Turning a raw, untested and inexperienced squad into a juggernaut that has wiped out all comers in the UAAP in the last two seasons, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin still feels the Blue Eagles’ success goes beyond their championships.
But with a squad that is considered even better than in the last two years, the Eagles are raring to give seniors Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go and Mike and Matt Nieto a glorious sendoff in UAAP Season 82 tipping off on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Everybody says winning is important and, of course, it helps you keep your job, but we have, with all integrity, put the emphasis on the players’ development in the program,” said Baldwin.
“We put the emphasis on teaching, mentoring, developing people and players which at the professional level is not really that much of a priority so I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”
For Baldwin, success also means Ravena and co. go on to become stars in the pro league.
For now, however, the focus will be on besting a field that includes the strongest University of the Philippines team in years and an Adamson squad that has a trio of explosive guards in Jerrick Ahanmisi, Jerom Lastimosa and Valandre Chauca.
The Falcons will be the first to test the Eagles as they square off at 4 p.m.
“I think I have the youngest team in the league right now with half of the team as rookies, but I’m hopeful they can adapt right away,” said Adamson coach Franz Pumaren.
For a change, the Fighting Maroons are the favorites as they parade two high-profile recruits to start their campaign against the Far Eastern U Tamaraws at 12:30 p.m.
Ex-Creighton U player Kobe Paras and former La Salle star Ricci Rivero will make their highly anticipated debut for the Maroons.
With one of last season’s top rookies, CJ Cansino fully recovered from an ACL injury, the University of Santo Tomas is also brimming with optimism heading into its clash with University of the East at 10:30 a.m.
The Red Warriors shook up their coaching staff with Joe Silva stepping down a day before the start of the season. Taking over the coaching chores is businessman and patron Bong Tan with former UE coach Lawrence Chongson serving as active consultant.
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