UNIVERSITY BLUE EAGLES
WITH A DECIMATED ROSTER AND ITS BACK AGAINST THE WALL, ATENEO DE MANILA UNIVERSITY DEFIED THE ODDS IN 2010 TO CONQUER THE SUMMIT OF UAAP HOOPS FOR THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE SEASON, ITS FIRST GRAND SLAM SINCE 1931-33. SEASON 74 SEES THE TABLES TURN IN FAVOR
Arguably the biggest name to come out of high school the past decade, Kiefer Ravena had the entire Ateneo community hanging by a thread before deciding to take his talents to Katipunan. A gifted scorer with the court sense of a grizzled veteran, the 2010 UAAP Juniors Finals MVP is as good as they come. He’ll take the place vacated by Eric Salamat and give the Blue Eagles a deadly option from the perimeter. Starting alongside Ravena is the diminutive Emman Monfort, the UAAP’s third-best three-point sniper (39.3%).
Anchoring the middle is another of Ateneo’s prized finds, seven-foot University of the Visayas transferee Greg Slaughter. At the very least, Slaughter’s intimidating presence will force the opposition to think twice and will command an instant double-team on offense. That should free up Monfort, Ravena and fourth-year star Nico Salva (9.5 PPG, 39.3 FG%), a dangerous scorer who still needs to work on his shot selection. Frank Golla shores up the frontline with his grit and nose for the leather.
Big man Justin Chua had a breakout 2010, tallying career-bests in points (9.2) and rebounds (team-high 6.2). With Slaughter in the mix, Chua could slide to the four, start alongside him and be more imposing along the way. Sophomore center JP Erram played in only eight games last year but should get more burn after polishing his footwork in the offseason. Returnee Oping Sumalinog and exDe La Salle Zobel star Gwyne Capacio lend depth to the three spot, which needs all
the help it can get due to the uncertainty surrounding Ryan Buenafe and Arthur dela Cruz.
The Blue Eagles’ beefed up roster will allow Kirk Long to either start or come off the bench. Long (9.2 PPG, 35.4 3PT%) is an invaluable asset to Ateneo and is a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. Much improved swingman Tonino Gonzaga has added a deadly corner triple to his arsenal and will be called on to shut down the opposition’s go-to guard. Bacon Austria returns to deepen the 2-3 rotation with rookie Von Pessumal, while Juami Tiongson solidifies the playmaking spot.
Now on his seventh season, head coach Norman Black has made an art form out of winning. After failing to secure a championship in his first three years, the one-time Detroit Piston has not only silenced the doubters, but made them believers as well. With a grand slam and two national championships tucked under his belt, Black knows what it takes to win. “We still want to run and finish our primary and secondary breaks. We still want to be the best defensive team. So, not much has changed,” he says. For the record, Ateneo topped the league in fastbreak points (12.1) and defensive field goal percentage (34.5%).
Being the astute teacher he is, Black is ready to tweak a few nuts and bolts. “We’ll probably press more like around three years ago now that we’re a faster team and run more post plays for Greg like when Rabeh (Al-Hussaini) was around. We should also be able to take advantage of Kiefer’s ability to break his man down,” he explains.
With the Blue Eagles’ rich harvest of recruits entering the fray comes the challenging part of molding them together with the reliable old guard, a task Black has addressed in the off-season. “We’ve got six new players so we’re trying to be more cohesive. We want to blend them into the system. It’s a good team, but how good, we have to wait and see,” he posits.
Chemistry – or lack thereof – is the undeniable key to Ateneo’s season. If Black’s bumper crop buys into his system, the sky’s the limit for these Blue Eagles.
The competition may have stiffened, but there’s little reason to believe that Ateneo will falter in 2011. They’re their worst enemies as another piece of history beckons for Black and Blue.