SUPER SHOWDOWN: Black's Ateneo vs Baldwin's Ateneo
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 14, 2020 07:25 PM
(Photos by Arvin Lim)
Ateneo de Manila University has, put simply, reigned supreme over UAAP Men's Basketball in recent history.
Blue Eagle has been the king eight times out of the last 12 tournaments.
That dominance has bookended just three other teams who have won championships in that same timeframe.
The first bookend was a five-peat that was engineered by then-already multi-titled mentor Norman Black from 2008 to 2012.
The other - from 2017 and still counting - bookend has former national team coach Tab Baldwin calling the shots
And Ateneo does not look like its slowing down anytime soon as its future remains secure in the hands of Ivorian tower Ange Kouame, emerging primetime playmayer SJ Belangel, and Filipino-American recruit Dwight Ramos.
Between the two bookends, however, which Blue Eagle string of championships shines brighter? That is what we set out to figure out in this ABS-CBN Sports Super Showdown.
In grading the greatness of Black's five-peat and Baldwin's three-peat, we will be judging them in five categories (talent, system, level of competition, dominance, and legacy) with a boxing-style 10-point must system determining the decision.
Black's five-peat had Kiefer Ravena while Baldwin's three-peat had Thirdy Ravena.
So let's call that a draw.
In terms of everything else, however, there is just no doubt that Ateneo had the most talented team for majority of its five-peat.
The twin towers of Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao were followed by Justin Chua and then Greg Slaughter.
Steady Chris Tiu was replaced by Jai Reyes and Eric Salamat who were then replaced by Kirk Long and Emman Monfort who were then replaced by Ravena and Juami Tiongson.
At the wings were then likes of Ryan Buenafe, Nico Salva, and Oping Sumalinog.
Majority of these players were true blue-chip recruits who decided to go to Ateneo, get-together with other promising prospects, and just run roughshod over the UAAP.
Let's be clear here, anybody and everybody would want to go to war with that championship core of Ravena (Thirdy, that is), Isaac Go, and Nieto twins Mike and Matt to go along with whoever the versatile four-man is - be it Vince Tolentino or Raffy Verano or Will Navarro - and either Chibueze Ikeh or Kouame, but in terms of sheer top-level talent, the five-peat has the three-peat beat.
Advantage Black's Ateneo, 10-8
The signature of Black's Ateneo teams was a complete team that had a killer inside-outside combo.
Tiu and Al-Hussaini. Monfort and Chua. Ravena and Slaughter.
And whenever it mattered most, there was always a clutch player to come through - be it Tiu or Salamat or Buenafe.
That's the benefit of having the most talented team most of the time.
The slight edge here, however, would have to go the egalitarian system Baldwin has installed in these Blue Eagles.
Baldwin's boys take pride in the fact that, indeed, all of them are ready and raring to contribute whenever called upon.
More often than not, the core plays somewhere between 12 to 24 minutes, but not one player could say his minutes are assured as their mentor always preaches that each and every one of his boys should never stop being better.
That means that at any given point in time, somebody is always there to step up for somebody - "next man up" as they love to call it.
Take for instance, that four-spot which first saw Tolentino doing the dirty work and once he graduated, Verano just filled in the spot.
And when the Filipino-American ran into academic issues, was there any problem whatsoever? None at all because Navarro was there to come to be known as "Mr. Efficiency."
Most definitely, there is no better system in collegiate basketball than what Baldwin has in place through this Ateneo three-peat.
Advantage Baldwin's Ateneo, 10-9
LEVEL OF COMPETITION
Six other member-schools made it to the playoffs at least once during Ateneo's five-peat - the lone exception being the University of the Philippines which was then still trudging through its so-called "dark days".
In that run, the Blue Eagles had to contend with Far Eastern University with the likes of Mac Baracael, Mark Barroca, RR Garcia, and Terrence Romeo; University of the East with the likes of Marcy Arellano, Elmer Espiritu, Paul Lee, and James Martinez; Adamson University with the likes of Lester Alvarez, Rodney Brondial, and Alex Nuyles;
De La Salle University with the likes of Jvee Casio, Rico Maierhoffer, and Jeron Teng; University of Sto. Tomas with the likes of Dylan Ababou, Karim Abdul, and Jeric Teng; and National University with the likes of Emmanuel Mbe and Ray Parks Jr.
For their part, Ateneo's three-peat team saw the Bulldogs and the Red Warriors both fail to make the Final Four during its time on top.
Still, they had to run through a gauntlet of good to great teams such as the Ben Mbala and Ricci Rivero-led Green Archers, the Jerrick Ahanmisi and Sean Manganti-led Soaring Falcons, and the Arvin Tolentino and Wendell Comboy-led Tamaraws.
Through it all, the Blue Eagles also had to play spoiler in the climb to contention of the Fighting Maroons with Bright Akhuetie, Kobe Paras, Rivero, and Gomez de Liano brothers Javi and Juan as well as the return to relevance of the Growling Tigers with Rhenz Abando, CJ Cansino, Mark Nonoy, and Soulemane Chabi Yo.
The difference here then becomes the arrival of MVP-level foreign student-athletes.
In La Salle's Mbala, UP's Akhuetie, and UST's Chabi Yo, Ateneo's three-peat team had to wage war with three of the best recruits from abroad before winning the championship.
For sure, Al-Hussaini, Chua, and Slaughter mentored by Black would have been able to make something happen if ever they were matched up with those three, but the fact remains that nowadays, there is just more foreign talent in the UAAP.
Advantage Baldwin's Ateneo, 10-9
With a five-peat, Black did something that has not been done in the UAAP since UE won seven titles in a row in the '60s under the legendary Baby Dalupan.
Through that time, Ateneo registered a couple of one-loss and a pair of two-loss seasons - and the only struggle, relative to them, was a 10-4, second-seed elimination round finish in Season 73.
Still, through that time, the Blue Eagles only had one loss in all of its playoff series - a 68-88 shocker of a defeat to the Red Warriors in Game 2 of the Season 72 Finals.
Somehow, though, Baldwin's historic feat was more impressive as their 16-0 romp through Season 82 is the first-ever of its kind in men's basketball.
Before this, all previous season sweeps in men's basketball wound up with 14-0 records.
The three-peat Blue Eagles also boast of a better elims standing as they only lost a total of three times there in three years.
Their two losses in the playoffs are worse compared to the five-peat team, but Season 82's 16-0 is still better than either Season 71 or Season 74's 16-1.
Advantage Baldwin's Ateneo, 10-9
Black opened the floodgates for Ateneo to be a destination for blue-chip recruits from outside Katipunan.
Remember, before this, the Blue Eagles' 2002 championship was built on the shoulders of former Blue Eaglets Rico Villanueva, Wesley Gonzales and Larry Fonacier - the non-homegrown key cogs being LA Tenorio from San Beda High School and two-time UAAP Srs. MVP Rich Alvarez, who played high school ball overseas.
Through that five-peat, though, the blue and white became the undisputed king of recruiting as it got Salva from San Beda, Buenafe and Salamat from San Sebastian College-Recoletos, Tiu and Chua from Xavier and Chiang Kai Shek, respectively, and Baclao, Slaughter, and Sumalinog from the Visayas.
Yes, Ravena was there, but many of Black's key cogs were still blue-chip recruits from outside Katipunan.
In comparison, Baldwin's championship core, for the most part, are former Blue Eaglets in Ravena (again, Thirdy, that is), Anton Asistio, SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac, and the Nieto twins.
Even Kouame is, in essence, a homegrown key cog as he was taken in by Ateneo even before college and finished his high school in nearby Multiple Intelligence International School
In all, the blueprint may have been different, but the building was the same in the end - a blue and white dynasty.