Defending champion Ateneo de Manila University hopes to offset the loss of key players with a Fil-American recruit and the strong team foundation cemented by sixth straight championships when Season 76 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) opens June 29 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Blue Eagles are losing seven-footer Greg Slaughter and last season’s Finals Most Valuable Player Nico Salva. Other players who have exhausted their five-year eligibility are Tonino Gonzaga, Justin Chua and Oping Sumalinog.
Prolific guard Kiefer Ravena is expected to carry the load for the Blue Eagles alongside shooters Juami Tiongson, John Paul Erram and Ryan Buenafe.
Ateneo will also be parading its prized recruit, Christopher Elijah Newsome. The 6-foot-2 Filipino-American shooting forward played for New Mexico Highlands University in the US Division II.
Also in Ateneo’s pre-season lineup are Nico Elorde, Isaac Lim, Peter Murphy, Gwyne Matthew Capacio, Kristoffer Porter, Jerie Pingoy, Gideon Babilonia, Von Pessumal, Frank Golla, Antonio Asistio and Manuel Tolentino.
A former Far Eastern University Baby Tamaraw, Pingoy, however, won’t be suiting up this season for the Blue Eagles. A new league rule requires a UAAP high school student-athlete transferring to another UAAP school in the tertiary level to sit it out for two years before being allowed to play.
Ateneo has been dominating the league and other collegiate pre-season tournaments since 2008 under the tutelage of Norman Black, who is now handling the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters in the Philippine Basketball Association
“Even if I leave, it will continue to be strong because of the foundation we built – even if we’re losing key players,” said Black in his previous interview.
The Blue Eagles won in Season 71 over archrivals De La Salle University Green Archers, 2-0 (69-61, 62-51) and University of the East, 2-1 (78-71, 68-88, 71-58) in Season 72. They beat Far Eastern University twice in Season 73, 2-0 (72-49, 65-62), and Season 74, 2-0 (82-64, 82-69) before claiming their fifth title in Season 75 at the expense of University of Santo Tomas, 2-0 (83-78, 65-62) in Season 75.
Ateneo also grabbed the 2008 Nike Summer League, 2010 and 2012 Fr. Martin Summer Cup, and 2011 Filoil Flying V Hanes Preaseason Cup titles.
Veteran mentor Bo Perasol will now be calling the shots for the Blue Eagles this season.
EMIL C. NOGUERA