Blue Eagles’ teamwork does it
MANILA, Philippines—Just moments after Ateneo captured its fourth straight UAAP men’s basketball championship, coach Norman Black recalled how a fan came up to him and excitedly requested for a “five-peat” next season.
“It’s really crazy that it happened moments after the game, just seconds later,” Black said with a laugh. “I would just like to enjoy this as much as I can, while I can.”
Winning, indeed, has become a habit for Ateneo.
Playing like an in-sync unit the entire season, the Blue Eagles capped a historic title romp with an 82-69 Game 2 drubbing of Far Eastern University last Saturday.
Black said the Eagles’ near-perfect run—which saw them dropping only one game against Adamson in the eliminations—had a lot to do with teamwork more than individual talent.
“When I used to play, I used to take more pride with everybody respecting the fact that I played my best every time,” said Black, the PBA Grand Slam coach who first bagged the “Mr. 100 Percent” award during his successful stint as an import.
“That’s what I also to try to instill in my players. You want to be known as a good player, but you also want to be known as being a good team player. For me, that’s everything because people respect you when they see you go out and do the same thing every night without fail and have the will to win every night.”
True enough, Ateneo didn’t boast of a lone superstar. Instead, the Eagles leaned on a strong core led by rookie sensations Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena and veterans Kirk Long, Emman Monfort and Finals MVP Nico Salva.
“That really has been the key to our team,” said Black. “We don’t have anybody averaging over 27 minutes in a game. Most of our guys share minutes and at the end of the season we’re still fresh.”
The question now, of course, is how the Eagles aim to sustain their winning roll after joining an esteemed group of consecutive champions made up of La Salle (1998-2001), University of Santo Tomas (1993-1996) and league record-holder University of the East (1965-1971).
“The five-peat is going to be very difficult mainly because all the other teams are getting better,” admitted Black.
The seven-foot Slaughter, for one, has yet to decide if he’ll play his final year of eligibility. The Eagles will also lose to graduation “very good defensive players” in Kirk Long, Emman Monfort and Bacon Austria.
“Bottom line is we’ve done a good job in recruiting,” said Black. “As long as we can continue to recruit good players, I think the program will continue to be strong.”
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