AFTER the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons ousted the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles in the Final Four of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament, I didn’t feel bad at all.
Over the decades, I have learned to manage expectations not just in sports but everything else. When you learn to manage expectations, you don’t feel bad at all.
As American comedian Mel Brooks once quipped, “Hope for the best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed.”
It isn’t a lack of belief. Teams normally hit their stride in the second round. If they don’t, that is cause for concern. All season long, the pre-season included, you could see how short on experience and chemistry they were. They teased with their potential when they defeated the two finalists in UP and De La Salle University in the first round. In hindsight, it turns out that was the high point of the season.
And potential is such a dangerous word. If you don’t live up to that potential then there are recriminations.
At that time, it felt good to be true. But Ateneo came crashing down against Adamson University and you have to scratch your head as they let that game slip away. The Blue Eagles lost both elimination round matches to Far Eastern University and National University.
Tab Baldwin’s teams always returned the favor against teams that beat them in the first round. They didn’t this time and I accepted that this was an even greater uphill climb.
The playoff win against Adamson University that sent them to the Final Four was the last feel good moment.
You can attribute the loss in the semifinals to both UP’s defense and the lack of consistency.
As the final seconds ticked away, I felt for the graduating players then my thoughts turned to next season. It is still another rebuilding year.
I told some friends that I would rather lose in the final Four than the Finals. Not many people will remember you that you lost in the semis, but people will remember you lost in the championship game.
That is the vexing argument when it comes to Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the Greatest of All Time—that the former is undefeated in the finals while the latter has lost more than he has won.
I even broached that to one assistant coach of Ateneo and he did seem perplexed by my explanation.
Having said that, it is my belief that the Covid-19 pandemic hurt Ateneo the most because they lost players who opted out because of the uncertainty of that time. The carefully laid out plan of another dynasty was gone although they came close.
Now it’s back to the drawing board. Just like some other teams.
“Hope for the best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed.”
Nevertheless, the season isn’t done. The finals series between UP and De La Salle is tantalizing. Both teams have top talent and are on a mission. And they have some top coaching talent. I cannot even say who has the upper hand.
Since my college days, I have made it a point to follow all the teams. I would religiously watch them as I did Ateneo and that later helped me as a sportswriter and an unofficial historian. However, because I watched so much basketball at times, (I felt my brain was mush and my grades resembled basketballs), you become friends with some, antagonists with others because they cannot take criticism.
While I eagerly await the composition or even how Ateneo will look or perform for Season 87, I am also interested to see how the other squads will rebuild. Every team now has its own benefactor making the college game even more interesting.
I am so looking forward to the chatter about college basketball this finals, post-season, and the upcoming pre-season even if it’s months away.