2009 is truly such a very timely year for the Sesquicentennial Celebrations of the Ateneo De Manila University. There are many reasons for this and one of the most evident reasons is how the Ateneo Blue Eagles showcased a grand slam win in all collegiate basketball tournaments. Starting from the UAAP Season 72 where the Blue Eagles bested out all the other 7 universities thirstily vying for the crown with grace and determination, to the bigger competition which is the UniGames 2009 held at Iloilo and to the recently concluded Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).
The Ateneo Blue Eagles fought against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws during the finals series. A lot were very skeptic about Ateneo’s possible win in PCCL because they were up against FEU who everyone thought will win the championships of UAAP Season 72. Everyone just knew how the FEU Tamaraws were thirsty for a win and this determination to get the PCCL crown was manifested during the Game 1 of the PCCL finals.
During the Game 1 of the PCCL finals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles were ahead of the FEU Tamaraws during the first until the third quarters of the game. I guess being too confident and contented can be called the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ weakness. This is for the reason that in many games that they have played during this year, a number of their losses were because they became too confident during the latter parts of the game. Thus giving chance to their opponents to take advantage of the loosened up defenses and offenses. This is exactly what happened during the Game 1 of the finals. I could have given you more details but I wasn’t able to watch the Game 1 of the finals live as I was having a test in school.
The Game 2 of the Finals was do-or-die for the FEU Tamaraws. During this game, the Ateneo crowd was totally outnumbered by the FEU crowd. Not in the sense that there were too many FEU Tamaraws fans. There were actually very little people who watched the game. We Ateneo fans were a little scared for Game 2 because we know how much audience rapport affects the players’ performances in the game–and since the Ateneo fans were outnumbered, we worried that it would be tantamount to having a poor performance by the Ateneo Blue Eagles. But thankfully, this was not the case.
In the Game 2 of the finals, the exceptional defense mechanism of Blue Eagle Nonoy Baclao stood out and definitely made it more difficult for the FEU Tamaraws to make decent shots. It can also be called a career-game for former San Beda Red Cub Nico Salva who scored a total of 26 points during the game (90-63). By the game’s 2nd quarter, Nico Salva has already scored 13 points of his 26 points–making him one of most awesome players during that game. FEU’s keyplayers JR Cawaling and RR Garcia weren’t sent to the hardwood during the game’s last minutes. RR Garcia, who had an average of 19.8 points per game only scored 2 points during the entire game.
The biggest lead of the Blue Eagles was by 29 points during the last 1:07 minutes of the game. From just having a 26 pt lead, Blue Eagle Tonino Gonzaga showcased a shoo-in 3-pt shot which made the lead 29 points. 4-year Ateneo Blue Eagles Christopher “Oping” Sumalinog also stepped up in that game–disproving his detractors who call him the “design” of the Blue Eagles. Last but not the least, Vince Burke, who has been always seen inactive in the hardwood was sent by Coach Norman during the last minutes of the game and wowed everyone with his total block of FEU’s supposedly shot.
On the Game 3 of the finals which was held on Sunday, December 13 at the Ynares Sports Complex in Pasig, a sea of blue and white was seen in the bleachers. This, definitely outnumbered the FEU Tamaraws’ crowd of supporters. FEU Tamaraws’ cheers were also overpowered by the drum rolls and chants by the Ateneo Blue Babble Batallion and of the Ateneo community.
Eric Salamat, who has been frowned on by many Basketball spectators for not being in his A-game attitude during the finals series of the UAAP Season 72 showcased flawless 3pt shots which definitely proved that he is still worthy of Coach Norman and of the Ateneo community’s faith. On the other hand, former high school teammate of Salamat Ryan Buenafe also scored pretty well in Game 3 and for the first time, had a successful 3pt shot attempt during the 2nd quarter of the game. This made Ryan Buenafe’s diehard fans very ecstatic in the game. He scored a foul during the 4th quarter and was able to hit the two baskets which gave Ateneo the larger lead which was 74-70 (winning score too).
There happened a short commotion in the game when FEU Tamaraw Jens Knuttel hit MVP Jai Reyes’ chin while he was vying for the ball which was with Jai Reyes. This resulted Jai Reyes to score a foul. Jai Reyes was also undoubtedly in his A-game attitude and was definitely worthy of the MVP crown. Jens Knuttel on the other hand, scored 0 and garnered more hate words from spectators than support because of his unfavorable attitude in the court.
This is definitely a great year for the Ateneo Blue Eagles. As mentioned earlier, they championed all the Basketball tournaments they have participated in. These players and most especially Coach Norman Black feel like they’re in ecstasy right now because of the grand slam wins. Even courtside reporter Jessica Mendoza stated in her Twitter account that she feels like a champion too–which she definitely is too. For this year, they have proved that they are undoubtedly the BEST collegiate basketball team in the whole country.
The future of the Ateneo Blue Eagles is still uncertain right now especially that Al-Hussaini, Baclao and Reyes are leaving this year. The contributions of these 3 to the team through the course of their college years are undoubtedly priceless and very essential. During the UniGames, the 3 weren’t present but the team still managed to get the crown. This can be a sign that the team shall be able to still maintain their reign in the next years. However, the UniGames is not as competitive as UAAP so this should not stand as a measuring stick of what possible fate the Blue Eagles may face next year. But of course, let us not undermine the left players in the team for next year. Ateneo still has a powerhouse team given that most of its players have been playing the game since their high school years. Hell, Coach Norman and Ateneo won’t get those players if they know that they do not have what it takes to make Ateneo glorious. I am guessing that the big men for next year will be Austria, Buenafe, Long, Salamat and Salva. I think it is also time for Vince Burke to show us what he’s got. And don’t ever say that Vince Burke has nothing to offer. If Norman trusts him, then there’s definitely something. In Norman we shall trust.
For a more magnificent output (because I surely suck in writing sports articles), please visit Mr. Rick Olivares’ blog entry about the PCCL championship of Ateneo.
Photo from Mr. Rick Olivares