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

Rebound Magazine - - UAAP PREVIEW - by Chris­tian D. Soler

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.

Bench

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.

Coach­ing

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.

In­tan­gi­bles

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.

Out­look

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.

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