UAAP spotlight falls on Ateneo's 'four-peat' bid | Inquirer Sports

UAAP spotlight falls on Ateneo’s ‘four-peat’ bid

By: - Sports Editor / @ftjochoaINQ
/ 07:58 PM July 08, 2011

Photo by Jim Guiao Punzalan

MANILA—The bad news for Ateneo: It has been more than two decades since a host school won the UAAP men’s basketball title.

That’s a long enough drought for trivia junkies to come up with something called the “host school jinx.”

The good news?

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The Blue Eagles were the last ones to actually pull off the feat.

Season 74 of the UAAP kicks off today with the spotlight—as usual—falling on the men’s basketball tournament. And the glare is expected to be brighter on Ateneo as the Eagles shoot for a fourth straight title.

“Every year the bullseye on our chests keeps getting bigger and bigger as we keep on winning,” said Ateneo co-skipper Kirk Long.

The Eagles have won three straight already and they all agree that bullseye is now huge enough for all to see.

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“We’re three-peat champions we have a very big target in front of us,” said veteran forward Nico Salva. “So we just have to double our efforts to stay on top.”

It would, indeed, be fitting if Ateneo completed it’s own version of the “four-peat,” a feat accomplished only twice since the UAAP became an eight-team league.

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After all, the last time a host school won the men’s basketball crown, the centerpiece jewel of the UAAP wars, was when the Eagles nailed the 1987-88 championship—the first of what eventually was a back-to-back for the team.

Since then, host schools have been jinxed as far as the men’s basketball title is concerned. In fact when University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University strung up their own four-peats, none of the triumphs came on the year their school hosted the UAAP.

This time, it’s going to take more than a jinx to slow down the Eagles.

Already a vaunted crew that virtually carried an intact roster into this season, Ateneo was further boosted with the addition of two blue-chip newbies capable of providing firepower right away without going through that awkward feeling-out phase.

There’s Ateneo lifer Kiefer Ravena, the former high school star who’s a lock for Rookie of the Year honors, and Smart Gilas project Greg Slaughter, a 6-11 center who is penciled to be dominant enough in the low blocks that an MVP trophy isn’t exactly far-fetched.

“I think we’re a little deeper,” said sweet-shooting swingman Long.

That may be the understatement of the season.

“I think the team is talented with Greg, Kiefer and the veterans,” Salva added— and that may be the runnerup for understatement of the season.

Ravena and Slaughter add depth to a team that already includes Long, Salva, Bacon Austria, Emman Monfort, Justin Chua, Frank Golla and Oping Sumalinog. It’s not exactly a leak-proof mix but it’s an imposing one.

Still, no one’s crowning the Eagles just yet.

Far Eastern U, led by reigning Most Valuable Player RR Garcia, lurks as the biggest threat to the throne. And then there’s an intact and well-trained Adamson squad that has made an impression in offseason tournaments.

“Teams will be playing their best games against us since we’re three-peat champions,” said Salva. “We just have to double our efforts to stay on top.

“We hope throughout the season we’ll get better and reach our peak in time for the championship.”

The two rookies are certainly looking forward to the challenge.

“We have to look at it in a way that we still have to go 110 percent to win the championship,” said Slaughter. “We can’t be too confident because we’ve lost some games against some UAAP teams [during the preseason].

“Hopefully I can help the team win a fourth straight championship, but as I said, it’s not going to be easy,” added the former University of Visayas star. “I really look forward to getting better with my teammates to win games.”

“I just have to play consistently, work on my game and not to be stagnant,” said Ravena, the son of former PBA star Bong Ravena, who has a penchant for taking over in crunch time of the biggest games with his offensive skills.

“Everyone’s gunning for us and we have a big target on our backs,” he added.
Long believes the team’s title defense will rest on the team’s defense.

“For the most part, we want to keep our defense the way it is and win games with that because that’s what made us successful the last three years,” explained Long. “Now it’s nice to have a big fella to funnel to but it’s going to be about us being one on defense.”

Offense, check. Defense, check.

It seems like coach Norman Black will have fewer problems this season.

“We certainly have the talent to compete this year,” admitted Black.

Because nobody has guaranteed Ateneo the title, no matter how preordained the championship may seem, expect the seven other teams in the field to flash their meanest form each time they face the Eagles.

“[All other teams] have their eyes on the prize as well so they all want to knock us out of our thrones,” said Long.

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And the rookie Ravena spoke like a veteran when he summed up how the Eagles must play every basketball second this season if they want to retain their crown.
“We have to play close to perfect if possible,” he said.

TAGS: Ateneo Blue Eagles, Bacon Austria, Emman Monfort, Frank Golla, Greg Slaughter, Justin Chua, Kiefer Ravena, Kirk Long, Nico Salva, Norman Black, Oping Sumalinog, Sports, UAAP Season 74

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