collegiate basketball

No overreaction: Ateneo stays level-headed after 0-7 preseason campaign

Rob Andrew Dongiapon

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No overreaction: Ateneo stays level-headed after 0-7 preseason campaign

ROUGH PATCH. Ateneo players react during their preseason game against rival La Salle.


Even after losing to all seven UAAP teams in preseason action, the Ateneo Blue Eagles plan to ‘be better prepared’ and build on their early struggles

MANILA, Philippines – A UAAP champion squad just a couple of seasons ago, the Ateneo Blue Eagles face uncharted territory. 

Citing academic duties and lack of practice time, the Blue Eagles wound up winless in the FilOil EcoOIl Preseason Cup, but opted not to “overreact” and just aim to reassess. 

“We can’t overreact. We can’t be too down. I don’t think we’re happy either,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga after the team’s 0-7 preseason campaign.

“We want to win as much as possible, but we headed into this tournament with eyes wide open, knowing our situations. Our attitude is more of learning from this to help us become better individually and as a team.”

Arespacochaga bared the team’s lack of practice sessions before the tournament, as the team prioritized exams and academic duties of their players, coupled with the late arrival of their high school recruits. 

“We couldn’t go around our exam schedules, and a couple of players coming in late because of their (high school) graduation,” he said. 

Ateneo played shorthanded to start the tournament, particularly missing top high school recruit Jared Bahay, who graduated in Cebu before joining the Blue Eagles in their third FilOil game. 

Bahay has yet to impress, as he averaged 7.5 points in the four games he played.  

“Jared was one of the guys we wish to have more practice time, but [his graduation] is part of the schedule he needs to attend,” said Arespacochaga of Bahay, who finished high school at Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu. 

The Blue Eagles also did not field their foreign student-athlete Victor Balogun due to nagging back spasms in the preseason tilt, relying instead on a thin frontline, which, save for Gilas Pilipinas player Mason Amos, features mostly inexperienced bigs like rookie Kris Porter, Kyle Ong, and Isaac Bongo. 

Ateneo even started games with small lineups, putting 6-foot-4 Josh Lazaro in the center position. 

“It has been up and down for them. We’ve seen some good things from them. But of course, we’ve seen some things they need to improve,” said Arespacochaga. 

Additionally, the team started the preseason tourney late, and had to wrap it up with five straight game days that included losses against perennial rivals UP and La Salle. 

Ateneo was the only winless team across the tournament’s collegiate brackets, losing to all seven UAAP schools.

The Blue Eagles also dropped all their five games in the PinoyLiga Cup before pulling out of the league last month. 

Nevertheless, Ateneo stayed pragmatic in its approach, hoping to put together the team’s key pieces for the rest of the offseason. 

“We would have wanted to be better prepared, but given the situations, we can only evaluate and assess [using] the learnings we got from all these games,” Arespacochaga said. 

With more practice time in the coming months, the Blue Eagles plan to build on these preseason struggles and answer some of their pressing questions about their team. 

The Blue Eagles also look to adjust after seeing some of last year’s key players, namely Kai Ballungay and Geo Chiu, depart the team to move up to the pros.

“We’re looking forward to practice. We’re going to use practice for us to learn from all our mistakes and get better since we have learned a lot of things we need to work on,” Arespacochaga added. 

“We’ve got this June, July, and August to get better. We will use this time for them to get used to the system and get used to playing with one another. These [months] will be very important for us.” – 

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