Coach Tab says Ateneo will have 'wealth of talent' for title defense

Coach Tab says Ateneo will have 'wealth of talent' for title
Ateneo will be a better version of itself when its title defense gets rolling a year from now as it could add 6 foot 10 Angelo Kouame (third from left) from the Ivory Coast.

One of the most glaring differences between the Ateneo de Manila University that lost in last year’s Finals and the one that won this year’s championship is how each and every player improved.

Everybody from Thirdy Ravena to Raffy Verano, from Matt Nieto to Anton Asistio, and from Chibueze Ikeh to Isaac Go was better this year compared to last.

Much of that has to do with seasoned mentor Tab Baldwin who has proven yet again that he gets the most out of his players.

As team captain Vince Tolentino said it, “For me, I’ve never had a coach like coach Tab. His mind is just full of so much basketball knowledge and for us young players, that’s important for us to develop.”

He then continued, “Coach Tab has done that for us and he will continue to do that for the Ateneo program.”

Indeed, the now one-time UAAP champion coach will be back at the helm of the Blue Eagles’ title defense – and except for the graduated Tolentino and Ikeh, he will have an intact lineup.

And even for those two, Baldwin and his staff already have the next men up. “Next year’s going to be very exciting to build this basketball team because, probably, we’re going to have a wealth of talent in the team,” he shared.

In the place of Tolentino, backup Verano may find for himself a heavier workload. Or perhaps, former NCAA Juniors MVP Troy Mallillin will be unleashed after a rookie year where he was seemingly kept under wraps.

Taking over for Ikeh may very well then be folk hero Go. Or, you know, a new foreign student-athlete in Angelo Kouame who stands at 6-foot-10.

Ateneo also has former San Beda Red Lion William Navarro and Filipino-Kiwi Patrick Maagdenberg as lineup possibilities.

That’s not even including the “wealth of talent” from their high school in the likes of heady point guard SJ Belangel and versatile forwards Jason Credo and Dave Ildefonso. All three are set to graduate from the Juniors by next year.

Also, former starting guard Adrian Wong will also be coming back from an ACL injury. “I think our fans are going to be very excited next year,” the Blue Eagles’ mentor  said.

In the end, whoever ends up making the cut for Katipunan’s roster a year from now, Baldwin has no doubt that they will be deserving – and will only keep on improving. “They’re all works in progress. They’re all trying to build themselves into professional basketball players and they’re all capable of that,” he said.

He then continued, “We (coaching staff) just have to keep putting them under pressure to get better – and they will, they’ll all get better.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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