#UAAP79 Outlook: Ateneo Blue Eagles

Barcelona maintain their push for the play-offs with a 80-74 win at Fenerbahce

Who’s out: Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, Arvin Tolentino, Gwayne Capacio, Ponso Gotladera, Jerie Pingoy, John Apacible, Hubert Cani

Who’s back: Aaron Black, Adrian Wong, Ikeh Chibueze, Matt Nieto, GBoy Babilonia, Vince Tolentino, Mike Nieto, Isaac Go, Anton Asistio (missed S78), Kris Porter (missed S78), Thirdy Ravena (missed S78)

Who’s new: Jme Escaler, Shaun Ildefonso, Jolo Mendoza, Raffy Verano, Jawuan White

Season 78 Record & Finish: 9-5, 3rd seed in the elims and lost to FEU in the Final Four.

2016 Filoil Record & Finish: 4-3, 3rd seed in Group B, beat UPHSD in the quarterfinals, lost to DLSU in the semifinals, and beat NU in the battle for 3rd place.

What should work in S79:
No blue chip recruits, no superstar veterans, and no sky-high expectations. That’s the Ateneo team we will see in S79, and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. On the surface, that means Ateneo will be a little less predictable than they were last season, and perhaps “fringe players” like Ikeh Chibueze, Vince Tolentino, Adrian Wong, and Aaron Black may just be given enough time of day to shine.

“Team” is the biggest theme for Ateneo in S79, and their byword for it is #BEBOB. I myself am not 100% sure what it means, but the skinny is if you’ve read the right Shakespearean play, stumbling upon the hashtag’s meaning won’t be very difficult. In simpler terms, though, this Ateneo team looks to be less deep than before, but the flipside is they should play a more balanced game.

Most of the names on Ateneo’s roster are products of their Ateneo HS Eaglets pipeline. That’s great for familiarity, chemistry, and the fact that off-court issues shouldn’t be much of a concern, but that’s also a testament to the kind of program Ateneo’s has become. I know all of the former Eaglets on this S79 team, and I’ve even taught one of them. These are all high-spirited, highly motivated, and talented players, but I’m not even sure if a number of them were expecting to be thrust (or thrust back) into the Seniors’ division at this point in their lives.

I’m optimistic about Ikeh. He had some brilliant games in the preseason, and I’m assuming he’s clever enough to have learned a thing or two from his maiden campaign in S78. Along with Vince Tolentino, Ikeh is also in his final playing year (strangely enough), so it can be expected that both those frontliners will play extra major roles on both ends of the floor and should see a significant uptick in their production. Whether that translates into enough wins to make the Final Four is a whole new issue altogether.

What will be tough in S79:
Not having supertsar veterans is good in so far as it allows up-and-comers like Thirdy Ravena, Aaron Black, and Adrian Wong the room to grow and make bigger impacts, but the other side of that reality is this big question: Who will be this team’s leader? GBoy Babilonia is the team’s oldest player and the aforementioned Ikeh and Tolentino are on their final year of eligibility, but, I don’t know, none of them strike me as the “I’ll carry you on my back” type. The onus, I think, will be on both Ravena and Black, and it’s not just because of their pedigree. Yes, they’d like to step out of the shadows of their more illustrious relatives, but the most straightforward way to do that is to achieve their own success in their own terms. If Thirdy and Aaron are able to carry the weight of the school’s perpetual infatuation with winning on their young shoulders, all well and good, but if they crumble, then so will Ateneo’s fortunes.

In conclusion:
I haven’t really talked about the team’s biggest ace yet, so I’ll do it now. Coach Tab Baldwin (okay, Consultant) is going to be the biggest difference-maker for the team and maybe even the entire league. Already, anyone close to the team swears by coach Tab. His obsession with following the right process is infectious, and though it doesn’t exactly match the program’s (and the alumni’s) well-chronicled history of being fixated with golden results, it’s clear coach Tab is in for the long haul. One year deal? Puh-lease. He’s setting the groundwork for long-term success.

The thing is, having the long view will probably mean the Ateneo faithful should have tempered expectations in the short-term. – By Enzo Flojo 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut

Enzo Flojo writes opinion pieces for FOX Sports related to basketball