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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Forgive doubting Rick

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LET’S start off by being a man about it.

I was wrong for not picking Ateneo to make the Final Four. Wherever they finish after this, they have gone farther than anyone figured.

Me? Yes, seriously.

I have had an incredible batting average from the last 14 years picking winners (playoff bound squads and brackets) not only in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), but also in the National Basketball Association, boxing and the FIFA World Cup.

That’s all right. I am happy to be proven wrong.

I honestly didn’t think the Ateneo Blue Eagles would make the semifinals of the current UAAP season. For real. It was the first time that I was pessimistic about a whole year. Maybe if SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac, Raffy Verano and Dwight Ramos were around, I would have felt much different.

I thought that they were a work in progress and the lack of big game experience for many players would hurt.

While it is true there is a lack of experience on the part of many players, I also thought the weak bench would hamper their progress.

But they are in the Final Four.

So my hats off to the Blue Eagles and Coach Tab Baldwin for proving me wrong.

Coach Tab is a brilliant coach and my friends and I have often debated what was his best coaching job.

Well, taking New Zealand to the world championships and the Olympics is tops anywhere. So no argument.

Once you get past the national team stuff, and talk about Ateneo, there was his first year with them in 2016 when they lost to La Salle in the finals. That was a young team he took there. Then there was the next year where they stopped La Salle once more in the finals. And of course, 2019 when the Blue Eagles swept the league.

Now, this season with Ateneo has to count among them—again wherever they finish from here.

With all due respect to their opponents, but the one that did the singular biggest damage to Ateneo’s dynastic title hopes is Covid-19. Because of the pandemic, Ateneo lost many players who never completed their five-year collegiate stint or even played in the UAAP (Dwight Ramos). Even worse, Angelo Kouame is not at 100 percent.

There’s a terrific University of the Philippines (UP) team plus La Salle (that has had its own share of bad luck with illnesses and injuries) that won the recent Philippine Basketball Association D-League title. National University won a pre-season title despite also losing key players to poaching by UP, and they have been a tough customer all season long.

Far Eastern University, Adamson University, and the University of the East also have very good teams with the former two strong Final Four candidates.

With a thin bench and inconsistent if not underwhelming play from many players, they are in the Final Four with a twice-to-beat advantage.

And if they defeat Adamson University in their final elimination round game, they could be tops in the standings. Could be.

Imagine that!

Of course, the goal is a championship. It is Ateneo after all. Maybe for others making the playoffs is morale boosting and is an indicator of going in the right direction. Some programs are like that after all. But in this age of big boy sponsors, anything less than a title is a failure.

Yet, this season, or even in the next few, consider everything that has happened or not happened to Ateneo… this is pretty good.

Sure, some will disagree. Maybe many. Wherever they end is already an accomplishment because many did not see them getting here or being in this position.

Now, it will still be nice to continue to be proven wrong.

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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