AS Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin sat on the shoulders of Chiz Ikeh and Kris Porter for the traditional victory ride, the 35-year mentor can’t help but look back at the things the team went through.
“They say in moments like this, you think about the most important things. And I just think about how hard we’ve worked. When we [went] to camp in Baler, how I crucified these guys, how I put them through the worst things you can imagine, it’s all to build that Espirit de Corps there and to build that team,” said Baldwin as the Blue Eagles basked in the glory of their 88-86 triumph over the La Salle Green Archers to win the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball title on Sunday.
“They just responded every step of the way and when we ran into real adversity, none bigger than that tremendous La Salle basketball team, they found a way. And a lot of it is their heart, soul and courage,” he added.
Those hardships have now paid off, as the Eagles silenced those who doubted even as they went 13-0 in the eliminations, then needed two gruelling games before they put away pesky Far Eastern University in the Final Four.
But Baldwin always believed.
“I don’t know why I’m stuck on this team, but this team became special. There’s no individual that makes this team special because it just dedicated itself to hard work. I couldn’t give these guys enough to do and I think that’s a revelation for me—spending 35 years coaching pros, you can’t ask pros what I asked these guys to do and they did it,” Baldwin said.
“They did every single thing that was asked of them and they wanted more. And pros? They just won’t do that. They’re past that. I understand that, I was part of that world. With these guys, what makes them special is that they made themselves special.”
Before the finals began, Baldwin said he would watch the team from afar and let the boys have all the spotlight. But as he stood on the shoulders of his players, with the whole Ateneo crowd cheering for him – he knows that he’ll always be a part of this.
“I told them, ‘We didn’t reach a peak, we reached a plateau, because there has to be room for the whole team.’ We didn’t do it as individuals, we did it as a team. So nobody stands at the peak alone,” said the former Gilas Pilipinas head coach.
“They stand there as a team, and they’re standing proud of what they’ve accomplished and they’re standing proud as Ateneans. And I’m very, very proud to be a part of that.”