine, armed with super-import Ben Mbala, Jeron Teng, and a supporting cast that could easily be divided and turned into two Final Four-worthy teams in the UAAP. The Archers were once again expected to steamroll their way into the finals, until the young Eagles unleashed their brand of 'mayhem' on DLSU. 

Immediately after the game, hashtags like #2002in2016 and #SpiritOfSeason65 began popping up on social media, implying that the upset was reminiscent of the 2002 season. 

Gonzales, who was actually there, somehow agrees with the sentiments, and hopes that the 2016 Eagles can manage to go all the way as well. 

"Kind of, especially when they beat La Salle. Sila yung naka-stop, kasi everyone was expecting La Salle to sweep the eliminations. Medyo, in a way, na-feel ko na ‘Wow, this is what happened during our time.’ and hopefully, mag-tuloy tuloy." 

With the departure of long-time stars Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, plus the exits of would-have-been key guys in Jerie Pingoy, Hubert Cani, Arvin Tolentino, and CJ Perez, the expectations for the Blue Eagles were set low. 

Very little expected the Katipunan squad to break into the Final Four, let alone clinch a twice-to-beat advantage. The second place finish after the eliminations surprised even Gonzales, who said he expected the Eagles to get into the Final Four, but definitely overachieved by locking up that number two seed. 

"Definitely, lalo na kung alam mo na maraming natanggal, syempre bumaba yung expectations. " Gonzales shared with ABS-CBN Sports. "Personally, I was expecting them to be in the final four, but not in second place. I think the team right now overachieved, and I’m really happy for them."

Now, the 2016 Ateneo Blue Eagles find themselves backed in a corner, in the second game of a semifinals series, pretty much like they were back in 2002 against the James Yap-led UE Red Warriors. 

The difference however this year, is that they are the ones that have relinquished a twice-to-beat advantage. If you ask some, they're still deemed as the underdogs against defending champions FEU. 

Whatever the case, should the Blue Eagles find a way past FEU, they'll be meeting De La Salle again in the Finals. You can bet that they'll be looking for some of that 2002 magic once again. 

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