Ateneo’s promising rookies make case for UAAP roster spots
TOKYO—Ateneo flies back to Manila Monday morning taking the lessons of a failed defense of the World University Basketball Series title after the squad finished fourth.
Two straight losses in the weekend, with a 73-58 thumping taken at the hands of Hakouh University of Japan in the semifinals eliminated the Blue Eagles, who showed a lot more spunk when they fell short to Radford University of the United States, 77-68, in the battle for the bronze.
With the team heading into the home stretch of its preparations to defend the crown that matters most in Loyola—the UAAP Seniors basketball title—coach Tab Baldwin still has yet to make up his mind on who will make the final roster.
That being said, three incoming rookies showed quite a lot of promise in the squad’s 1-2 showing here as guard Lebron Nieto and forwards Andrew Bongo and Shawn Tuaño got a lot of playing time.
All three are hoping to make the final roster and the trio had a lot of support from family who came from thousands of miles away.
“We just want him to know that we are here for him, no matter what happens,” Vic Bongo, a mechanical engineer from Los Angeles in California, told the Inquirer while watching from the stands.
Together with wife Anne, a registered nurse, Vic flew all the way from LA and was reunited with Andrew for the first time in so many months.
The young Bongo was discovered by team manager Epok Quimpo in the US. He saw a sequence when the 6-foot-5 Andrew was guarding a big man in the paint, something which convinced him that the youngster could be good enough for the Eagles.
“He’s also a super great kid,” Quimpo, who was a member of the champion Ateneo teams that was bannered by LA Tenorio and Enrico Villanueva almost two decades back, said.
Aris and Neth Tuaño are also here to give Shawn the support he needs, and the 6-foot-4 wing had a lot of bright moments.
He finished with nine points against the Radford Highlanders and was on the floor for almost 19 minutes, the second longest playing time that Baldwin gave to a rookie after Bongo, who scored five points in a 19:30 stint.
Nieto, whose parents Jett and Girlie made the trip here from Manila, is trying to crack a lineup that lost premier point guard Forthsky Padrigao close to a month back.
A lefty with a deft touch from the perimeter and a hardnosed defensive attitude, Nieto will be contending for spots together with Ian Espinosa, Jared Brown and Gab Gomez.
“They’re all great kids,” Baldwin had told the Inquirer in an earlier interview. “They all work hard and they all deserve to be in the roster.
“But we (coaching staff) still need to do what we have to do. And I am going to be making painful cuts (before the UAAP season).”