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MANILA, Philippines – For a successful and proud basketball program like the Ateneo Blue Eagles’, waiting five years for a UAAP men’s basketball title is a long, long time. That’s why bringing the championship back home to Katipunan last year was very sweet for fans of the blue and white.
Entering UAAP Season 81, Ateneo faces a difficult challenge. One of the oldest sayings in sports is that it’s harder to defend a title than to win one, and that’s the predicament the Blue Eagles currently find themselves in with the UAAP tournament a week away.
Events from the offseason point to Ateneo being the favorite to reign supreme once again, but head coach Tab Baldwin, reigning Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena, and the rest of these Eagles are throwing caution to the wind.
“It’s our job to prove ourselves over the next four months,” said Baldwin. (READ: New year, new mission: How Tab Baldwin is keeping Ateneo grounded)
Who’s in, who’s out, and who remains
Ateneo lost two major front court contributors in Chi Ikeh and Viince Tolentino after last season. Replacing the former as the team’s new foreign student-athlete is Angelo Kouame, a 6-foot-10 center who displayed immense potential in the Blue Eagles preseason performances.
Another new face is SJ Belangel, who helped lead Ateneo’s high school team to a title last season. Matthew Daves, William Navarro, and James Maagdenberg will also make their Blue Eagle debuts.
Most of the senior club’s core players are returning, such as Ravena, Mike and Matt Nieto, Raffy Verano, Isaac Go, Anton Asistio, Aaron Black, Jolo Mendoza, and Tyler Tio.
For more on Ateneo’s Season 81 campaign, check out the video above.