I was able to watch two pre-season games of the Ateneo Blue Eagles Srs basketball team team in the currently ongoing Fil-Oil Flying V tournament in San Juan. The first game I watched was between ADMU and the FEU Tamaraws last May 2. The Blue Eagles will be hard pressed this year to defend their UAAP crown, as they will now be minus Chris Tiu (Haaay!!!) and Yuri Escueta. Inheriting Tiu’s starting spot was Eric Salamat. The other starters for this game was UAAP MVP Rabel AL-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao, Jai Reyes at PG, and Oping Sumalinog, who wore Tiu’s number 17, and started in place of Ryan Buenafe. The Tamaraws were playing minus Mark Barocca, Aldrech Ramos and JR Cawaling who were in the RP Team. They started an impressive rookie RR Garcia, who scored 9 of his teams’ first 11 points and didn’t play like a newcomer at all. In fact, he got ejected in this game as he threw a punch at Jai Reyes in the 4th quarter. (Atapang a tao) A slimmed down Reil Cervantes, 6-5 center of the Tamaraws, was also impressive, as he got Rabeh in foul trouble as he was effectively posting up and getting shots in the paint. Feu also had an import, whose name I couldn’t pronounce, and is also eligible for this season. he was a burly player who played inside and out and gave the ADMU big guys trouble.
For ADMU, Oping Sumalinog was impressive in this game. He hit around 3 3-point shots and was very active. Jai and Eric were also hitting their outside shots, which is a good sign as it opened up the middle for Rabeh to do his thing. The Ateneo running game was in full display in the first quarter as they took a slight lead at the end of the opening 12 minutes. When ADMU’s second stringers came in, it was apparent, that scoring was going to be a problem. These guys were good defensive players, but the offense sputtered. Kirk Long, who is already blonde, looked even blonder this time, Bacon Austria (who inherited dad Leo’s feistiness but not his outside shooting), Nico Salva (who will probably inherit Chris Tiu’s shrieks form female fans, haaaay!!!),Justin Chua and Tonino Gonzaga formed the second unit. Mike Baldoz also came in when Chua was proving to be ineffective against Cervantes. Feu with Garcia, Hans Knuttel, and the son of Jack Tanuan, hit their strides and helped FEU take the lead in the 1st half.
Foul trouble to big man Rabeh forced Coach Norman to play rookie Frank Golla some minutes. He had his moments, but he has a long way to go. Rabeh struggled all night against all the big men FEU threw against him. I noticed, that Rabeh was complaining too much about the calls, whining really, and it affected his game. C’mon big guy, get used to it. Man up!!! He eventually fouled out. Noy Baclao, Jai and Salamat, righted the ship in time in the fourth. But, with FEU down by 1, with seconds to go, they kept getting a 2nd and 3rd chance to win the game, but Noy Baclao, eventually pulled down the crucial defensive rebound, was fouled and trooped to the foul line to ice the game with 3 seconds to go. He made the first free throw, then missed the second one. As Feu got the board, they threw an outlet pass, but was intercepted by Long, to preserve the hard fought 2 point win. It was a win, but remember FEU did not have all their key players, ans we were only missing Ryan Buenafe. FEU is a definite title contender and powerhouse in the upcoming UAAP season. Juami Tiongson made a cameo appearance in this game, the only other rookie in the ADMU roster to play.
The second ADMU game I watched was an interesting match vs defending 3peat NCAA champions the San Beda Red Lions. The Red Lions were now without Sam Ekwe, their man mountain down low, Pong Escobal, now in the PBA, and Ogie Menor who apparently will apply for the PBA draft this year. Also out with an ACL is starting point guard Borgie Hermida. The Red Lions had a new center, Sudan “Superman” Daniels, a US recruit, who during the warm-ups was dunking like crazy. For ADMU, Ryan Buenafe was back in the fold, although he looked a bit on the heavy side, but maybe it was the hair. The Blue Eagles had just come back from a month long training stint in the US and this was their first game back.
The Blue Eagles’ starting lineup was no surprise as Buenafe, Baclao, and Al-Hussaini manned the frontline, while Eric Salamat and Jai Reyes were in the backcourt. Coach Frankie Lim’s starting line up was a bit surprising as he left Daniels on the bench, and started two behemoths, Baby Shaq Taganas and Dave Marcelo, plus 6-4 Bambam Gamalinda in the frontcourt, with Garvo Lanete and Chico Tirona in the backcourt.
Early on Rabeh and Noy baclao frolicked in the paint, quickly making Marcelo pick up two fouls. Off the bench. sophomore Jake Pascual came in and brough life to SBC’s offense with his jumpers. Salamat and Jai were also in a groove hitting jumpers, while Buenafe was drawing fouls from his defenders. ADMU led after the 1st canto.
In the second quarter, Daniels came in and his impact was immediate. He blocked Rabeh’s shot in the low post, after the UAAP MVP thought he had eluded him. Suddenly ADMU couldn’t buy a basket and their whole offense sputtered. Nico Salva kept missing point blank shots, while the other big men were now intimidated with Danile’s prescence in the post. Kirk Long and Eric Salamat’s forays kept the team in but they yielded a 9 point lead to SBC at the half.
As the second half started, Jai and Salamat took command and anchored a scoring blitz that enabled ADMU to tie the score with San Beda. But Superman Daniels again came to the rescue and Ateneo spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. Rabeh couldn’t get his game going against the bigger Daniels, and was called for “faking a foul.” Yup, you heard it, “FAKING A FOUL.” WTF? Sorry guys, either it is a foul or it is not. Faking a foul? Both teams were called for this infraction.Daniels had two alley oop dunks in this game during SBC’s charge into the lead. WAW!!! Noy Baclao and the other Blue Eagles keyed a late run in the fourth,but turnovers spelled their doom. Later, Garvo Lanete sealed the deal with a layup late in the game.
Although Ateneo finished the elims with a 5 win 2 loss record, and a seat in the quarterfinals, they withdrew from the tournament because of a prior commitment. San Beda goes up into the quarterfinals against DLSU. Good luck to both teams. As for Ateneo, the task looks tough for the defending champs. They will surely miss Yuri and Chris’ leadership,but a good sight was the much improved marksmanship of Salamat and Long from the outside. Especially Long, who appeared to be much more comfortable and confident this time.Must be the hair color. rabeh has to quit complaining and play strong in the low post. Too much finesse, not enough raw power, in my opinion. Buenafe has to get into game shape, while Noy Baclao seems to be there already. Justin Chua has to be ready to support the other bigs. So with Salva and Baldoz. Who will step up from this group and steer the Eagles to a back to back crown? Let’s ask the Magic 8 ball………..
See ya in the UAAP all………