DEJAVU. Jett Nieto sparked the Ateneo Blue Eagles as he sank a three pointer with 10 minutes left to lead to the Hail Mary squad to its first ever UAAP title. Thirty years later his son Matt did the same. Alex Araneta lived through his UAAP career by being maligned as an ineffective center. But in the 1987 finals he came out with a gem of a game to outshine National team center Jerry Codinera to team with Nieto for the win. Chibueze Ikeh got his cue from Alex.
Wesley Gonzales, coming back from a one year hiatus, erupted in the 2002 UAAP Basketball finals to fuel the Blue Eagle’s drive to end Ateneo’s title-less drought as the Finals MVP proved to be the big difference in Game 3 of the finals. Fifteen years later Thirdy Ravena would do the same. Ryan Buenafe scored the dagger three that gave the Ateneo Blue Eagles their sixth UAAP title in season 73, and so did Isaac Go.
The Blue Eagles have always known the recipe for success and finally after four unfruitful campaigns Ateneo has put together a Band of brothers that defied the odds to bring back the UAAP Mens’ Basketball title back to Katipunan. The Ateneo de Manila University got back at De La Salle University as the Blue Eagles wore down the Green Archers 88 – 86 in game 3 of the Finals of the 80th Season to win their ninth UAAP title. The Blue Eagles have won the Men’s Basketball title at the expense of the Green Archers with a total of three times wherein the Men in Green are the defending Champions! At the same time, the Blue Eagles have beaten their arch-rivals twice in Game 3 finals, first in 2002 and this year.
Ateneo has always won every time when a big scoring center was in the fold, Danny Francisco in 1987 and 1988, Enrico Villanueva in 2002, Rabah Al-Husaini in 2008 and 2009 while Greg Slaughter was at the helm in 2011 and 2012. This year, the duo of the highly physical Chibueze Ikeh and the clutch hitting Isaac Go did the trick as the two combined to score 19 points while Ikeh hauled down 13 rebounds, a steal and two blocks to offset the tournament MVP Ben Mbala’s output. What was more evident was that the two always combined to give what Coach Tab needed. When he needed inside presence and defense Ikeh would deliver, while Go most often took the most important shots of the game.
Coming out big were two names that carried the team throughout the season – Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto. But if you were to ask them on how they excelled, they will be quick to point out that they became better because of their team mates. Buying in to Coach Tab Baldwin’s team concept has enabled the Eagles to snatch the crown from the most intimidating MVP the UAAP has ever produced. There was the frontline of Chibueze Ikeh and Vince Tolentino who labored hard to give the scorers opportunities to score and secure the needed rebounds.
Then there were Anton Assistio, Jolo Mendoza and Mike Nieto who all lit up the gym with timely three pointers and 2 point conversions whenever the ball rotates their way. There’s Raffy Verano, Gian Mamuyac, Tyler Tio and Aaron Black who leads the second unit with their defense that they translate to the needed points that gives the Blue Eagles either the lead or the needed baskets to get back to the game. Then there’s Isaac Go who sank almost all the clutch baskets of the Blue Eagles that made everyone say that he’s Ateneo’s Go-to Guy!
“There is nothing better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time. “The last six games of the Blue Eagles tested their character in the face of adversity. The Blue Eagles faced adversity as though it was on their dinner plate every night. But it would not have been possible without each other’s help. When everything was on the line, the Blue Eagles responded with utmost urgency, determination, discipline and more importantly responded as a team. These are the qualities that showed the maturity of the Blue Eagles, these are the qualities that became their character. The three point shots against FEU by Isaac and Matt, the monster offensive rebound of Thirdy that became an assist to Matt Nieto, the offensive rebound of Chib Ikeh that eventually became an Assistio three, the lock-down defense of Gian Mamuyac and all the other small things that made the Blue Eagles big.
DEJAVU. Yes there were sightings of many individual greatness that the Blue Eagles emulated from previous champion teams, but the only thing new was the way the Blue Eagles played as a team. Everyone made his own contribution, everyone chipped in, everyone had his share of greatness. This team is the weakest Ateneo champion team on paper, but the strongest when these band of brothers come together to face adversity. Congratulations to the Blue Eagles once again for you showed that basketball is definitely a team game and that old saying that Together Everyone Achieves More! One Big Fight!
Thanks to the Ateneo Sports Shooters for their pictures:
ARVIN LIM and LEO LOPEZ