Posted Feb 16th 2014
Champions still, but Ateneo faces uphill climb
By Josiah Albelda Posted Jun 29th 2013
To say that Ateneo de Manila University's bid for a sixth straight championship will be an uphill climb is a gross understatement.
While most teams saw their rosters get beefed up, the Blue Eagles' lineup was decimated, with vital cogs like Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Tonino Gonzaga and Justin Chua bidding Loyola Heights adieu.
To top it off, coach Norman Black left the nest to return to the PBA and with him went the tried and tested system that gave Ateneo its best run in history.
To count them out, though, would be stupid, to say the least, as this team has proven time and again, that they could go all the way even without the best roster in the UAAP.
Kiefer Ravena is undoubtedly the King Eagle now, and expect this phenom of a guard to fire everything in his wide arsenal to keep the boat afloat.
With Salva and Slaughter getting their needed touches in Season 75, Ravena still averaged an impressive 16 point, 5-rebound, 5-assist stat line. But with their two bigs going to the pros, expect the son of PBA great Bong to up the ante and challenge Ray Parks for the MVP plum.
Coach Bo Perasol also has other weapons to flaunt in Ateneo's quest for further supremacy.
There's Chris Newsome, an ultra-athletic forward who can create his shot and wreak havoc on the boards. There's Juami Tiongson, who has emerged as that steady and reliable presence at the point who can also rifle treys in a hurry. There's Von Pessumal, who before injuring his finger in the preseason, was displaying the sniping prowess that made him successful in high school.
But despite the firepower, questions still abound for Perasol and the Eagles.
Who will haul the boards?
Who will score inside?
Who will be the spark off the bench?
What would they do if the defense clamps down on Ravena?
Would they be healthy throughout the season?
The last question might be the biggest for them, as for the first time in many years, Ateneo will begin the season hobbling and wanting in health.
"If we can be 100% healthy this season, I think we can defend the crown," Perasol said. "But it remains to be seen."
Health is the main reason why the Eagles pulled out of the FilOil Flying V Premier Cup, when they sported the best record in the group and were on their way to the quarterfinals when top brass decided they've had enough.
The road to history begins on Sunday, when they face their toughest test right in their first game: the title-hungry National University Bulldogs.
But if there is one thing that you can expect from this batch of the Blue and White, it is the fact that they will go all out, all heart in every game.
"They should expect us to play to our full potential," he added. "We will go 100% in all games. I hope we will be able to stand our ground against these teams."
For a change, the odds are stocked against them. For a change, the Eagles are not the favorites. For a change, we won't be seeing towers patrol the lanes for the Katipunan five.
One thing remains the same: They've been champions for five years running and you cannot deny that.
UAAP 76 line-up
Asistio, Antonio Rafael A.
Asuncion, Francesco Wilfredo T.
Babilonia, Gideon Ira M.
Buenafe, Ryan Clarence J.
Capacio, Gwyne Mathhew D.
Elorde, Juan Nicholas V.
Enriquez, Ivan Angelo S.
Erram, John Paul I.
Golla, Frank Jr, B.
Lim, Isaac Jules, B.
Murphy, Peter Amiel, A.
Newsome, Christopher Elijah
Pessumal, Von Rolfe V.
Ravena, Keifer Isaac, C.
Tiongson, Juan Miguel, B.
Tolentino, Manuel Vicente, D.