MANILA, Philippines – When the Nieto twins and Thirdy Ravena had to sit out some UAAP games, the rest of the Ateneo Blue Eagles ably stepped up for their absent teammates.
They call it as their “next man up” mentality, and even their coaching staff isn’t exempt from it.
So when Ateneo head tactician Tab Baldwin had to skip the Blue Eagles’ last elimination game against University of Santo Tomas due to a scheduled medical test, long-time assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga also made sure to step up.
“It’s actually quite funny. For the past few games we were missing some players, so next man up. Ngayon para maiba, yung head coach naman ang mawala di ba? Haha,” quipped Arespacochaga.
(Just so things would be different, we had our head coach skip the game.)
Jokes aside, Arespacochaga and the Blue Eagles would still rather have the Kiwi mentor at the sidelines. And to show how much they’re still very much serious even minus Baldwin, the whole team dedicated their 40-point romp of UST to Baldwin.
“[Our] focus is to make him proud of us so we tried to play as a team,” said Ivorian rookie Angelo Kouame, who tallied a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds before getting subbed out late in the 3rd quarter.
Arespacochaga also praised the players for sticking to the system and resisting the temptation to slack off in a no-bearing game.
Even before the match, the Blue Eagles had already secured the No. 1 spot and the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
“We’re happy that the players responded, and also happy that our mentality in this game wasn’t a no-bearing game,” said the Ateneo deputy. “We didn’t see that from our players, our players were serious. We wanted to make sure that we were serious from the start, because UST is a dangerous team.”
Arespacochaga suited up for the Blue Eagle in the ’90s before he joined the Ateneo coaching staff in 1998. He even assumed the top coaching post in 2004 before Norman Black took over to lead the Katipunan-based squad to a five-peat championship.
Arespacochaga, though, hardly made an issue of being at the helm again after more than a decade as he was just focused on the task at hand to deliver what Baldwin wanted to see in the game.
“The system is in place already and our players are disciplined so it wasn’t that difficult [for me] even though they are very big shoes to fill, but you know, it’s like a well-oiled machine that coach Tab has already established in our system. We just had to make sure that we continue what wants us to do,” said Arespacochaga. – Rappler.com