Monday, July 08, 2013

UAAP Season 76: Unfamiliar Territory for Ateneo

I can imagine that, for many Ateneo fans, losing three straight games to start out the season is unfamiliar for them, but it has happened before. According to my friend, the Hoop Nut, the last time Ateneo opened up the season with a 0-3 record, the year was 1997.

The single main reason why the Blue Eagles are in this hole is because star player Kiefer Ravena got injured (sprained ankle). It's a testament to how much team strength was lost after season 75, when former Ateneo mainstays Nico Salva, Greg Slaughter, Tonino Gonzaga, Oping Sumalinog, and Justin Chua helped steer the Ateneo Blue Eagles to their fifth straight men's basketball championship.

Now, all of those players are gone, and the team appears to be feeling their loss, especially with the injury to Ravena. Whereas before, the Blue Eagles had an arsenal of weapons to bring to bear on their opponents, the current incarnation of the team still seems unsure of itself and unable to close out a game. Yesterday, when I left for dinner, Ateneo was still leading by around six points, with archrival La Salle coming back strong. I learned later that Ateneo had lost its third straight game.

The social networks were rife with support for the team (One Big Fight! encapsulates the loyalty of Ateneans to their school.), but, at the same time, it appeared that the blame game had also started. Ateneo was losing, and fans unaccustomed to such looked for someone to blame for the debacle. One target was new head coach Bo Perasol.

I'm not sure if Perasol made any serious blunders in the losing streak; I'm not that serious an observer of the game to judge. But, I would have to say that it's difficult to get the game going without your star player. Perasol can't be faulted for Ravena's injury, and it would unfair to heap blame on him this early in the season. If one looks at the margin of loss in the three-game losing streak, one would notice that the difference could have been made up if Kiefer were playing. I would rather reserve judgment until the Phenom comes back to play.

Until he does, the rest of the team simply has to step up. Ryan Buenafe and Chris Newsome have been doing a yeoman's job in trying to keep the Blue Eagles in the game, but the rest of the players have to step up, and step up consistently. While many of the players on the team were around for some of the championships, many of them were also still living in the shadows of the stars. Now they're in the spotlight, and they may still be unaccustomed to the promotion. Well, it's time for them to show off their stuff; as Robin Williams said, "Are you man or amoeba?"

Despite the three-game losing streak, Ateneo fans remain confident and hopeful that the Blue Eagles will be able to overcome the adversity of not having Ravena playing. As I mentioned above, Ateneo fans continue to bombard the social networks with calls of "One Big Fight!" I myself remain hopeful that Kiefer will come back, sooner than later, and the Blue Eagles will still be able to make a run at the Final Four, and maybe annex their sixth straight title. Win or lose, though, it's still the school we choose.

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