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Walking Tall with Ateneo Blue Eagle Tony Koyfman
by rick olivares
The dust had settled after an intense Spikers’ Turf Finals battle between Ateneo and National University. It was the fifth consecutive finals meeting (three in the UAAP and two in the latter amateur league’s titular series) where the two have met. The former had taken the last four meetings. The second, third, and fourth meetings were all no contests.
Although Ateneo had gone 7-0 from the preliminaries all the way to the semi-finals, the championship round was hotly contested. And the last one, Game Two, came down to inches despite an Ateneo two-game sweep of the best-of-three series. And when all was said and done, dust settling included, the difference was a six-foot-eight New Yorker who was named the Finals’ Most Valuable Player.
Tony Paul Koyfman scored 27 points in both games with many of them coming during crucial moments when NU was making a game of it.
Koyfman is of Russian-Colombian descent but born and raised in Bayside, Queens, New York. He came to Manila because his girlfriend, Jam, a Filipina who once played volleyball for Far Eastern University, told him that his college education would be cheaper in Manila but just as good. With the help of former De La Salle Lady Spiker Stephanie Mercado who put Jam in touch with Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro (he recruited Mercado for DLSU), Koyfman made his way to the Loyola Heights, Quezon City based school.
Because of his height, basketball seemed like a natural sport for Koyfman in his younger days. Except that he started out playing American’s national pastime. “I’m from Queens and so I grew up a baseball fan (the New York Mets) and played that sport. But because of my height, I was forced to play basketball. I do like the game and enjoy it. But because of a bad experience during my younger days, I decided to switch sports to volleyball. Although I still play pick-up hoops when I can and when I am allowed to do so,” shared Tony. "I choose volleyball (started in high school all 4 years) as it was something new for me."
At that time of his transplanting himself to Manila, the two-year residency rule was still in effect for UAAP schools and Koyfman had to cool his heels waiting. Almadro admitted that training during the two years affected Koyfman's confidence for a while. “He was good but not that good,” said the Blue Eagles coach. “I spent hours and hours working on his game literally shedding blood and sweating buckets. The best thing about it is he has a great attitude which you cannot coach. So that helped in the process."
“I couldn’t wait to help the team and show what I can do,” threw in Tony who said that the “last few months of the residency slowed down to a crawl.”
“During practice, I would do my best to simulate the best player of the other teams and to provide a difficult challenge for Ateneo’s staters. Now it's pretty interesting finding myself on the other side. No matter though waiting out those two years and playing now, I always stayed thankful and grateful to this team for I was fortunate to be pushed by them all this time and I am sure even for the future.”
With Ateneo’s second straight Spikers’ Turf title now ensconced in Loyola Heights, Almadro, Koyman, and the rest of the Blue Eagles turn the focus of their attention on their second straight title defense in the UAAP. “Being named Finals MVP was good,” said Koyfman following the post-match celebration. “But I feel that the bigger battle is to come. Hopefully, I can build from this. And to think that a boy from New York would find himself in Manila. It’s a great feeling."