ATENEO will be entering UAAP Season 80 with no illusion that returning to the finals will be an easy task.
The Blue Eagles surprised most basketball observers last year in reaching the finals before their campaign ended with a two-game sweep over mighty La Salle in the championship series.
"I think we caught a lot of people by surprise last year," said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, speaking on behalf of head coach Tab Baldwin. "I don't think we will be catching people by surprise this year. We are aware of that."
Bucked by a six-game winning run at the end of the elimination round, the Blue Eagles finished with a 10-4 win-loss slate. They beat Far Eastern University in a rubber match for the finals by just one point before bowing to La Salle in the title series.
But even with a relatively intact lineup, Arespacochaga said the Blue Eagles remained a young team with veteran G-Boy Babilonia as the only player who has finished his college eligibility.
Ateneo, however, will have big shoes to fill following the absence of Adrian Wong, who sustained an ACL injury during their build-up that took him out for the entire season.
Last season, Wong was the team's leader in three-point conversions.
"It's going to be by committee, guys stepping up providing offense and defense in the absence of Adrian," said Arespacochaga.
One of the players that could step up in the absence of Wong is Tyler Tio, in his first year with the Blue Eagles this season. The Xavier School product was supposed to play for Ateneo last year but was declared ineligible.
"We wanted Tyler last year, but in terms of his eligibility, hindi siya eligible. We are excited for that, especially that we are losing Adrian. But we don't want to put pressure on him," said Arespacochaga.
Thirdy Ravena is expected to lead the charge for the Blue Eagles, who will also be leaning on the Nieto twins Mike and Matt following a respectable showing last year. Anton Asistio will also be providing veteran presence, while Isaac Go and Chibueze Ikeh will man the paint for the Blue Eagles.
"We stressed to the players that we have to be consistent every game. We have to bring our A game everytime. Teams won't be belittling us. They will bring their A game too," said Arespacochaga.
Now in a new season, Ateneo can only hope last year's gains will also be brought for Season 80.
"We have to focus on each game. Last year was good but we can't live to what we achieved last year. Hopefully, we can learn from the past but we have to earn every win," said Arespacochaga.