Tenorio feels Ateneo is what UP was in last UAAP Finals
LA Tenorio, one of the foremost products to ever come out of the Ateneo basketball program, knows—or believes he does—how the current Blue Eagles feel heading into their title clash with repeat-seeking UP for the UAAP men’s basketball championship.
“We are UP this year what UP was last season,” Tenorio told the Inquirer over the phone when asked how he sees the best-of-three series, which starts Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, going. “Last year, no one expected UP to get to the Finals, and when they did, they surprised everyone.
“No one expected us (Ateneo) to make it to the Finals this season, considering the players that left before the league started.”
The Eagles lost four crack players before the start of the season, counting Tyler Tio and SJ Belangel, a formidable 1-2 backcourt punch which opted for pro play with still a combined four years of eligibility left.
“Losing those players, who would have thought that Ateneo would make the Finals?” Tenorio asked. “But here they are, and I’m sure that what eagerness the Maroons felt last year when they were going to face (the Eagles in the Finals), is the same eagerness (to beat them) that Ateneo is feeling right now.”
The Maroons have the edge in manpower, not only because they have the same team that won the deciding third game last season, but because the players have all gotten better after getting the taste of winning.
Malick Diouf will come into the series as the new MVP and with the knowledge that he could take in Ange Kouame any day of the week—like he did last season.
Carl Tamayo is even better now compared to last season, so good that he has been on the wish list of coach Chot Reyes to be part of the Gilas Pilipinas team gearing up for the Fiba World Cup next year.
Forthsky takes cudgels
Ateneo, meanwhile, got the lift it wasn’t expecting from Forthsky Padrigao, its pint-sized point guard who finished second in the MVP race.
“I think the team started slow because we had basically a new team and everyone was still searching for a replacement for SJ and Tyler (in the backcourt) earlier in the season,” Tenorio said. “But after the break (for the Fiba Qualifying window), the confidence of the team grew and Kouame also got better.
“Their game has certainly gone up notches higher,” Tenorio said. “But UP is also not playing bad either.”
The teams split their two elimination round games, with the first one going into overtime in favor of the Maroons.
No one really expects any team to sweep this thing, especially with the brilliant minds behind each bench in Goldwyn Monteverde for UP and Tab Baldwin for Ateneo.
Tenorio talked a lot about how the Eagles don’t have the same manpower they had in winning three straight titles before going down to the Maroons last season, so how does he really see the title series going?
“Ateneo is the decided underdog, that’s for sure. But I’m still expecting us to win.”