(Sorry it took awhile to pen this. We had dinner with some good friends at Bellini's last night where I had a nice chat with some gentlemen from San Beda College who congratulated us for our victory. See you in the UAAP, friends. Animo San Beda. Animo Ateneo. This appears in www.ateneo.edu).
Ateneo 62 vs. La Salle 51
word rick olivares pix martin & mhel
It ended right where it began. In the solemn refuge of the
A year ago was the sermon after the loss to
Ryan Buenafe, who was yet to be a member of the team and the school at that time, sat by the right side of the Church and witnessed the lowest of lows. Incredibly, it took Ford Arao and Zion Laterre, the two departing players who were hurting the most, to put a smile on everyone’s face with their upbeat farewell speeches. Buenafe remembered feeling touched. It was a far different community, he thought. The team had just suffered a most painful loss yet they celebrated, offered thanks, and gave their graduating players a unique send off – basking in the love and cheers of a grateful community. He imagined himself to be in that position and although it would take him a while more to decide where to matriculate, the image was nonetheless indelible and a powerful one.
Early this past summer, Norman Black flew to the
Like a kid given the keys to Toys ‘R Us, Norman had a great sandbox to play in. They had bagged some blue chip recruits and the team’s holdovers were rounding out into deadly form. Weeks after the heartbreak of Season 70’s Final Four, the team showed no signs of an emotional letdown in the 2007 Champions League campaign; a stark contrast to their dismal 2006 showing. The team ran roughshod over the competition and bagged the first bit of glassware of the Norman Black era in Ateneo. “We have a good team,” said the coach to me in one of the many private discussions we’d have over the course of the year. “Don’t tell anyone but I’m excited about this team. We have a very good chance of winning the championship with this year.”
Another pre-season tournament win – this time in the Nike Summer League – seemed to confirm that but Black was still publicly reticent about his team’s chances perhaps not to lift up expectations. “As long as we can beat the top teams once or twice then take down the lower seeds we’ll have a very good chance to make it to the Final Four. Then we’ll take it from there.”
Only no one could have predicted the romp would come in such devastating fashion. Not since the 1987 squad topped the league with a 14-1 record (en route to a 20-1 streak that continued well into the back-to-back crown of 1988) has there been a Blue Eagle team so dominant. And all season long, they proved the doubters wrong. They won game after game and repaid debts in spades.
After they prevented UST from defending their crown in Season 70, the Blue Eagles crushed the Tigers twice in the eliminations to underscore their mastery of their España rivals.
There were the University of the East Red Warriors who took two games from Ateneo in Season 70. The Blue Eagles evened up the score this year and in the rubber match that was the Final Four, sent them packing in humiliating fashion. That victory might have ended Dindo Pumaren’s tenure as UE coach as word is he is all set to move to our fabled foe from Mendiola.
And then there was
Thus far, they were beaten in three games with one more until the mission was done. The day before game two, Nonoy Baclao was icing his knees at the clinic in Moro Lorenzo. The team earlier got word that the team practically romped away with the majority of the season awards. Rabeh Al-Hussaini, walked in shook Baclao’s hand and joked, “Mula ngayon, tawag ko sa ‘yo ‘Doy.’ ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ kasi pero panget pakinggan yung ‘DPoy.’” Baclao congratulated his teammate on his winning the MVP plum; the fourth Atenean to win the award after Jun Reyes, Rich Alvarez, and Enrico Villanueva.
There was some concern that the team might come out flat after the awards ceremony given the enormity of the situation. The Green Archers were obviously going to be all fired up. “It’s a good thing they found out early so the joy and anticipation has somewhat died down a bit,” said Debbie Tan, the team’s liaison from the PLDT-SMART Foundation.
“Don’t worry,” promised Baclao. “Focused kami.”
“Hindi na namin papatagalin pa,” added Al-Hussaini.
Close by sat former teammate Ford Arao who was rehabbing his second ACL. “Kung sakali manalo bukas,” he whispered in a low voice so no one could hear. “Kami lang pala nila
In three previous meetings, Ateneo had three players in double-digit scoring. In Game One of the Finals, co-captain Chris Tiu found himself saddled with early foul trouble and scored only two points that were huge nonetheless. Al-Hussaini and Baclao had burned DLSU badly that the coaching staff theorized that there would be a renewed defensive focus on the Blue Eagles' frontline. But stopping them was altogether another matter. And it was time for Tiu and Eric Salamat to get untracked.
It was another sterling defensive effort but for the first time all season, only one player – Chris Tiu -- finished in double digits (16 points to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists). The caveat there was all 10 Blue Eagles who checked into the match scored making it even more difficult to stop the team. Once more Jobe Nkemakolam made a case for himself as a force to reckon with as he came off the bench to score 8 points in addition to pulling down 2 boards and dishing off 1 assist. Mike Baldos was another factor as he started in Baclao’s place and added 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block.
Despite an early DLSU lead, the score remained close; another indication of their inability to land a haymaker. After Tiu hit a jumper at the 2:34 mark of the first quarter to put Ateneo up 12-10, it was for the lead they would not surrender.
The Blue Eagle captain later scored seven straight points to post the blue side with a 10-point lead that would eventually balloon to a 15-point cushion at the half.
For only the second time in four matches, the Green Archers took a quarter from Ateneo as they came out of the half firing literally. The Archers’ bigs set a series of staggering picks that freed up Jayvee Casio for four treys to go with one apiece from LA Revilla and James Mangahas. The lead had evaporated to three after three quarters 50-47 as the Green Archers scored 21 points to Ateneo’s 9.
Al-Hussaini who this time around was plagued by early foul trouble kept Ateneo afloat in the face of the withering La Salle assault as the newly-crowned MVP scored all his 7 points in the crucial third canto. But
Rico Maierhofer was slapped with a second technical for taunting with 1:31 left in the quarter and subsequently ejected from the game. Almost a minute later, Casio picked up his fourth foul.
Despite missing their two vital cogs, Ateneo was unable to capitalize on the Archers’ misfortune as they remained scoreless for four minutes. However, with under six minutes to play in the fourth period, the Archers problems were compounded as they were already in penalty.
Chris Tiu’s three free throws off a three-point challenge at the 8:24 mark was the game’s turning point. It gave Ateneo breathing room as it padded the lead to 53-47, a luxury in the now close match.
That was it for the team from Taft as their offensive ineptitude and coupled with the defensive noose hung on them by Ateneo tightened. The Archers scored a low of four points with all coming from PJ Walsham who all season long was riding Franz Pumaren’s doghouse.
In the fourth finals match up between the two teams in the UAAP, the Ateneo Blue Eagles repaid one final debt as they beat the De La Salle Green Archers 62-51 for their fourth UAAP title and 18th overall (including the 14 in the NCAA). It was Ateneo’s fourth championship victory in six meetings with
The Blue Eagles showed everyone that they too can come back.
In 2006, JC Intal joined a slam dunk contest and wore Norman Black’s San Miguel jersey during one of his attempts.
This year, the Blue Eagles paid tribute to the man who led them all these years by taking to the court of the Araneta Coliseum before Game One wearing a black shirt with the number 24 emblazoned boldly on the back.
When the oncourt celebration began, Al-Hussaini and Black enjoyed a tearful embrace in center court. “Thank you,” said the coach to his center who enjoyed one of the finest seasons of any Ateneo player ever. “Hindi, coach,” replied Al-Hussaini. “Thank you po sa inyo.”
A cast of former Blue Eagles littered on the court. There was Eric Reyes (1987 & '88 UAAP Champions) who congratulated his old teammate Gene Afable for a job well done.
There was Intal and Macky Escalona who both (were from the 2002 UAAP Champion team) said prior to the game that they wouldn’t miss this for the world. “Bawi na para sa amin,” beamed Escalona.
Bajjie Del Rosario and Magnum Membrere of the 2002 team were also in smiles as they congratulated their former teammates.
Ricky Palou, who was a long time ago his team’s (1969 NCAA Champions) version of Nonoy Baclao shook hands with his successor. “Good job,” said Palpal Palou (as he was fondly nicknamed all those years ago by the sports press) as he shook hands with the Finals MVP who had a net dangled around his neck. Then they shared a high five.
There was Nonoy Chuatico (1987 UAAP Champions) who played for Robert Jaworski’s Ginebra San Miguel teams of the early 1990’s, who also wore an iamnonoy shirt. “Makikisawsaw ako,” he laughed. “Sarap maging champion ulit.”
There was Sandy Arespacochaga who waxed eloquent for one final time. During the bonfire party of 2002, he walked around Bellarmine Field clutching the trophy that eluded him as a player. “This is a good win,” he grinned as he allowed himself a smile that eludes him when he has his game face on.
There was Jimmy Alabanza who in retirement spends all his waking hours trying to help his alma mater shaking hands with every one. Even with people he doesn't know.
And there was Ford Arao wearing a Mike Baldos jersey with Yuri Escueta’s number taped in front. His large frame standing out in the sea of blue that had crowded the maple court. He smiled that big goofy smile of his and sought out his former teammates. He found his buddies Escueta and Baldos and the three huddled up. They emerged with tears in their eyes as Escueta tapped Arao’s chest as if to say, “Para sa ‘yo ‘to, Ford.”
The big man wiped his eyes and flashed that grin of his. “Para sa community ‘to.”
It ended right where it began. In the solemn refuge of the Church of the Gesu.
And win or lose, as always, every one was there to give thanks, celebrate, and to remember. After all, this is the
This one is for Ford Arao, Zion Laterre, Ken Barracoso, Martin Quimson, Johann Uichico, and Emman Monfort. Brothers in arms in the trenches.
And for Norman Black. Now you can sleep soundly, Coach.
Ateneo 62 – Tiu 16, Baclao 8, Nkemakolam 8, Al-Hussaini 7, Baldos 6, Buenafe 5, Reyes 5, Salamat 3,
La Salle 51 – Casio 18, Walsham 8, Maierhofer 7, Revilla 5, Atkins 3, Bagatsing 3, Mangahas 3, Ferdinand 2, Malabes 2, Barua 0, Villanueva 0
Thanks to these dudes who got my back.
My plan was to wear a different jersey for each quarter -- my tribute to the players of last year. I wore Ford's sophomore jersey during the pre-game analysis. I wasn't able to wear Emman's jersey and I grabbed the wrong jersey from my closet. Instead of Zion's I picked up LA Tenorio's. But no worries. Hey, LA!
Thanks to ABS-CBN for giving me the opportunity. Was super surprised on my way inside the Southgate when they asked me if I wanted to do the pre and post-game analysis. Ms. Tessa Jazmines, my colleague in the Business Mirror for help in the Press Room. My friends from inboundpass.com: Mike Abasolo - Mr. Red Simba, Chris Soler, Kim Lesaca, and my old friend, Sid Ventura for their thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and laughs. Mike and Kim... genuflect now, bruthas! And to Kamae De Jesus and Portia Silva... cheerleaders in the production room and fab peeps! Good job both of ya. And to Boom Gonzales and Rolly Manlapaz for their insights too. And last but not the least, my brothers in the Ateneo Sports Shooters and the Guidon. One Big Fight, hommes.
To all Ateneans and non-Ateneans, email me your stories and thoughts of the season, the games, incidents, anecdotes. We're doing something also from the point of view of the fans and spectators. Please be a part of this.
Coach Norman... dammit. I'm happy for you. Yung mga bwisit na alumni na batikos ng batikos kay coach at sa mga players tapos nagpa-picture with them afterwards... up yours! Kapal ng mga mukha niyo. Homegrown my f****** ass.
Photo op before Game 2: With Fr. Ben Nebres, Rabeh, Nico, and Yuri.