THE Ateneo Blue Eagles reprised a masterpiece from seven years ago to bag the championship of the top pre-season tournament.
In 2011 Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena conspired to lead Ateneo to its first-ever Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup. In their very first game of that year’s tournament, Ravena lobbed an alley-oop to Slaughter for a dunk over San Beda center Ola Adeogun.
The two squads met once more in the finals where the Blue Eagles ran roughshod over their longtime rival, 75-56.
Seven years later—this year—it was Angelo Kouame and Matt Nieto leading the way—along with Thirdy Ravena—to its second tournament championship, 76-62, last Saturday.
Ateneo led throughout the whole game with a near seamless offense and an equally stifling defense that had San Beda shooting 28 percent from the field.
The Blue Eagles also handcuffed San Beda star Robert Bolick Jr., who didn’t score a point in 10 minutes of action. He was not fielded in the second half after tweaking his ankle in the second period.
Just as it was in 2011, Ateneo seized control with their exquisite center and top point guard, and a deep and talented bench.
The Blue Eagles’ center Angelo Kouame thoroughly outplayed San Beda’s two African reinforcements Donald Tankoua and Eugene Toba. Kouame, who was named to the tournament’s Mythical Five, as well as the tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP), finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds. He also had three blocks and one assist.
Matt Nieto’s emergence in the past two seasons has translated into a call up into the national team’s pool. He doesn’t need to score to be effective. His effective quarterbacking and superb leadership plus clutch shooting has seen him emerge as perhaps the top point guard in the college ranks right now.
As for Ravena, he has stepped out of the shadow of older brother, Kiefer, to become a champion and a force in his own right.
As for the bench, from the first down to the last man, including rookies Pat Maagdenberg, SJ Belangel and Jason Credo, have shown that they are the future of this Ateneo team that will contend for years to come.
In some ways, this championship, the second of the preseason for Ateneo after bagging the City Hoops title—and they are in the semifinals of the Breakdown Basketball Invitationals—is record breaking.
With the Gilas Cadets’ participation in the tournament, Ateneo played a total of 12 games all for wins and a sweep. The previous high was 11 wins achieved by National University, De La Salle and San Beda.
Second, Ateneo scored an all-time tournament high of 992 points, eclipsing the 983 points that La Salle scored two years ago with Ben Mbala’s monster debut season. The 23.3-point differential of Ateneo’s games betters the previous high of 15.2 of La Salle also set two seasons ago.
This was also the third consecutive year where the eventual champion swept the tournament. De La Salle and San Beda completed their own sweeps in the past three years.
Named to the Mythical Selection of the seniors division were Ateneo’s Kouame, Ravena and Nieto; San Beda’s Jayvee Mocon; and La Salle’s Justine Baltazar.
Perpetual Help’s Prince Eze was named Defensive Player of the tournament. Kouame, who has only been playing organized basketball in the past four years after growing up playing soccer in his native Ivory Coast, romped all the way to the MVP Award by garnering 531 statistical points prior to the finals.
Perhaps what was most impressive about the win is the Blue Eagles were playing jetlagged, having just arrived from their European training camp the day before the quarterfinals. When they played Letran in the quarterfinals last Thursday, many players didn’t get a wink of sleep.
Against Far Eastern University in the semifinals, their legs were almost gone as they struggled on offense. It was on defense where they found a way to win. But in the championship round, this is where their mental fortitude and some words of wisdom from Head Coach Tab Baldwin (who was out of the country) came into play.