SAVE for a leak in the roof of their home gym, Ateneo's preparations for the coming UAAP men’s basketball finals have been going smoothly.
Heavy rains last Wednesday forced the Blue Eagles to move practice at the last minute to the Ronac gym in San Juan as the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center's leaky roof rendered the slippery court unplayable.
Upon returning to campus on Thursday, a huge tarpaulin installed on one side of the gym greeted the Blue Eagles. It contained a photo of Greg Slaughter going for a shot against UST’s Karim Abdul with the battle cry, 'We will finish what we started.’
It was the same exact words Ateneo’s former sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan told coach Norman Black when he offered to resign in light of the businessman’s decision to part way with the school.
“It’s the first time I saw it,” said Black, obviously amused.
Another tarpaulin on the other side of the gym carried the words, ‘Defense wins championships,’ stressing what had been the Blue Eagles’ hallmark during its run of four successive championships.
But with or without those inspiring banners, the Blue Eagles are all pumped up as they enter the final stretch of their buildup for a rare fifth straight title.
“We’ve been practicing the entire week and basically trying to figure out how to attack the defense of UST and how to defend them,” said Black, two days before the much-anticipated Game One of the title series against the Tigers at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We are eager to play,” said Ateneo sophomore sensation Kiefer Ravena right before the team's practice. “Lahat excited because we have a chance at a historic five-peat.”
Although they are so used to winning, the Blue Eagles insisted they are still hungry for a championship.
The Tigers may be in the midst of a six-year title drought, but that doesn’t mean they are the hungrier team between the two.
“Ako ‘yung tipo ng tao na ayaw matalo. Kung laging panalo, why not? I know my teammates are also hungry,” said Ravena.
“We have a lot of reasons to win this five-peat. For MVP, for coach Norman, for our seniors, and for our Ateneo community. We have to always keep that in mind and repay their support. Additional motivation ‘yun for us,” he added.
Slaughter, playing in his final year with the team, said, "for some of the guys including me, it’s the final two or three games so I don’t see why we can't give the best that we got."
The Tigers have been very vocal about being the underdogs in the best-of-three series, but the Blue Eagles believe they are very much capable of winning a championship.
“The way we look at UST, they are a very good and strong, well-balanced team. Coach Pido (Jarencio) seems to have a good feel of his players and it should be a difficult series,” said Black.
“For me, tao sa tao, isa sila sa match-up namin… Match-up for match-up, solid pareho ang teams. It’s a matter of executing, which team can execute better and which team will be more prepared,” Ravena added.