UAAP: Pep talk from former Ateneo players fires up Blue Eagles
MANILA, Philippines —A visit from former Ateneo players before Game 2 lit a fire under the Blue Eagles, inspiring them to a 65-55 Game 2 victory that sent the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball Finals to a decider for the crown.
Ange Kouame and Kai Ballungay thanked the Blue Eagles–namely brothers Matt and Mike Nieto, Gian Mamuyac, Will Navarro, Tyler Tio, Raffy Verano, Anton Asistio, Adrian Wong, Vince Tolentino, and Isaac Go–who visited them in practice and watched their match live
Kouame unleashed 19 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, three blocks, and two assists, while Ballungay bounced back from his scoreless Game 1 with 15 points and five boards to equalize the series.
“It was really [heart]-warming. But not just that, ’cause I also witnessed when they lost against La Salle in the first year, Season 79. I was there when they won the next championship in 80, and then I joined the team in 81. So I was part of the process at some point, I really see what they were about,” said Kouame.
“From them to come from the ground to become something. They built this team, and right now, I’m a senior, so I also look up to them. Because I was part of it, and I try to bring that lessons to the young ones, so they’ll know what we’re really all about.”
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin bared his former players planned the surprise visit to motivate the current Blue Eagles on Monday after losing in Game 1, 72-66.
“They organized it. It was a surprise to me when they came in. Of course, it was a very welcome surprise. We have precious few chances to see all of them together. And, I mean, even Will Navarro was there, and the news is he has an ACL injury. So sad news for Will, but he was there as well,” said Baldwin.
“I think that the impact was extraordinary. Each one of them spoke. And you know, I said to the team the next day, I think, these guys aren’t speakers. There were several captains there. Of course Mike Nieto, it’s hard to shut him up. But the rest of them, even the captains. They were all there, they all spoke.”
The three-time UAAP champion coach admitted he was overwhelmed by the gesture of his former players
“The theme was consistent. It was, there is a legacy. The legacy was built on brotherhood. It was built on, you know, we few, for he today who will shed his blood for me is my brother. It was built on that legacy, and I don’t think this current team has had the opportunity to embed that philosophy. Pandemic, abbreviated preseasons, losing last season. We just haven’t embedded it, and it came to life on Monday night,” he said. “It was real. It was alive. It was personified by the exact people who built it. Powerful. Powerful. I was overwhelmed.”
Ballungay said their seniors’ talk fired him up to bounce back from his poor Game 1 showing.
“I think it really started Monday night when the alumni came and they spoke to the team. It was real special, not only for the team but for myself especially. Just hearing their stories. The Nieto brothers, Navarro. All those type of guys, and they were able to instill into me a lot of things that they witnessed, things that they experienced in their careers,” he said.
“I really took that to heart and wanted to — like Sean (Quitevis) said — show that type of brotherhood, something that we can live up to, what they did in years past.”
Now that they lived another day, Ateneo hopes to complete its redemption in Game 3 against UP.
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