UAAP Basketball

Tab Baldwin tips hat to Ateneo seniors after ‘extremely difficult’ season

JR Isaga
Tab Baldwin tips hat to Ateneo seniors after ‘extremely difficult’ season

HEARTBREAKER. Ateneo seniors Gian Mamuyac, Raffy Verano, and Tyler Tio bid the team farewell.

UAAP SEASON 84 MEDIA TEAM

After a heartbreaking end to a formidable Ateneo dynasty, coach Tab Baldwin admits ‘it’s a bitter pill’ but takes solace in the fact that the Blue Eagles are still one of the teams to beat next season

MANILA, Philippines  – For the last five years, the Ateneo Blue Eagles stood strong as the epitome of elite, team-oriented UAAP basketball, and marched their way to three straight titles from 2017 to 2019.

Even though the pandemic paused its relentless reign at the top, the Tab Baldwin-coached squad entered 2022 still in tip-top shape, and still the team to beat.

But alas, even the best are bound to fall, and fall they did to the UP Fighting Maroons – a team that wove the perfect storybook ending to a three-decade search for their next shot at ultimate glory.

Thanks to one picture-perfect JD Cagulangan title-winning shot, four Ateneo seniors, namely Gian Mamuyac, Raffy Verano, Jolo Mendoza, and Tyler Tio, ended their collegiate careers in silent heartbreak after being seconds away from a title four-peat.

But that’s just the way the world of sports goes. Two sides always tell two different tales, and coach Baldwin did not spend any time passing blame to his side that fell short.

“It’s a great moment in UP basketball history and I think we all have to acknowledge that for them. For Ateneo, it’s a bitter pill, but we’ll take it, we’ll lick our wounds, say goodbye to an outstanding group of seniors, and have a couple of weeks off,” he said moments after UP had its championship presser.

“I think that’s well established, not just because they’re seniors, but because of what those five have done throughout the years,” he continued. “It’s extremely difficult to have two years off and come back, but they all worked hard during the time off.”

Sure enough, even though Ateneo leaned a bit more often on the trio of MVP Ange Kouame, transferee Dave Ildefonso, and lead guard SJ Belangel, all Blue Eagle seniors had their share of winning plays and moments – particularly Mamuyac, Tio, and Verano.

Mamuyac, once exclusively known as a dependable defensive specialist, grew leaps and bounds as an offensive talent, and even led the league for a while in three-point percentage.

Meanwhile, Verano returned from a lengthy three-year layoff – including a 2019 academics-related suspension – and still excelled as a starting forward, while Tio stayed true to his reputation as a lethal sniper off the bench who can pop off at any time.

“They all came back and contributed immensely to what was a great season, and everybody will acknowledge it was a great season. We just didn’t finish the way that you hope it would if you’re a Blue Eagle fan, player, or coach, and we have to live with that,” Baldwin said.

“There’s really nothing more to say. I’m very, very proud of those seniors. They’re hurting. They’re really, really hurting. This is an extremely difficult occasion for them and they’re taking more upon themselves than what they should. But time will heal everybody as it does and they’ll recognize all the things to be proud of in this season.”

Despite the heartbreaking end to a formidable dynasty, Ateneo can take solace in the fact that the Blue Eagles – although knocked off a peg in the food chain – are still one of the teams to beat in Season 85 and beyond.

With a cast featuring Kouame, Ildefonso, Belangel, and the incoming 6-foot-7 phenom Kai Ballungay, there is really no reason to suddenly count Ateneo out of the running. Any team that does will certainly be in for a rude reawakening. – Rappler.com