IN every championship journey, there is always a beginning. And for newly-crowned UAAP men’s basketball title holder Ateneo, the road to its campaign started as early as last summer in the beautiful town of Baler
It was in the scenic capital of the province of Aurora where the Blue Eagles held their team building for Season 80, an experience that coach Tab Baldwin hinted as a tough training session, in which he even said, “I’d like to stay out of jail.”
“That 17 went through a lot together. We worked out in Baler which is something special certainly for the coaching staff. Maybe a different kind of special for the players. All part of the process that I think helped build a team,” Baldwin said during a press conference that preceded the bonfire celebration of the team at the Ateneo campus on Saturday.
“And I say that word with reverence because I think there is a lot of group of individuals around this world that plays a lot of different sports that are called teams and they fell well short of living up to what that word team and what it should mean. This group didn’t,” added the former Gilas Pilipinas mentor.
While the team building was quite intensive, it also proved to be worthwhile as the Blue Eagles forged a deep bond among themselves. To honor the camaraderie, the team came up with hashtag #BEBOB or ‘Blue Eagles Band Of Brothers.
The players later acknowledged the significance of the training camp building in developing their solidarity as a team.
“That was the worst one week of our lives,” admitted Mike Nieto, one of the veterans of the team.
“Best for the coaches. We won’t tell you what happened in the camp kasi bawal. But ever since that camp, hindi na kami nagpatalo. Giving up is never an option talaga.”
Team captain Vince Tolentino, one of the three graduating players of the team, said the #BEBOB mentality helped the Blue Eagles overcome adversities, including their do-or-die game against fourth-seed Far Eastern University in the Final Four, and later the rubber match against rival La Salle in the finals after the team squandered a 21-point lead in losing Game Two.
“We were tested throughout the whole season but staying with BEBOB, we didn’t break. No one else can break this group of guys. It reminded us that we have each other and the Ateneo community is behind us,” said Tolentino.
Baldwin said the team building was planned in order to strengthen the players, based on what he learned from a book by legendary football coach Bear Bryant.
“In general, and the specifics are not important to be honest, we have a pact with the team that we didn’t want to go into the specifics. But in general, I was influence a long time ago by a famous NCAA football coach in Paul ’Bear’ Bryant,” disclosed the Ateneo mentor.
“His very famous work is a camp that he had in 1954 for his Texas A&M football team. And the design of the camp was to develop a football team with the emphasis on ‘team.’
”It was built around the fact that its very difficult for young men who are at the height of their playing prowess, all of whom had egos that are fed by loving parents, adoring girlfriends, adoring fans, victories along the way. And these egos needed to be broken down to the whole,” Baldwin said in explaining the camp from where he based Ateneo’s team building.
“The best way to do that is break the men and reduce him to a state where he can’t do things on his own and he requires the assistance of others in order to accomplish something. We designed physical and mental task at the camp which are essentially designed to do that — break the men,” he added.
“To some degree, we accomplished that.”
The entire season did show how the Blue Eagles played as a team following that Baler experience. And Baldwin believes that helped the Blue Eagles overcome a great La Salle squad in the best-of-three title series led by two-time league MVP Ben Mbala.
“This team is comprised of very, very good basketball players. There are lots of talent in this room. But I believe that their commitment, the work they put in, we were able to develop something that the whole was greater than some of the parts even though the parts are really good,” said the 59-year-old American-New Zealander.
“ I think it was in large part to the whole that we created allowed us to topple what is a very good basketball team in La Salle.”
“Even though coach (Aldin) Ayo thinks I’m just playing mind games, I think everybody else in the entire Philippine basketball community would testify the fact that La Salle is a great basketball team,” added Baldwin, who also had coaching stints in Malaysia, New Zealand, Lebanon, and Jordan.
“Something that is very different to go around, over, or through. Credit goes to the guys that we figured out a way to do all these things.”