Ateneo De Manila University veteran coach Tab Baldwin is grateful to his five senior players after the Blue Eagles bagged their third straight championship via a historic sweep of Season 82 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.
Baldwin showered praises on three-time Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena, twins Matt and Mike Nieto, Isaac Go and Adrian Wong, the five players who fueled the Eagles’ breakthrough 16-game sweep (26-game winning streak overall dating back to last season) and the historic feat of becoming the only team to achieve a three-peat twice in the Final Four era.
“There’s not a person in the Philippines now that follows basketball who can’t say he’s looking at five champions. And I’m telling you that it’s not just on the court. It’s not just in the UAAP,” said Baldwin of his “Fab Five” after Ateneo completed a finals sweep of University of Santo Tomas with an 86-79 victory on Wednesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I truly mean it when I say, when I came here four years ago as a coach, as a human being, there were a lot more holes in me than there are today. And I can’t say anything better because these five guys filled a lot of those holes,” added the 61-year old American-Kiwi tactician.
“I thank them. I honor them. I love them. There will always be a place at my dinner table for them under any circumstances. These guys are my friends for life. And I thank the Lord for that. I thank Ateneo for that too.”
The renowned coach, who mentored various national teams including the Gilas Pilipinas, witnessed the growth of Ravena, the Nieto brothers, Go and Wong through the years.
“I remember them four years ago, looking at them and thinking these guys are going to lead this team into the future,” recalled the grizzled coach. “It was really these guys that I was looking at saying, ‘These guys have to carry this team.’”
“And if you remember in the beginning, there was a whole bunch of other guys there — CJ Perez, Koko (Pingoy) and Hubert Cani. There were these guys in the beginning and of course we had that exodus. I was left with these guys. What they are now, I didn’t see it.”
With his senior cagers now facing the conclusion of their remarkable collegiate careers, Baldwin is out to look for new talents that will continue Ateneo’s winning tradition highlighted by their five-peat from 2008 to 2012.
“They have grown as leaders,” said Baldwin. “You’re all special. You’ve brought something incredibly special to this team and you will be a gigantic hole to fill. Of course, we will work hard in filling it.”