Danny Ildefonso on NU’s Finals break: ‘This is what I’ve always wanted’

Jane Bracher
Danny Ildefonso on NU’s Finals break: ‘This is what I’ve always wanted’
The two-time PBA MVP recalls playing in an old gym, enduring heat and little ventilation, and how these Bulldogs have it better

MANILA, Philippines – Watching Game 1 of the UAAP Season 77 Finals from a spectator’s vantage point on Saturday, October 4, former National University alum Danny Ildefonso, 17 years removed from the collegiate game, could not help but marvel at how much has changed since his time with the school.

He witnessed the Bulldogs reach the Finals stage after 44 years with a solid chance of winning their first men’s basketball title since 1954. And as he soaked in the roar of a solid dark blue gallery filling half of the Mall of Asia Arena, Ildefonso had one thought in mind.

Ito yung inaasam-asam namin noon,” he told a couple of sports reporters after the game. (This is what I’ve always wanted.)

Ildefonso, a two-time PBA MVP and an 8-time PBA champion, played for NU at the height of its dark ages from 1993 to 1997. It was a time where the Bulldogs practiced in an old gym that had no air-conditioning or electric fans, and the struggle for ventilation and withstanding heat was real.

Sobrang naiinggit lang ako sa NU team ngayon kasi lahat nasa kanila, yung support ng management, pati yung mga estudyante ang dami,” said Ildefonso, who, together with Lordy Tugade, led NU to more respectable finishes than the cellar, though they still missed a trip to the Final Four. 

(I envy this NU team now because they have everything, the support of the management, and even the students really came out.) 

The 37-year old big man, known for his 15-year career with the San Miguel Beermen, said this batch of Bulldogs are lucky to be backed by Filipino businessman Hans Sy, the son of Henry Sy, the chairman of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. (READ: Hans Sy talks NU, PBA, and Philippine Sports)

Meron silang Hans Sy. Kami wala noon,” he said. “Pero laking pasalamat namin nun na kahit wala kami, nakakaangat pa rin kami.” (They have Hans Sy. We didn’t have him then. But I’m very grateful that even though we didn’t have anything, we still managed to compete.)

The Bulldogs, however, find themselves backed up against the wall once more after losing Game 1 of their best-of-3 Finals series against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws. Just like the Final Four, when they were the fourth seeded team needing to overcome Ateneo’s twice-to-beat edge, NU will have to beat FEU twice to bring home the crown.

THE RETURN. PBA players Danny Ildefonso (left) and Arwind Santos enjoy the Finals match-up between their former schools NU and FEU, respectively. Photo by Jane Bracher/Rappler

‘Forget about Game 1’

Most schools usually invite over some of its former players to give advice to the current young guns. And with NU going to the Finals for the first time since 1970, Ildefonso was invited to offer some wisdom. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the team’s practice due to a busy schedule.

But if he had to share some of his knowledge before Game 2, his biggest nugget of wisdom is for the Bulldogs to put Game 1 behind them right away. 

Huwag na lang nila isipin yung nangyari kasi kailangan din ng FEU manalo ng isa pa. Sa Wednesday pag punta nila sa game, just enjoy the game. Huwag sila ma-pressure,” he said, adding he believes NU can muster two straight wins. (They should forget about what happened to them because FEU still needs to win one more. When they come to the game on Wednesday, they should just enjoy the game. They shouldn’t feel pressured.) 

He urges the Bulldogs not to repeat the same mistakes they committed in Game 1.

Ang importante, manalo or matalo, team dapat.” (What’s important is that win or lose, they should stick to the team.)

Judging from what he saw in the first game, “Lakay” sees several things NU must work on for Game 2 on Wednesday, October 8. 

Sa akin lang ang nakikita ko yung transition defense and mas magandang pagdala sa bola. Yung madaling basketball, huwag kanya-kanya, and more touches sa loob.” (What I see is they must work on transition defense and carrying the ball well. They must play simple basketball, not be selfish, and get more touches inside.) 

And from one big man to another, Ildefonso has some specific advice for towering slot man Alfred Aroga, who is one of NU’s most valuable assets against an FEU team lacking a legitimate center.

Gusto ko makuha niya (yung bola) sa loob, huwag sa labas,” Ildefonso explained what Aroga needs to do as far as his positioning is concerned. (I want him to get the ball inside, not outside.) 

Finding his place deeper in the paint will make it much more difficult for FEU to guard him, Ildefonso said, and NU could better exploit Aroga’s advantage. The same is true for match-up problem Troy Rosario. 

Nakaka-shoot siya sa labas. Pero mas madali din siyang bantayan kapag sa labas siya nakakatanggap ng bola. Unlike dun sa two dribbles away from the basket. Ako, as a big man, mas nakikita ko gusto ko natatanggap niya yung bola sa loob, kahit si Rosario.”

(He can shoot outside. But he’s much easier to guard when he receives the ball outside. Unlike if he’s two dribbles away from the basket. As a big man, I would like to see him receive the ball inside, even Rosario.)

NU arrived at this point of the tournament in large part thanks to their impeccable defense. That has been the team’s identity all throughout the season. But their maturity and character as a unit has been shaky at several junctures this Season 77.

And for them to bounce back strong in Game 2, Ildefonso says showing maturity will be key.

First time sa Finals so may excitement and konting kaba. (Kailangan) maging more matured pa (sila) sa loob.” (It’s their first time in the Finals so there’s a little excitement and some nerves. They need to be more mature inside the court.) 

Time, however, is not on the side of the Bulldogs with Game 2 approaching fast.

When you’re in the Finals for the first time in 4 decades, and with your opponent one win away from a chamionship, NU’s only option is to grow up in exactly 3 days. – Rappler.com

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