UAAP: Tab Baldwin hopes Final Four exit ‘lights fire’ under Ateneo
MANILA, Philippines — The Ateneo Blue Eagles may have missed the UAAP Finals for the first time in eight years but Tab Baldwin believes that the end of their six consecutive championship appearances marks the start of their development and growth.
“A lot of people will look at this season, and they’ll say it’s a season of failure, it’s a season of indifference. But you know, I choose to look at the glass being half full. And I’d like to think that this season is a bridge for us,” said Baldwin after they got dethroned by the twice-to-beat University of the Philippines, 57-46, in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball Final Four on Saturday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Baldwin, who steered the Blue Eagles to four championships including last year’s sweet revenge against the Fighting Maroons in Finals Game 3, admitted it wasn’t easy to continue their dynasty, especially with a new-look roster bannered by Jared Brown, Mason Amos, Chris Koon, and Kai Ballungay.
“We’ve just come out of an amazing era of Blue Eagle basketball. It’s very difficult to continue that, you know, just uninterrupted. There were so many disruptions in our program with the pandemic and players leaving before their eligibility was finished, and it impacted our recruiting,” Baldwin said.
“We had to contend with all of that. And I think, you know, the conspiracy of circumstances sort of caught up with us a bit this year. So we’re looking at this year now as a bridge to what we hope will be a new era of success for Blue Eagle basketball. So we’re going to be optimistic.”
Ateneo barely made it to the Final Four with a 7-7 finish in the elimination round, needing to beat Adamson in a playoff to reach the semifinals, where the school entered as the fourth seed for the first time ever.
The Fighting Maroons got their redemption after pulling away in the fourth quarter of their low-scoring clash but Baldwin said they will learn from their lessons after an early exit.
“We’re going to learn our lessons, we’re going to continue to develop and grow. And I think that the team that you saw this year will be almost intact when the team takes the floor next year. So this can be a very, very valuable season for the Blue Eagles and our future,” the Ateneo coach said.
“In this game, we lost the game. UP was a better team today, UP was a better team, this season, they will go on and contest the finals. But for us, we really believe that we should win this game and not winning it. There’s a lot of emotion in the dugout, there’s a lot of very downcast players, they’re hurt. And they’re really feeling the pain. And you don’t feel that if you haven’t invested,” he added.
The Kiwi-American coach was proud of his wards’ effort this year as they battled adversities until their final game of the season, where Raffy Celis and Andrew Bongo weren’t available due to sickness as well as Gab Gomez due to his injury, while Koon played through a fracture in his foot.
“Certainly has been a rollercoaster season for us. The record indicates that if you were a fly on the wall that all of our practices you would see that firsthand. But I just got to say I’m really proud of the team, you know, because this was a season of battles, not just on the court,” Baldwin said. “It was a really weird season. You know, we battled to be better all the time to grow to develop. We battled a lot of injuries.”
“But these guys showed a lot of heart and showed a lot of heart today. They stood toe to toe with, you know, what I think is an outstanding basketball team. And we gave ourselves chances and I don’t think I can ask much more of this team than then what they accomplished this year,” he added.
Baldwin hopes that their setback would light the fire under the young Blue Eagles to work themselves back to the top next year with the one-and-done Joseph Obasa the only one graduating.
“This has to be a spark for them, which lights a fire, which burns all of us until we put it out with some hardware in the future,” Baldwin said. “We will be reminding one another in the months to come about the pain that we have so that the fire doesn’t go out. And hopefully it will be part of the process of giving us the motivation and giving us the drive to work our tails off to get back into what we believe, you know, shouldn’t be the place we belong. And that’s in the finals and ultimately winning championships.”