Ateneo's Chris Newsome went down swinging
MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball campaign came to an abrupt end on Wednesday afternoon, October 1.
Entering the Final Four round as the no. 1 seed, the Blue Eagles must have been confident of their chances even if they were about to face a squad they had not beaten in four straight games thanks to their twice-to-beat advantage by virtue of finishing the elimination round with the best record at 11-3.
But in game one, their opponents, the no. 4 National University Bulldogs (9-5), quickly went down to business by coming away with a close win and forcing a knockout match.
In the win-or-go-home contest, both teams battled each other to the limit once again. The match had to be decided in the final minutes, with NU’s Gelo Alolino converting the last five points of the game – a game-tying 3-pointer and the series-sealing free throws – to complete the upset for the Bulldogs, who will face the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in their first UAAP Finals appearance since 1970.
On the other hand, Ateneo made history of their own as they became only the second squad as a no. 1 seed to lose to a no. 4 seed in Final Four history. The first, ironically, was last year’s NU team.
The loss was gut-wrenching not only because of the wasted opportunity for Ateneo to reclaim their usual seat in the UAAP finals, but also because it spelled the untimely end to the college careers of notable Blue Eagles who have grown to become favorites of the Ateneo community.
One is Nico Elorde, a tough-as-nails point guard who spent his entire life playing for rival institution La Salle before transferring to Ateneo mid-way through his college career. In what turned out to be his final UAAP game, Elorde scored 8 points and dished out 7 assists, but couldn’t hold grasp of the basketball in the dying seconds before the final buzzer signaled the end of Ateneo’s season. Afterwards, Elorde was in despair with his head to his knees on the floor, seemingly frozen amidst the celebration taking place from the other side of the court.
Another is Chris Newsome. He was a key player in his sophomore season for the Blue Eagles, averaging 14 PPG and 8 RPG and earning a spot among the tournament’s Mythical 5 team. On Wednesday, Newsome didn’t go down without a fight, putting up 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks. But like Elorde, his college career came to an end earlier than he would have liked. While his comrade lamented on the hardwood moments after the game, Newsome stood for a while, looking lost for words as he watched another team celebrate the way he felt his Blue Eagles should have once they received a ticket to the finals.
Unfortunately for the pair, the basketball gods had other plans.
“We had expectations of at least getting to the finals,” Newsome said after the game. “Me, personally, I had expectations of winning the finals but I fell short.”
“Of course we were sad, disappointed in how our season ended because, of course, we were the no. 1 seed.”
After Elorde’s pushing foul sent Alolino to the free throw line where he calmly hit both shots to make the count 65-63, the Blue Eagles had one more chance to salvage their season.
The scoreboard in the heavens of the Smart-Araneta Coliseum read 9.3 seconds to go as Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol called for time-out. That should have lasted just about a minute, but when gameplay resumed a good 15 to 20 minutes of real-time had already gone by due to a lights issue at the arena that required a stoppage in the game.
The NU crowd was not pleased. Chants of “LUTO!” (game-fixing) and “ONE CLEAN FIGHT!” (which mocked the “ONE BIG FIGHT!” cheer of Ateneo fans) from the Bulldogs crowd serenaded The Big Dome.
But in reality it was Ateneo who suffered more from the delay in Newsome’s eyes.
“Of course it plays a role, because you already have a flow in the game and then your body gets cold. You get a little stiff,” according to Newsome, who spoke to the media after the match.
“Just speaking basketball in general if we were the ones that were up (ahead in the scoreboard) and we didn’t wait for so long, that would have been them (NU) frozen instead of us.”
When play resumed, Von Pessumal carried the task of inbounding the ball and quickly handed it to Newsome, who was unquestionably the best player for Ateneo on that afternoon. But two seconds later, he handed it to his teammate Kiefer Ravena.
Such a decision shouldn’t be scrutinized. Ravena is the UAAP season MVP. He hit tons of clutch shots down the wire during the elimination round. He was the best player on the Blue Eagles roster and he already hit at least two huge shots in the fourth quarter of the game, so it was a no-brainer that the ball would go to him in crunch time despite his 6-of-23 shooting from the field on Wednesday.
Newsome, on the other hand, would watch as Ravena’s shooting touch decided whether or not his UAAP career would continue.
Ateneo didn’t get their fairy tale ending. By the time the game was over, Ravena’s shooting clip turned to 6-of-24.
And no miss was more painful than his final one.
“No naman, no naman. Both teams naman eh,” Ravena offered no excuses even if the Blue Eagles were delayed from executing their final play due to the arena lights’ malfunction. “Hindi lang naman kami eh. So I don’t blame anything. Yun nga, breaks of the game. Ganon talaga.”
(It was both teams that were affected. It wasn’t just us. So I don’t blame anything. It was just the breaks of the game. That’s what it was.)
After receiving the pass from Newsome, Ravena held on to the ball for a few seconds as if waiting for a screen from a teammate. Moments later, his teammate Gideon Babilonia flared out to give a screen to Ravena’s right, only the league MVP used his killer quick first step to the left and left pesky defender Nico Javelona in the dust.
Ravena got to the rim, and for a brief stretch in time it looked like he was going to convert a layup that would the Ateneo side of the Araneta Coliseum into a ruckus and force a dramatic overtime.
But NU center Alfred Aroga had other plans.
“The ball is loose!” screamed ABS-CBN play-by-play man Anton Roxas. A second later, it was over. The Blue Eagles’ dreams were crushed, and the Bulldogs had broken their 44-year finals drought.
“Hindi ko kasi nakita si Aroga eh. Bigla nalang dumilim yung paningin ko. Block pala. So he played good defense all throughout the season. So ganon talaga,” Ravena said of the last play. He was given the responsibility of taking the final shot and had already answered the call so many times, but this wasn’t one of those happy moments.
(I wasn’t able to see Aroga. My eyesight just dimmed. That’s just how it turned out.)
“Masama lang sa loob kasi (I’m feeling bad because), you know, as one of the leaders of the team I wasn’t able to give it to Nico and New (Newsome),” the disappointed Season 77 MVP uttered.
“That’s all I ever wanted – to give it to them.”
“Sure it comes down to the last possession, but there’s a lot of things prior to that possession that we could have done in order to avoid that thing,” Newsome said, refusing to blame the long stoppage or any of his teammates.
“In the end I feel like there’s a lot of other things we could have done to prevent that.”
Newsome will leave Ateneo without knowing how it feels to win a championship, but his impact will be remembered by Blue Eagles fans, alumni, and future players even if his career with the team lasted only two seasons thanks to what he contributed every time the Blue Eagles had a game to play.
But for him, the memories he’ll remember from being an Ateneo student won’t be only those that were created on the basketball court.
“[The] best part is the relationships I have with the coaches and the players – previous players and the current players. I’ve learned a lot from this program. What it really means to be [from] Ateneo. And I’m proud of that.”
As the reality crept in that their dreams of making it to the finals wouldn’t become a reality, Newsome, Elorde, Ravena, the rest of the team, and the entire Ateneo community at Araneta sang their school’s alma mater hymn for the last time in Season 77.
“Win or lose it’s the school we choose,” is one of the lines towards the end of the hymn. It’s not just a cliché that they say to show off that they’re from Ateneo. It’s a mantra they chant to show how much pride and love they have for their school.
“I’m a firm believer in that. I chose Ateneo to not only play basketball but to get an education. So I do play on finishing my credits at Ateneo. I’m going to graduate.”
Newsome believes their elimination doesn’t spell the end of the Blue Eagles’ growth and development. They will be back even better next year without him, he believes, especially with notable recruits coming in and their rookies from this past season improving with the experience they garnered.
Simply put: the basketball program of Ateneo, whose history boasts championships and consistent success, is in good hands.
“Of course I wanted to win. Nobody goes into this game expecting to lose, so, sure I’m a little sad that we lost but I was telling everybody in the locker room – the ones that aren’t graduating – that they have to learn from this. This is something to learn from and improve on in order to move forward,” said Newsome.
“That’s the advice I gave to my team as far as getting better and learning from this situation because that’s the only thing you can do.”
“We got some pretty key pieces coming in next year. You got [Jerie] Pingoy… a couple of our imports are finally gonna be able to play. This is going to be the first time in a while that Ateneo’s got imports.”
“There’s definitely a lot of talent. Who else? Hubert Cani. Just a lot of guys. There’s a lot of our Team B. If you keep track of our Team B there’s a lot of people there. Ateneo definitely has a bright future.”
As for the guy whose teammates like to call him “NewNew,” he himself will look for new ways to get better as he embarks on the next chapter of his basketball career.
“As for myself, I plan on joining the PBA D-League,” said Newsome, who was drafted second overall in the PBA 2014 D-League Draft a few weeks ago. “Play two conferences there, and you can expect me in the PBA Draft. 2015. So, that’s what’s next.”
At 6-foot-2 Newsome will be inclined to play the shooting guard position in the pros despite spending most of his time as a small forward in college, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t succeed at it. His athletic ability guarantees he can get to the rim on any possession, which is something UAAP imports like Aroga, Charles Mammie, and Anthony Hargrove to name a few know too well.
Leaving him open on the fast break usually leads to bad results for the defense, and his expanded range (he shot 50% from 3-point range in Season 77) will ensure he becomes one of the highly sought-after draftees in 2015. On defense, he never gives up and will collect a number of blocks from time to time regardless of whom his assignment is.
But there is one thing Newsome won’t get in the PBA that he soaked in during his brief but memorable stay with the Blue Eagles.
He won’t get that scene where one side of the arena is covered in Ateneo blue and white colors, while the other is shadowed by the colors of their opponents. He’ll no longer get to experience the ferocity and excitement of playing in an Ateneo vs. La Salle match. He won’t anymore hear the non-stop drumming of the Ateneo Blue Babble Batallion during games, inspiring the team to attain a victory.
College spirit in the UAAP is truly unlike any other.
“I’m going to miss the atmosphere of the UAAP,” Newsome already started reminiscing. “I’ve been to PBA games – it’s quite different. Not to say it’s less exciting; it’s just different whenever you have half this side that belongs to one school, and half a side that belongs to the other school. You don’t really get that in the PBA.”
No he won’t. But he will be someone to watch out for in the pros. There’s a chance that one day Ateneo fans will proudly point at him when he becomes a star in the PBA and say, “I watched his abilities grow while he was still playing college hoops.”
With his talents, such a scenario isn’t hard to imagine.
On Wednesday, October 1, Chris Newsome’s college career came to an end. But even if Aroga’s block sent Ravena’s shot and Ateneo’s finals dreams into thin air, he didn’t go down without giving the fight of his life.
Chris Newsome went down swinging and now looks forward to what comes next.