CHIBUEZE Ikeh turned heads in leading Ateneo’s 85-65 win over Adamson in the opener of the UAAP Season 80 on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In the first 20 minutes alone, Ikeh scored 14 points and 13 rebounds as the Blue Eagles broke the game wide open for good when they erected a 43-28 lead at the half.
With Adamson’s Papi Sarr sitting out with a groin injury, Ikeh would finish the game with 18 points, on 6-10 shooting, alongside 17 rebounds with 12 of which coming from the offensive end.
The only ones not surprised with Ikeh’s performance was his team.
“We weren’t as surprised that Ikeh played a good game. He’s been playing well for us the past few weeks and practices, he stepped up his game,” said Arespacochaga.
“I guess, within the team, it wasn’t something new what Ikeh was doing in the game. We’re happy that Ikeh is able to play the way he’s been practicing,” he added.
Months of hard work is definitely paying off for the 6-foot-7 slot man as he looked quicker to the ball, looked more confident with his shots and generally moved a lot better on the floor.
Arespacochaga credited Ikeh’s rigorous training sessions with their big men coaches over the offseason and with the way the latter performed, it’s definitely paying off.
“He’s been working hard. He’s been working extra with coach Gene Afable, coach Ford Arao and coach Alton Lister. He’s been putting in the work. That’s why I mentioned earlier we weren’t really surprised.”
Getting to this point, Ikeh acknowledged that it wasn’t the easiest of routes to take. But playing in his final year and coming off a heartbreaking championship loss to a Ben Mbala-led La Salle last season, Ikeh is finally willing to put all the work necessary to make his final year count.
“It’s been a tough process but we’ve been working hard for the team, like I said, they’re always pushing me,” Ikeh said.
“Sometimes I tend to slack off but they’ve always been telling me ‘You can do it’ always say, thanks to them.”
The towering big man is just thankful to be playing in a team that always had his back in good and bad times.
“Just thanks to the guys in the locker room, my teammates, they’ve been the one pushing me to be in the right place and in the right time and they were able to find me. I always give credit to them.”