MANILA, Philippines – Much has been said about Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin’s impact on the Blue Eagles’ winning culture.
Time and again, he has been called one of the greatest basketball minds to ever ply his craft on Philippine soil, and most, if not all who have gone under his wing will echo these kind of statements whenever the opportunities present themselves.
Sure enough, even at their finest hour upon winning the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball championship, Ateneo’s graduating batch of Finals MVP Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and BJ Andrade all gave deserved credit to their longtime mentor – the architect of a still-standing league dynasty.
But it was Baldwin who had the last word, and he took the chance to get himself off the pedestal his wards put him on.
“Look, [the praise for me] needs to be spun around as quickly as possible. I mean, I can’t imagine coaching without Ange Kouame,” he said. “I’ll wake up tomorrow, and Ange won’t be on my team. You know, what do I do?”
The 25-year-old Kouame – one of the greatest UAAP foreign student-athletes of all time – wrapped up his illustrious collegiate career with three championships, one Mythical Five selection, one league MVP, and a Season 85 Finals MVP for his efforts in dethroning the UP Fighting Maroons.
Flanking the Ivorian-turned-Filipino center through the years is Andrade, the breakout sniper, while Ildefonso – an established star since his rookie season – joined them a few years later after a two-year stint with the NU Bulldogs.
As he has been known to do, Baldwin exhausted his vocabulary trying to put in words what those two meant to the team’s success as well.
“BJ’s been with me, it seems like, since he was in diapers. It seems like. That’s another guy who spent years sitting on the bench, not getting playing time. Now look what he does. He leads, he fights, he defends, he hits majorly big free throws [in Game 3]. Just a winner,” he said.
“Dave’s story will never be told properly, and I can’t tell it,” he continued. “But everybody says, oh he didn’t play well, oh he didn’t score, oh he didn’t shoot the ball well. You know what he did well? He let us – everybody who cared to look and who had any vision at all – he let you see his heart.
“And it takes heart to win championships. It was killing him that he wasn’t producing offensively. It was killing me, but he never let that affect what he did defensively, what he did on the boards, what he did in terms of hustle, what he did in terms of motivation and leadership.”
Just like every iteration of Baldwin’s title-winning teams, there will always be a group of senior players leading the way for the Blue Eagles – each with their own unique story.
While the Ravenas and Nietos told tales of utter dominance bordering on invincibility, the Kouame-Ildefonso-Andrade trio was a picture of success through sheer determination – painted on a canvas of adversities and doubts.
Time and again, the Blue Eagles hold the blueprint to victory, with a master architect like Baldwin calling the shots like only a few others can. – Rappler.com