All eyes will be on defending champion Ateneo de Manila University when the Season 76 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) unfolds on June 29 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Blue Eagles are raring to earn their sixth straight championship title despite losing some key players including the 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.
With the departure of these players, prolific guard Kiefer Ravena is expected to carry the load for the Blue Eagles alongside snipers 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 that once played for New Mexico Highlands University in the US Division 2.
Also included in the pre-season lineup of the Blue Eagles 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 because of the new league rule which requires a UAAP high school student-athlete transferring to another UAAP school in the tertiary level to sit 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 former Blue Eagles mentor 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 their 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 coach Bo Perasol will be guiding the Blue Eagles this season. He began mentoring the team late last year.
In 2012, business tycoon Manny Pangilinan decided to cut ties with Ateneo because of contrasting stands on mining, Reproductive Health Bill and plagiarism issues.
But Pangilinan recently renewed his support to the team saying, “Mas mahal ko ang Ateneo [I love Ateneo more]” in his previous interview.
Emil C. Noguera