What a Fun week it has been in the world of college basketball, Palawan!
It was a magical ride for the Ateneo Blue Eagles this year as they swept all elimination games and the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) finals 2-0 against the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers on Wednesday by way of an 86-79 victory… a proper send off to veterans Thirdy Ravena, who had a monster game, Matt Nieto, and Isaac Go as they graduate as 3 peat champions for their alma mater.
It’s the year that Tab Baldwin solidified his claim as the hands-down best bench tactician in collegiate sports this decade. No one ever doubted Tab’s coaching pedigree being a veteran international coach but the one thing that I noticed throughout the years with him at the helm of Ateneo is that he just kept on improving the team year over year.
He is a wizard when it comes to the high pick and roll and drives and kick plays that Ateneo ran over and over this season. He believes in repetition, discipline, efficiency, and execution… ingredients of their highly successful season this year. I do hope that he finally gets to redeem himself and get rewarded with another crack to handle the national squad for the Olympic and/ or World Cup qualifiers. Knowing his style of coaching demanding every ounce of strength from a player, he will likely recruit 5-6 collegiate players to form part of the national core. Names like Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto, Justin Baltazar, Mark Nonoy, Kobe Paras and perhaps even Angelo Koaume as a back up naturalized player will surely be invited should he be given the mantle to form the team.
The UAAP has been Tab’s playground and this has been a blessing to the league as other schools try to upgrade their programs just to match what he has set for the Katipunan based team. I also believe no one can match him in today’s league. Even Aldin Ayo, the UST Growling Tigers coach and arguably the best local collegiate coach today, is still light years away from the skills and experience of the former New Zealand national coach.
Needless to say, I think Tab deserves to be the national team mentor on a full-time basis. He has proven himself beyond doubt at the college level already.
San Beda – Letran Classic
On the other side of the varsity fence, another enjoyable game 3 ended worthy of King’s Arthur’s praise as the Letran Knights upset the San Beda Red Lions 81-79 Tuesday in the final game of the 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s basketball season. This victory was a huge upset considering that the defending champions from Mendiola swept the first 2 rounds of the elimination games only to fall to the lethal sword of the Knights 2-1 in the finals. Come to think of it, the Knights happen to play spoiler roles in crushing much-touted finals opponents in stunning upsets in the past that include their 1 point game-winner in the final match of the championship series against a Eugene Quilban – Bong Alvarez led Recoletos (San Sebastian) squad in 1987 and much recently, a Mark Cruz led underdog squad that pulled the rug under a mighty San Beda team in the finals of 2016.
Jerick Balanza, a graduating senior, made the most of his final game with Letran pouring a game-high 27 points with Fran Yu providing the back court steadiness that kept San Beda at bay. Student import Donald Tankoua led the Lions cause with 22 points.
More than the collegiate rivalry, behind the bench, it was a victory by a San Miguel Corporation backed school vs a Manny Pangilinan sponsored squad. Unlike their UAAP counterparts, San Beda failed to win em all this year, the final year that the NCAA will allow foreign reinforcements in the league.
For the Red Lions, coach Boyet Fernandez would definitely have the tinker the roster to add a quality player to help close games for San Beda next year. The Knights, on the other hand, will lose Fran Yu and Jerick Balanza to graduation but still have the bulk of their big men and will continue to be a force to reckon with next year. Head Coach Bonnie Tan of the Knights can potentially win back to back titles with the quality roster he has at his disposal.
It has been a wonderful collegiate year and we haven’t even talked about the smaller leagues, Palawan. What a fitting collegiate season to pave the way for the Southeast Asian Games set to open November 30, 2019.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)