All eyes on Thirdydesktop
Thirdy Ravena spent a year on the sidelines because of academics. Now the Ateneo player is back and ready to make up for lost time
MANILA, Philippines – Thirdy Ravena still remembers it. He thinks about it all the time.
He remembers how his brother, Kiefer, the best player of the UAAP one year ago today, attacked the skin of the FEU Tamaraws defense with 38 seconds left on the clock and lost the ball to Roger Pogoy.
He remembers how Mike Tolomia kept zig-zagging and navigating through screens by Russel Escoto, who then missed a turnaround jumper in the paint. He remembers the Blue Eagles’ standout rookie, Adrian Wong, racing back to the other end of the floor, ball in his hand, but wildly missing a layup thanks, once again, to the defense of Pogoy.
There were 5 seconds left, and he remembers how Tolomia attempted a crazy, under-handed reverse lay-up to win the game with the Smart-Araneta Coliseum watching in anticipation. “For the victory!” screamed the match’s play-by-play man on ABS-CBN Sports + Action. “No!”
And then, the heartbreaker: he remembers Mac Belo, with 0.6 seconds left on the clock, a year of hard work and sacrifice boiling down to one instance, the season on the line, creating a moment to last a lifetime with a put-back at the buzzer.
Game, set, over. Ecstasy for one side, tears for the other. The Tamaraws advanced to the UAAP Finals, the Blue Eagles off to an early vacation.
The worst part of it all? He wasn’t on the court to share the sorrow of his teammates, nor was he even a few steps away on the bench to bow his head in uniformity with Ateneo’s reserves and coaching staff.
“Lower box,” he recalled where he was seated during that classic last November. “I was on the edge with some of my teammates, I remember very clearly. The moment he (Belo) made that shot, I couldn’t say anything. Everyone was super quiet. We just looked at each other, our hands on our head.
“With everything that happened during that year, it just made it worse.”
In less than a second, the end was there. The curtain closed on the remarkable career of Kiefer, a two-time UAAP MVP and champion, and his younger brother was supposed to be by his side, in victory or defeat. But the elder Ravena did his part in the classroom by passing Ateneo’s required 1.8 QPI average for student-athletes, while the other one? In his own words, “It was actually my fault. I didn’t focus really well on my studies.”
The past, however, can no longer be changed. Thirdy can’t alter the fact that good-but-not-great in his academics cost him to miss an entire year of playing and practicing with the university’s team, nor can he alter the fact that the same reason cost Ateneo 7 players this summer, turning the team from a title contender to the biggest question mark of the collegiate basketball league.
So much has changed in one year for the Blue Eagles’ next Ravena. “I’m on a mission,” he declares, to make up for lost time while dealing with the pressure of being both the brother of Kiefer and son of Bong, but also with the intent to carve his own space in Ateneo sports lore. From the returnee to the leader, with the presence of the national team’s head coach calling the shots from the baseline, Thirdy Ravena has returned to the UAAP, and all eyes are on him.
The night before he was going to view his grades on his Ateneo profile last May, Thirdy Ravena couldn’t sleep. The nerves were getting to him. The worries were increasing by the minute. When he woke up at 6:30 am the following day, his concerns were validated.
Ravena, who at that time just finished his freshman year as a Communications Technology Management major, saw that his QPI average was at 1.67, which fell short by 0.13 points. It was good enough for the UAAP’s passing requirement of student-athletes, but not for the university he plays for.
The first thing he did right after was call the school’s Office of Admission and Aid (OAA), eager for a chance to do anything in order to wear the Blue Eagles jersey when the basketball season opened 4 months later. Talk to your professors, maybe there was a miscalculation on the computation for one or two of your subjects, they suggested.
So he rushed to campus, wearing what he wore going to bed the night before – basketball shorts, a shirt, and slippers – but the effort was in vain. His grades were what they were, and playing was no longer an option until the following year.
“I slacked off,” he reminisced. “I was complacent. For a [freshman], I was too relaxed. I cut class. Not a lot, but I didn’t use my cuts in a good way.”
Ravena’s weak points were his Filipino and Math courses, where he received Ds in both. The latter subject, Math19, was more painful because of the big role it played in his degree – a major subject that consists of 6 units. According to Thirdy, who’s now an Interdisciplinary Studies major, even just a C there could have made a world of difference.
“I remember my (math) professor telling me – because only a miscalculation of a grade could make my grade higher – so basically, it will be hard for him to help me get a higher grade, cause he’s a math teacher. If he miscalculates, it’s weird,” Ravena said.
“The moment I found out I [really] couldn’t play, everything was just, like, blank. I remember crying a lot for about two weeks.”
Over the next few days, he was a mess. He doesn’t remember how the conversation went with Kiefer when the two first realized the number of seasons they’d spend as teammates in the UAAP was going to be limited to one. Thirdy was no longer allowed to practice with either the Blue Eagles’ Team A or Team B, and he expected an angry response from his parents for his lackluster performance in class.
However, that wasn’t the case. In fact, Bong and Mozzy were understanding and concerned about their son who was deeply affected by the recent events. Additionally, elder brother came to little bro’s defense.
“People are saying about him not being able to study and talk about… I guess those people don’t know a lot,” said Kiefer after a Gilas Cadets practice, his brother a few feet away.
“Those people don’t know anything, they just talk and talk. I dare them to study in Ateneo and play at the same time. You can put that online or anything – I just dare them to study [in Ateneo] and probably they won’t talk much shit no more and just keep their mouths shut.”
“They were trying to help me because I was really down,” said Thirdy more than a year later in a sit-down with Rappler. “They said it’s done, so the only thing I can do is to learn from this. Not just in basketball, but in school,” Ravena remembered. “Crap happens. The only thing you can do is learn from it. Be a better person. Know that you can’t slack off in school.”
“I want to give all the credit to Thirdy,” Mozzy said to Rappler over the phone. “It was easier for him to drown himself with all the negatives, but he didn’t. Instead he willed himself up, and up to now, he’s still trying to be a better player.”
The agony, though, did not end easily. Although it subsided, it lingered over the next few weeks, and then it turned into months. Thirdy couldn’t watch a single second of Ateneo’s first 3 games of the season against FEU, Adamson, and UE. “It was still painful just even thinking about it,” he admitted. And he felt it right up to the moment Belo crushed the entire Ateneo community.
It was time to move on, Mozzy told her bothered son. There was no point in dwelling more and more over what had transpired. His grades needed improvement, so Thirdy had to focus on that, and during his other free time, he also made it a point to stay in shape.
“It was hard for me to go out, because I was thinking that, in my first year, I was happy-go-lucky, I was trying to have fun. Look where it got me,” he said.
“During my free time, I thought about how to improve. I just needed to avoid kalokohan (getting in trouble). That was basically it.”
With his situation leaving him unable to train at the Blue Eagle or Moro Gym, Ravena spent most of his time at Gold’s Gym, working with Joe Ward and Eric Butler on keeping his body in shape.
“I was on my own that year,” Ravena said, also sharing most of his free periods were devoted to the OAA when he wasn’t hanging out with friends – often at the mall – to take his mind off things.
Things started to turn for the better. Ateneo’s season came to an end and the team lost not only Kiefer but also reliable veterans like Von Pessumal, Gwyne Capacio, and Fonzo Gotladera, though there was optimism within the school thanks to the arrival of Tab Baldwin and the presence of a young and promising nucleus which Thirdy is a part of.
There were rumblings about other students also facing academic issues, but nothing concrete at first. The months went by and so did training sessions, with the Blue Eagles eventually joining the Milcu Got Skills and FilOil preseason tournaments. La Salle was being touted as the favorite to win the league title, but the addition of former San Sebastian player CJ Perez, whose potential is as exciting as it could be, was expected to make Ateneo the biggest threat to a Green Archers parade.
And then, déjà vu.
Fears of Blue Eagles being unable to suit up became a reality. Seven players of the team, including Perez, whose tenure with Ateneo ended up lasting only one preseason game, were deemed ineligible. Like Ravena, their grades were good enough for the UAAP’s passing requirement, but not of the university’s.
“Seven of your teammates…” Ravena was about to be asked, before he chimed in: “7 great teammates.”
What was his first reaction when he heard the news? “I don’t think I can say it in the interview,” he said. “Crap. That was the first thing that came to my mind.” That probably wasn’t the word he was thinking of.
Perez, gone. Former UAAP Rookie of the Year Arvin Tolentino, gone. Hubert Cani, Jerie Pingoy, Clint Doliguez, John Apacible, and Kemark Carino, all gone too. Six of them have new homes, with Apacible’s still a question mark.
“We knew they were having problems with their grades, but we were never told that they won’t be able to play as a whole,” Ravena remembered.
These were 7 guys expected to be major contributors for the blue and white not just in the present but even in the upcoming years. And more than on the basketball court, Ravena laments losing friends who he has built lasting relationships with.
One favorite memory of his was when he and the boys were hanging out at Kiefer’s beach house in Iloilo and they decided to go for a dip in the sea. Doliguez dropped Thirdy’s GoPro and it was never found, but the thought never fails to brings back laughs.
“That quality time that we’re together when we aren’t thinking about basketball, it’s actually a big deal when you’re a basketball player. Those little things,” Ravena said, also pointing out playing video games and playful bantering as other examples.
“I remember talking to Hubert. We saw each other in Moro, in the gym,” Ravena said. “‘Sayang, brad.’ We just thought about how the season would have been different with them.”
A day after Rappler broke the news of the ineligible students, Ateneo was smashed by La Salle in a FilOil preseason game. Late in the fourth quarter, Ravena was subbed out and proceeded towards the end of the bench where Tolentino, as a spectator, was standing near the entrance to the dug-outs.
“Ikaw kasi eh (It's your fault)!” Thirdy said jokingly as Green Archers fans prepared to celebrate against their rivals. Tolentino could only laugh amidst the cheers of “Animo!” “Mag gra-grad school nga ako (I'll take graduate studies),” he joked in return. A few weeks later, he was off to Far Eastern University, and so was Hubert Cani.
“It’s always what could have been. ‘Sayang ganito, sayang ganyan.’ (It could've been this, it could've been that.) It’s hard to think about that, imagine: Arvin, CJ, Hubert, all the other guys in the team. Just imagine right now how different it is from what we have right now.
More than a basketball player
When Ravena arrived at the cafe for the interview, he was wearing a knitwear short-sleeved blue shirt, acid-washed torn jeans that reached up to a little bit above his ankles, white sneakers, and round-shaped glasses. “Who does he look like today?” his agent Vania asked.
“Uhm, Steve Jobs?” This response got quite the laugh from Ravena, Vania, and the two other people there who are part of his inner circle: Alyssa Valdez and Billie Capistrano. Thirdy was going for a Harry Potter-like look, which is an example of the fashion experiments he’s become quite known for.
“I love trying to look good,” he sheepishly said, which attracted laughs from those around the table.
“[It’s] probably the influence of everything around me. My friends are a bunch of street-wear addicts, like HypeBeasts. The music I listen to, the artists – A$AP Rocky, Kanye West – those are the fashion killers. I find joy in just trying to buy clothes or matching, trying to get good deals.”
Billie and Alyssa both agree: it takes Thirdy forever to get ready for outings because of his mixing and matching. For instance, he’s usually the last one to get in the car when they go to Sunday Mass.
“He gets ready super tagal (long),” Billie shared. “He’ll go downstairs, he’ll go to the bathroom, then he’ll fix his hair, then he’ll go up again, and then he’ll go to the bathroom again, and then he’ll change his clothes again.”
If you check the 19-year-old’s Snapchat and other social media platforms, it’s clear that a lot of thought process goes into what he decides to wear. Whenever there’s a sale, especially out of town, it’s guaranteed he’s there. How much did he spend during the Blue Eagles’ recent trip to California just on clothes alone? He’d rather not answer. His mom may get the shock of her life.
But it goes back to something else he wants people to know, which is something many other collegiate basketball players share: their lives aren’t limited to the 94 feet of hardwood or when the ball is thrown up in the air. Ravena has a personality away from the court as well, like his love for fashion and music.
When he attended the prom of St Paul Pasig as a high school freshman, he met DJ Carlo Atendido and was instantly inspired. “I saw him playing. He was having fun. Everyone was having so much fun. I imagined that I want to be that guy that makes people [dance like] that. It’s energetic. It’s fun to see energy.”
The first piece of DJ equipment he bought was a DJ mix track pro which he saved up P13,000 for. When he was a high school senior, he purchased a Pioneer DJ SP for the same amount. Since then, he’s spun at an ADJMA-organized party and Wolf & Fox. He currently has 3,000 songs in his playlist, mostly hip hop and base. If he could only listen to 3 rappers the rest of his life, it would be Drake, Chance the Rapper, and Tupac.
“When I have my earphones on, I zone out. I’m at the zone when I listen to music. I listen to hip hop, I go indie, anything,” he said.
Does it take him forever to reply at times because he’s so zoned in to the music he’s listening to? “Yes,” Billie said before he could respond.
Ravena is more than who he seems when he puts on the jersey of Ateneo, but, fair or not, at least for the next 4 years, what he does while wearing the school’s colors will be the first thing that comes to the minds of many.
Leading these Eagles
Bo Perasol coached the Ateneo Blue Eagles for 3 years from 2013 to 2015, but with the amount of criticism he received, it's surprising that he lasted that long.
As a person, Perasol usually gets the label of being kind. “He’s probably the nicest coach I’ve ever had, to be honest. Not really too nice, but when you’re around him, you feel he genuinely cares for you,” said Ravena.
Perasol's personality was never the question. Most of the public condemnation, although some of it misguided, derived from his in-game decision making.
Perasol, who’s now coaching the UP Maroons, did not return for a fourth year and was replaced by Baldwin. Technically, the Gilas head coach is being called a consultant because of formalities, but it’s clear he was brought in to run the show.
“With Coach Tab, he genuinely cares for you the same way, but he’s more of a disciplinarian. He’s old-school,” said Thirdy, who right away experienced first-hand the American-Kiwi’s no-BS approach.
“In the huddle, he would notice someone who’s not paying attention. He would notice it right away. It’s so hard to lose focus with Coach Tab. When you make the same mistake twice, that’s something he really doesn’t like.”
Ravena recalls his first game at the Got Skills tournament against Lyceum. It was the first time he was playing for the Blue Eagles since becoming ineligible, his first game in a year since waking up and seeing his grades weren’t good enough on that morning.
“The opponents were pressing,” he remembered. “What I always do is, I dribble to break the press. So instead of passing it around just to get the guys off of each other, just to space it out, I really tried to dribble.”
Baldwin wasn’t a fan of that and told the former UAAP juniors MVP about it, but Ravena made the same error again in the second quarter. He was pulled out of the game and didn’t return the rest of the way.
“He doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t matter. There’s no star. No one’s above the law. You just have to follow instructions. He won’t say anything that will make life harder for us. He just wants to make basketball easier for us.”
Both the head coach and second-generation player have a tall order ahead of them. By losing key rotation pieces, Ateneo is now forced to rely more on younger prospects who may need more seasoning before getting accustomed to the difference between high school and college ball.
“Honestly, we still have a lot to work on. I don’t think it’s an excuse, but we’re a young team. We have rookies coming in who [are] starting with a major role,” said Ravena.
“Our feel for the game is not that good yet. Hopefully we get to clear it out before the season, because experience is really different.”
Here’s a good thing Ateneo has going on for them: after the team’s recent trip to the United States, their off-court chemistry is even better than where it’s supposed to be by now. Ravena says their bond improved as they made stops in San Francisco, Fresno, and Los Angeles, where the Blue Eagles played 8 games in 12 days and went 4-4.
Guys who weren’t in the same cliques were roomed together by management to know more about one another, and the trick worked. Ravena has developed a good relationship with Ateneo’s star rookie Tyler Tio. A new player on the team, Juwan White, playfully dissed each teammate while on a bus trip, which is an example of how comfortable the Blue Eagles have become with each other.
Whether that translates to wins on the basketball court is a different topic. Ateneo did defeat UE, NU, and Adamson in the preseason tournament to show promise. But aside from that, Ravena has individual challenges he must face himself under the bright and sometimes strenuous lights of the UAAP. And those challenges, fair or not, is the price of having his last name.
Not just Bong's son or Kiefer's brother
Growing up in a household where all 5 members of the family are athletes can mean that nearly everything, from sports to who gets the last bar of candy, is quite the competition.
Bong, 46, was a star for the UE Red Warriors nearly 3 decades ago and helped lead the team to a UAAP finals appearance. In the PBA, he won Rookie of the Year in 1992 and 5 years later, was part of the league’s Second Mythical Team. Mozzy was a star of her own for the UST women’s volleyball team. Both represented the country in international play.
There’s no need to go into detail about how accomplished Kiefer is, because it’s been well-documented. Dani, the youngest child and only daughter of the Ravenas, is a volleyball star for Miriam and will soon be making headlines of her own.
“Anything at our household is competitive. It’s annoying, because whether it’s ping-pong or anything, it goes down from the dad to the not-so little girl. It’s always like that,” Mozzy said while laughing. “At first it’s all for fun, but in the end it becomes competitive.”
Before Thirdy can go into detail about just how much, Alyssa chimes in: “Understatement 'yung competitive sa bahay nila (It’s an understatement how competitive they are).”
Like what, specifically? “Sa chocolates. Sobrang competitive nila lahat (They’re all competitive).” Most of the time, it’s Thirdy who labels his name on chocolate bars and, as Billie put it, is “suwapang (greedy)” when it comes to his sweets.
All he can do is laugh, because as he admits, it’s true. You can also add NBA2K, Dota, and many others to the list. How about grades? That honor belongs to the little sister. Fashion? “Clear winner,” Thirdy said, referring to himself.
When he and Kiefer were kids and years away from making their own names in Philippine basketball, the duo used to go to their dad’s practices with Talk ’N Text and play one-on-one while their old man and his teammates watched intently.
“That’s where it would always go down,” Thirdy said. Elbows were thrown around and trash talking was always prevalent. “Wala ka naman shooting, tumira ka na lang (You don’t have any shooting)!” Kiefer would scream at his little brother as he moved back and dared Thirdy to release from outside.
“Wala ako masabi (I couldn’t say anything),” Thirdy chuckled at the memory. Kiefer used to get the upper hand almost all the time in those early stages.
“One time, Bong was at Talk ’N Text practice and Thirdy was there, so he called him and asked to play one-on-one,” Mozzy remembered another memory between father and son. “It got rough and the team was laughing, because when Bong turned, Thirdy cut his eyebrow and he was bleeding like anything.” Clearly, it was intense.
Thirdy’s favorite memory between the 3 was when they played one-on-one-on-one. “It was really serious,” he said. “I won that and it was a close game, so that’s when I first officially beat them.”
How did he celebrate? Thirdy simply smirked at the other two. But to him, it meant more than just chalking one up on the win column. “I can also be like them. I can also achieve what they’ve achieve,” he started to tell himself.
Having Bong and Kiefer as mentors has its perks, but at the same time, such a situation can also be stressful. The comparisons will always be there. “Kiefer brought the school two championships – how about you, Thirdy, what can you do?” is just an example of the kind of noise the youngest of the 3 Ravena boys will hear.
“As I would always say, Thirdy has the toughest position in the family. It’s really him. Kawawa talaga siya. Even if you say he doesn’t want to be compared, people will do that. They will always compare, and it’s natural,” said Mozzy.
“When he started playing basketball, we were real with him like, ‘Thirdy, we can’t defend you 24/7. You have to defend yourself by being better,’ like that. So it was always real.”
“As athletes, we all know there will be ups and downs in your career,” said Thirdy. “So [my family is] just always there to support me and to give me a helping hand or just help me become a better person – not just in basketball but as a whole.”
Time has flown by really fast for Thirdy. To him, it feels like just yesterday that he was watching Kiefer in the collegiate ranks while he was waiting his turn. When he got there, lack of playing time and a need for more experience led to underperforming numbers: 1.4 points and 1.5 rebounds a game as a rookie, well short considering the excitement surrounding his debut.
But it’s no secret his athleticism and basketball pedigree give him the potential to be a household name eventually. Not all UAAP stars started their careers with a bang. Some had to go through obstacles, and for Thirdy, that included the torture of having to sit out an entire season and watching his brother’s dreams of a storybook ending destroyed in less than a second.
“I just want to make the most of every single moment that I have during my entire UAAP stint. It’s crazy how fast it is, so I’ll try to make the most out of it. It’s my mission,” he said.
And he has another goal in mind – to blaze his own trail and leave his own imprint on the league. Thirdy Ravena can’t change who he’s related to – and he will never want to – but what he can control is the perception of what people remember him by. He has 4 years to make a difference, and after going through an experience that forced him to grow up, it’s now time to get to work.
“All I want is by the end of my UAAP career, I just want to be known as Thirdy Ravena. Not the ‘brother of Kiefer,’ or ‘son of Bong,’ but Thirdy Ravena.” – Rappler.com