Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blue Eagles v2014 - New Possibilities (Part 1)

I wanted to use "Great Expectations" for a title but I felt it might sound like I was jumping the gun.  Everyone has been talking about what a great rookie class this is and all that, but players usually cannot win championships individually. Even "The Greatest of All Time" Michael Jordan had to rely on his teammates especially in the last three-peat with the Bulls!   
In the spirit of "Ubuntu", this team will come together. A person is a person through other people, is a  definition coined by former Jesuit Michael Onyebuchi Eze. This philosophy broaches the idea that we are who we are because of others. I am because of you. Having one mind and one goal has always been espoused by the Blue Eagles and the community that supports it. Well, that and Defense. What I am trying to get at is that this team has to get familiar with each other and play cohesively thogether before they can start to do great things. When that will happen is not so easy to predict. On the upside though, I think this present group has gotten closer to each other faster than the 2008 version of the Blue Eagles which had another impressive rookie class.
Before going any further, I guess I will have to deal with last years issues...I felt that there were three things that may have prevented a better campaign. Despite difficulties, the team did very well during the Filoil Tournament, going 7-1 in the eliminations before deciding to withdraw to protect the health of it's players before the semi-final round started. Based on this performance, there were very optimistic expectations come the UAAP season.
Basketball aficionados have always said that the Filoil tourney is not the UAAP. NU in 2012 and UE in 2013 realized this fact. Teams usually ratchet up their intensity come July, but in the case of last years Blue Eagles, the start of their title defense started with an injured Kiefer Ravena. This is issue number one. Everyone on the team and in the stands were hoping that this was a one game thing but come game two, Kiefer was not even on the bench and his status was day-to-day (Which means: don't really know when he can play). To add to this difficulty, the first three games were against the stronger teams (NU, FEU and DLSU). This was compounded by the fact that all summer long the team had to deal with all sorts of injuries and come the first round some players were still on the mend. I don't even think the team played with a complete roster during the Filoil and UAAP games. Gib Babilonia got injured during the La Salle game and decided to sit out the rest of the season to have definitive treatment. It can be postulated that due to the lack of depth of the team, it was easier to guard players who were expected to carry the load.
The second issue was the UST game in the second round which was called off because of inclement weather. Jeric Teng, then the heart and soul of the UST Tigers, was still out because of a shoulder injury (brutally inflicted, I might add, but that's another story) and Ateneo may have had a psychological advantage then, having  come off three straight wins (over UP, UST and UP again). Instead that game was rescheduled to the end of the elimination round. Thus, the last game of the elimination rounds became a "win-or-go-home" situation and we know how that went. A healthy Teng and a resurgent UST team won against Ateneo without it's head coach on the bench. Which brings us to issue number three...
By preventing Coach Bo Perasol from calling the shots from the bench (a second penalty for the same infraction, I might add), the UAAP board may have inadvertently decided the outcome of that game from the boardroom. I don't really want to get into how some decisions of last year's Commissioner were overturned by the UAAP board and how some rules were interpreted inconsistently, I just hope we will not see a repeat this year. Let's not even get into the new 2 year residency rule that prevented Jerie Pingoy, Ateneo's lone recruit, from suiting up. Most of the new faces on last years roster were called up from Team B.

One last thing, that outburst near the dugout... I don't condone what happened but If I were in the Coach's shoes I would have done the exact same thing. There are hecklers and there are personal attacks. Sometimes you just have to push back as a message that for future reference I will not take that kind of treatment sitting down. Not from rabid fans, not from the referees and not from anyone who is out of line.
Rant's for this years outlook...
We have five new rookies playing in this year's roster: Arvin Tolentino (SBC), Thirdy Ravena (AHS), Jay Javellosa (Reedley), John Apacible and Clint Doliguez (Hope Christian). It could have been eight or nine but Jerie  Pingoy (FEU) and Hubert Cani (NU) were not able to secure their release papers, Isaac Go (Xavier) had some health issues and Aaron Black (AHS) will be cutting his chops in Team B this year. Even better news, the four players who were not able to make this year's roster and a few other unnamed players may make the 2015 rookie class even more impressive, but hush on that for now...
Kiefer Ravena is as still expected to lead this years Blue Eagles. He's got his game and swagger back and he has helped make his teammates better on the court. He has a more relaxed approach to the game which could be an indication of his increased confidence and maturity. His numbers from the 2012 season took a hit last year but he will surely make up for that in no time. Last years injury may have actually given him additional motivation and focus. I expect him to do anything and everything...scoring, rebounding, the intangibles, all the little things to help give the team an edge.
               Mins       Pts      FG%     FT%      Reb     Asst      Stls
S75        30.63      15.7       40        78          4.25      3.5        1
S76        25.83      12.7       32        54          4.0        2.5        1 
Chris Newsome, back for his final year, may actually have an added incentive to go all the way before bidding the collage wars adieu and heading to the pro league. He can help jump start another string of championships as a parting legacy.

Having a very impressive debut season somehow makes him a target for opposing teams. However, he comes prepared with a better skill set. He can create opportunities for his teammates on offense  or take the shot with equal efficiency should the need arise. His defensive awareness has also been honed such that he can create problems for opposing players. Because of this he should be in the running for this years MVP. Expect him to improve on last years per game numbers.

     Pts.        FT%         Rebs.        Assts.       Stls.       Blks.
      13.14       76%          6.14           2.64         .57           .5

At point, the load will be carried by Nico Elorde. With Pingoy and Cani unable to join the team, the point guard spot will be a little thin. However, toughness runs in Elorde's blood. Never one to shy away from a challenge, this grandson of Filipino boxing icon Gabriel "Flash" Elorde typifies the can do attitude, the key will have to be consistency.

He may not be a game changer but with his dogged perseverance and ability to play while in pain expect quality minutes every time he is on the court, and that may be a lot of minutes. Here are last years stats:

     Mins.       Pts.       FT%        Rebs.       Assts.      Stls.   
       18.21       6.57          81%         1.93         2.07         0.5

One of my biggest regrets last year was not seeing Von Pessumal score more. I had expected him to put up way better numbers because his performance in Filoil 2013 was outstanding, shooting a deft 57% from 3-point country while averaging 9.5 ppg. Towards the end of the elims, a freak accident caused a very nasty looking finger injury which could have contributed to a lower shooting percentage come UAAP season or maybe he was not one of the first options on offense and he did not get good looks at the basket.

This year will be different! With Buenafe and company no longer in the line-up, Pessumal will be expected to score more. Over the summer, his outside shooting has found increased accuracy and his drives to the basket more reliable.

These four will have to have enough confidence to carry the team, camaraderie to get everyone united and the will to focus on the same set of goals and get them there.
Before we get to the newbies, there are four holdovers from last year, two back from the injured list and a transferee who has completed his residency year.

Isaac "Ice" Lim, back for his 3rd tour of duty, is still getting his bearings as a back-up point guard. His stint with the Blue Eagles  started during the last year of Coach Norman Black. When Coach Bo Perasol took over, he was intrigued as to what persuaded the coaching staff to include him in the line up. They recounted seeing something in him that convinced them that he could be a player that can be developed in the mold of Jai Reyes or Emman Monfort, both impressive point guards who contributed heavily to the fabled 5-peat.

It should be a matter of time before Ice gets a break-out game. I know I, and a lot of others have been patiently waiting. His gritty determination and constant hard work will certainly make sure that he makes his mark soon enough.

6'3 forward Gwyne Capacio has not lived up to his full potential. He can actually create scoring opportunities given the playing time but he must prove that he deserves those minutes. Given his seniority, he will surely get his chances this year but he will have to sustain his intensity and poise on both ends of the court to be effective.

Vince Tolentino was used more for defensive situations last year, but there were glimpses of his offensive upside. Now playing his second year, he may have his work cut out for him, but he most certainly has the potential to be an impact player especially in the middle. With Jay Javellosa and John Apacible around he may be getting less time on the court this year. However, the coaches tend to reward those who perform well and we can expect Vince to lend his support in the shaded lane getting those offensive rebounds and collecting second chance points.

The Blue Eagles needed a fully loaded line up this year to maximize the viability of winning the most games possible. This is an effect of having a good number of recruits to chose from. Anton Asistio was given a slot because offers instant energy and toughness off the bench. This kid is relentless and this attitude allows him to be effective in the time he spends on the court.   

Earlier this year, I asked a few people in the know about who they thought would be starting in the middle this year. 2013 was the first time in a long time that the team did not have a dominant center and I was eager to know who had the inside track. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the most common name mentioned was that of 6'6 Gboy Babilonia. Apparently, Babilonia has a reputation of being a very smart defensive player and has the advantage of knowing "the system" by heart. His shoulder problems a thing of the past and now mentally tougher, he should be able to give opposing centers a tough time. Despite missing most of last season he does not seem to carry any rust in his movement. This should be a good year for him.

Kris Porter also had to sit out last year because of health issues. For sure, he had to slowly feel his way back to familiarity on the court but his height and heft gives him an advantage when battling for rebounds or boxing out under the basket. He will probably be brought in slowly but in time I imagine he will be pushing his weight around.

Alfonzo Gotladera was a player the team could have used last season. A strong big man with a soft touch and quite adept at the post, he had to spend time with Team B where he made a good impression with scoring and rebounding consistency. This year he is a welcome addition to Ateneo's formidable front line where I know he will immediately make his presence felt.

Of the five rookies on the team, I am most impressed with Arvin Tolentino. This 6'5 center from San Beda can do it all. I've seen him effectively bring the ball down, shoot the 3 and drive to the basket. He has an easy going demeanor as if to say, "Relax, watch this". He will need to round off his game by contesting rebounds more and learning to effectively pass off to an open teammate when the double comes. Yes, sooner or later they will have to put two bodies on him.

Thirdy Ravena was probably the most awaited sign up this year. Playing coy till his graduation, it was his kuya Kiefer who announced his decision to suit up for the blue and white. I feel that Thirdy is the more athletic of the brothers and he has very good instincts but he will need to temper his game. You have to pay attention when he is on the court, if you blink you might miss one of those spectacular alley-oop dunks that he loves to do. 

Since joining the team, John Apacible has not been able to display his wares much. It takes some players longer to adjust to the college game and he may still be getting his sea legs used to walking on dry land. Or maybe because of high expectations and the amount of talent around these days he may be carrying a little bit more pressure on his shoulders. Still, At 6'4, he should get his share of rebounds and points and help clog up the middle on the defensive end. I expect Apacible to be a bigger factor come the second round.

Clint Doliguez, like John Apacible, was recruited out of Hope Christian. Primarily being utilized as a defensive stopper, Doliguez has a very impressive offensive side in that he can create situations where he can score. He may also need some time to get his bearings with the team and should be more visible down the road.

If Thirdy Ravena bided his time before announcing his commitment, Jay Javelosa couldn't wait to get back into an Ateneo Uniform. This 6'5 center from Reedley will have to re-engineer his game and move to the power forward position, otherwise, as he said, he will be eaten alive by the imports who are heftier than he is. His quickness will be a definite plus as will his ability to move easily under the basket.

What makes this batch of rookies so distinctive is the impressive collection of awards they bring along from their senior year campaigns. Thirdy Ravena is the UAAP Juniors MVP, Arvin Tolentino is the NCAA Finals MVP, Apacible is the Metro Manila Tiong Lian Finals MVP. Hubert Cani who will have to sit out this year was the UAAP Finals MVP. Clint Doliguez also once scored 46 points to win a championship game against San Beda in the 30th SeaOil MMBL, in San Beda's home court.

End of Part 1, For Part 2:

No comments:

Post a Comment