A slow and steady rise
MANILA–Right from the start, the knock on Ateneo was that the Blue Eagles no longer had the talent to keep it’s title machine humming. So how did a team with an acknowledged lack of firepower nail a historic third straight UAAP men’s basketball championship?
“Every game we just got a little bit better,” said Ateneo’s veteran guard Kirk Long.
“We gradually became this championship team that we are today. It wasn’t something that just got switched on halfway through the season. It’s something we had to spent a lot of time, energy and effort into becoming the team that we are today.”
The Blue Eagles, drawing a clutch performance from Ryan Buenafe, turned back Far Eastern University, 65-62, in Thursday’s Game 2 to complete a sweep of the the top-seeded Tamaraws , 2-0, in the best-of-three title series.
“The one major ingredient to everything has been the defense,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black.
“That’s the number one thing that carried us in the last three years, particularly this year because we did not have a dominant offensive player. We really had to rely a lot on our defense to win games.”
“There were many doubters, they didn’t believe in us, but we didn’t care,” forward Nico Salva added. “We just stayed within our circle and just believed in ourselves.”
Indeed, the Tamaraws lorded it over from Day 1, only to surprisingly falter in the season’s biggest games.
The heartbreaker turned out to be a Finals subplot of its own as the Tamaraws absorbed an embarrassing 72-49 whipping in the opener, before another Game 2 setback where they played the second half without coach Glenn Capacio, who was rushed to the hospital due to hypertension.
The incident further fueled talks that Capacio, who took over in 2007, is well on his way out.
“We’ll talk about it, we’ll meet with him,” said Anton Montinola, FEU’s representative to the UAAP board. “Every year our record has improved. We made the Finals this time, but we couldn’t pull it off.”
Black, though, offered an advice to Capacio, whom he considers as a friend.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” said Black. “If you remember we lost to UST [in the 2006 Finals] and everybody wanted my head. He has a very good team, they’re very talented, they had a very good year. He just has to stay positive and really just hang in there, that’s the most important thing. Go with what you believe in and as long as your team will follow you, I’m sure they’ll be successful in the future.”
For the Blue Eagles, though, the future looks good as they go for a rare fourth straight crown next year with a strong recruitment class led by the seven-foot Fil-Am Greg Slaughter.
“Every year there are big shoes to fill,” said Long. “This year Eric (Salamat)is going to leave, so that’s just another big pair of shoes to fill. But I believe in our coaching staff—on how they’ll prepare us and keep us working in the off season.” Photo by Celest Flores
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.