Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, August 29, 2016

UAAP Season 79 Preview: Where to, Ateneo Blue Eagles?

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UAAP Season 79 Preview: Where to, Ateneo Blue Eagles? 
by rick olivares

This was the season where the Ateneo Blue Eagles were supposed to compete for the UAAP Men’s Basketball crown. And I do mean compete. And so they lost key players to academics during a turbulent summer and they all departed for other schools. 

Yet despite being crippled, the Blue Eagles incredibly finished third in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup. If they had everyone for the ride, imagine how good they would be especially since they added two crucial people in the months since.

That’s done with and here’s the now. Let’s answer the questions.

Can they compete for a Final Four slot?
Most definitely. There are only three slots that will be contested as one will automatically go to La Salle, the prohibitive favorite to annex the crown. Other squads like Adamson, Far Eastern University, National University, University of the Philippines, and University of the East have post-season designs so nothing will be easy. 

That begs another batch of questions: can second-year center Chibueze Ikeh stand his ground against the Ben Mbalas of this league? Who will provide the points now that Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have graduated? Can this team play defense like the defense of old? 

Can they solve the Riddle of the Man in the Middle?
All the past Ateneo champion teams have featured top-flight centers — Danny Francisco, Rico Villanueva, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Greg Slaughter. If Ateneo wants to realize its Final Four ambitions and beyond, Ikeh has to play solid and not soft as he sometimes does. He cannot have butterfingers when it comes to grabbing that rebound or loose ball. And he ought to pound it inside. He came on strong during the latter part of the Filoil tourney. If he can continue that all the way to the UAAP, then the Blue Eagles will have that force in the middle. 

I’ve wondered why we don’t have that African stud in the middle the way the Green Archers, the Growling Tigers, the Bulldogs, or even the Altas have over in the NCAA.

Kris Porter, GBoy Babilonia, and Isaac Go will platoon at that slot. I like their improvement, aggressiveness, and confidence. That should help. But the onus is on Ikeh to dominate. 

if the big man don’t show up then it’s going to be even tougher.

Where will the points come from?
I said it last season and I will say it again, Aaron Black will be a big time scorer for Ateneo and he will get that chance to do it this year. He will also have ample support from Thirdy Ravena who will be back with a vengeance after missing out last season due to academics. Another big time player for this team will be Tyler Tio who got his baptism of fire during the summer. He had a great first match against UE then struggled after. Welcome to the college ranks! It’s not high school ball as most of everyone is taller than you.

Fil-Ams Raffy Verano and Jawuan White will help out. Said team manager Chris Quimpo of White, “hulog ng langit” as he just walked in and claimed a roster spot.

Basically, this is a team that can score. Matt Nieto is better after a learning season on the bench. Vince Tolentino has finally shown flashes of what he can really do. Anton Asistio can bombard from the outside. If God gifts Matt Nieto with a jumpshot he will be even more formidable. 

The next question is, can they defend?

Can these Blue Eagles play defense?
During the summer tourney, they finished 10th in the Filoil defensive rankings. But that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. As the competition wore on, they got better. In fact, prior to their semis loss, Ateneo shut down the high-powered offenses of National University, Adamson, and Perpetual Help. So yes, they can. I am sure in the months since, the coaching staff will have worked on improving their defense.  

As much as their version of the three headed monster is vital, any road to the Final Four and beyond will be determined how Ikeh plays. He proved to be the rim protector they need however, he needs to stay away from foul trouble to be even more effective.

I also like the their willingness to work. They will hustle, crash the boards, and challenge shots. Seeing Matt Nieto do all the little things he did in high school and do so while undersized once more in the college ranks, it’s impressively. This team is deep, long, and athletic. They just have to put it all together. 

Is this team hungry?
Definitely. They came within a basket of making the finals last year. Don’t think that does not motivate the Blue Eagles at all. It does. 

In the pre-season, Tab Baldwin said this team’s battle cry will be “One Big Fight.” Now that sounds ornery, right? No. It takes on a different meaning especially now.

After everyone they lost. After the adversity they face. Given the odds of facing even more veteran-laden teams like La Salle, UP, and UE…. they are literally in for a fight. And they will give it just that.

Having said all of that, their manpower losses notwithstanding, this team can be an unlikely finalist. Yep. Even with all their losses, they still have the talent, motivation, and the smarts to make it.

Anton Asistio - guard
Gideon Babilonia - forward-center
Joaquin Banzon - point guard
Aaron Black - shooting guard
Jose Manuel Escaler - forward
Isaac Go - center
Shaun Ildefonso - forward
Jolo Mendoza - guard
Chibueze Ikeh - center
Matt Nieto - point guard
Mike Nieto - forward
Kris Porter - forward-center
Ferdinand Ravena III - forward
Tyler Tio - point guard
Vince Tolentino - forward
Raffy Verano - forward
Jawuan White - guard
Adrian Wong - guard


  1. why isn't there no special mention of Adrian Wong?

  2. is tio eligible? word is his citizenship papers have been growing stalactites in one of the bureaucratic desks at the dfa

  3. You said, "I’ve wondered why we don’t have that African stud in the middle the way the Green Archers, the Growling Tigers, the Bulldogs, or even the Altas have over in the NCAA.". What about Chibueze Ikeh -- he is Ateneo's center, right?

  4. Is it possible to have information on the height of the blue eagles, thanks.

  5. Is it possible to secure information on the height of each blue eagle? Thanks.

  6. Shaggy Almond is not in your list. Is he not playing this year?

  7. Is Cole micek and shaggy in the team?