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Mbala set to become runaway MVP

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Ben Mbala was worth the wait!

6-foot-7 Cameroonian student-athlete Ben Mbala of the De La Salle University Green Archers is set to be crowned as the UAAP Season 79 Men’s Basketball tournament Most Valuable Player. And the race to the crown was not even close.

In Tiebreaker Times’ unofficial tally, Mbala accumulated 92.43 statistical points, 22.57 SPs ahead of runner-up Papi Sarr of the Adamson University (69.86).

The 22-year-old was tops in the league in the scoring department (20.6 ppg), field goal percentage (54.6 percent), rebounds (16.0 rpg), blocks (2.4 bpg) and free throws made (7.1/game). Moreover, he has gobbled up 9.5 defensive rebounds per outing, making him the league’s Defensive Player of the Year as well.uaap-79-admu-vs-adu-go-sarr-3638

Joining Mbala in this season’s all-UAAP team is Sarr. The Adamson big man posted norms of 14.4 point per game (sixth) on 48.3 percent shooting (second) to go along with 14.9 rebounds (seconds) and 1.0 blocks (sixth) per outing.uaap-79-admu-vs-dlsu-teng-7299

Mbala’s teammate and King Archer Jeron Teng (57.33 SPs) will also be part of the Mythical Five. Even if he missed two games, the 22-year-old retained his spot as the second-leading scorer of the league with 16.9 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting (eighth). He also topped the league in field goals made within the arc with 6.9 per game.uaap-79-up-vs-nu-desiderio-5688

The University of the Philippines will also have a reason to celebrate, as Paul Desiderio’s breakout season (55.14 SPs) is set to be rewarded with an individual accolade. The Cebuano finished the season in the top 10 in three major categories: points (15.4 – third), rebounds (7.1 – ninth), and assists (2.6 – sixth).uaap-79-admu-vs-feu-jose-9423

Rounding up the Mythical Five is King Tamaraw and Gilas cadet member Raymar Jose (53.64 SPs). The 6-foot-5 workhorse is the only local this season to average a double-double with 11.1 points per game (tenth) and 11.0 rebounds (third).

The sixth to tenth-ranked players in the league after the elimination round are: Alfred Aroga of NU (49.5 SPs), Thirdy Ravena of Ateneo (49.14), Jett Manuel of UP (46.07), Louie Vigil of UST (46) and Prince Orizu of FEU (44.64).uaap-79-adu-vs-ust-ahanmisi-9550

Jerrick Ahanmisi of Adamson University is set to be honored as this year’s top rookie, bucking a late-surge by Aljun Melecio of La Salle. Based on the unofficial tally, the Filipino-American accumulated 44.5 SPs compared to 36.57 SPs by the former UAAP Juniors MVP.

Ahanmisi finished the regular season as the deadliest shooter in the league, knocking down 37.8 percent of his triples while efficiently shooting 94.3 percent from the stripe. He was seventh in the league in scoring at 13.4 markers a game on a 45.7 percent clip (fourth).

Finally, if there’s an award for top floor general, it should go to La Salle’s Kib Montalbo. The Bacolod-native topped the league in assists at 3.0 per game and steals at 3.0 as well.

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#OOThirdy

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The UAAP Season 80 Finals Most Valuable Player’s on court swag carries over off the court

In terms of stylish post-game Outfit of the Day (or #OOTD, as the millenials call it), if the NBA has Russell Westbrook, the UAAP has Thirdy Ravena.

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After games, the student-athletes usually just throw on a shirt and a comfortable pair of pants or shorts. However, the 20-year-old Ravena puts in more effort than that.

Rarely would you see him with a “plain” attire. From printed pants, to leather jackets, to statement shoes, this high-flying Blue Eagle has got it all.

When asked about his fashion sense, he proudly shared that he is the only one who plans his outfits — no stylist needed.

“It’s something I look forward to because I like to dress up. It’s an opportunity for me to show who I am. It’s one way to show your character,” said the second-generation cager, who averaged 15.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 0.9 steals during Ateneo’s golden run.

“Might as well enjoy also off the court diba!”

Photos of his outfits have been shared on social media and liked multiple times both on Twitter and on Instagram. He even has his own hashtag for it, #OOThirdy, and makes sure he maintains a lookbook in his well-curated Instagram feed.

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“It’s nothing big really. It’s just I didn’t expect that people will talk about it this way,” Ravena said after describing his style as a mix of streetwear and preppy.

“I’m happy that people accept me and they appreciate how I dress up.”

His basketball prowess propelled the Ateneo de Manila University to this season’s championship, showing his tremendous potential and hinting that his talent can go beyond the college level.

But with his natural flair for fashion, opportunities can also open up for him beyond basketball. When asked what he thinks of possibly designing clothes in the future, he immediately expressed his interest in it.

“That is something na parang I think I could have fun doing. We really can’t tell, but maybe in the future,” he said.

“Maybe kapag the time is right and when things are where they are supposed to be, then why not.”

If you are a basketball fan and fashion savvy at the same time, the excitement of watching an Ateneo game does not end after the final buzzer. Ravena’s post-game outfit game is something to look forward to, too.

Keep slaying, Thirdy!

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Much-maligned Chibueze Ikeh goes out in a blaze of glory

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With 1:39 left in Game Three of the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Finals, wily floor general Anton Asistio found a free Chibueze Ikeh underneath. Once he was able to lock his legs, Ikeh soared through the air before throwing down a thunderous one-handed jam that gave the Ateneo de Manila University an 82-73 lead.

The sea of blue in the jampacked SMART-Araneta Coliseum exploded with chants of “Ikeh! Ikeh! Ikeh!”.

“It was now or never,” Ikeh recalled during a live chat with ABS-CBN Sports.

“I took the opportunity since it was my last playing year, I had to take it hard all the time.”

The 6-foot-9 big man had waited for three years to experience that moment.

During his first two years with the Blue Eagles, no one was more scrutinized than Ikeh. Many were frustrated that he couldn’t release his true potential even if he had all the physical tools to do so. And that included second-year Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin.

“There’s this thing called male pattern balding. I’m losing more hair! Can you believe it?,” quipped Baldwin as he paid tribute to Ikeh during the Blue Eagles’ thanksgiving mass at the Church of the Gesu.

“Since I’ve know him he has been criticized more than any other player we have. And sometimes for good reason.”

Ikeh averaged a paltry 5.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in his first two years in Ateneo. Amid the pressure on him to deliver, as he was inheriting a post left by great Ateneo centers like Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Greg Slaughter, he himself struggled to even stay on the floor during that time, averaging 2.9 fouls per game that limited him to just 17.7 minutes per contest.

Then there was his arrest last November 4, 2015.

Even with this, the Blue Eagles continued to believe in him.

“This is a young man who left his continent, friends, family,” furthered Baldwin.

“He had to fit in without asking anybody to fit in with him.”

Anybody else would have broken down, packed their bags, and left after experiencing all of this. Not Ikeh. The Nigerian student-athlete persevered in the off-season that resulted to career-highs across the board. In his final year, he posted norms of 7.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, per contest. Ikeh was even top 10 in the statistical points ladder to end the elimination round.

And no one appreciated him more then the Blue Eagles. Thirdy Ravena even asked Ikeh to join him at center court when he was awarded with the Finals Most Valuable Player plum.

“I wasn’t expecting that, but he’s been one of a kind. For him to share that moment with me, it feels so great,” said Ikeh about that moment. “I really appreciate that.”

“There are things na hindi nakikita ng mga tao talaga. It’s the intangible he brings,” Ravena added. “You don’t see it in the stats, but I saw Ikeh the whole game, he just did his job, he did his best to limit Ben [Mbala] and to execute the game plan.

“If it weren’t for Ikeh, his effort, Isaac [Go’s] shot, it wouldn’t be possible for us to win.”

As Ikeh went to the podium of the Church of the Gesu on Sunday night — his last moment as an Ateneo Blue Eagle — the community once again exploded into a chant of “Ikeh! Ikeh! Ikeh!”

“Thank you for believing in me,” Ikeh said, trying to fight off tears as he closed this chapter of his young career.

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Captain Vince Tolentino makes the right choice

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Vince Tolentino’s impact to the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles’ golden campaign has been unheralded to say the least.

The stats may show that he averaged 6.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists this season but he played 21.5 minutes per game, third most minutes behind stalwarts Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto. And he earned those minutes by leading by example to the young Blue Eagles, letting his work do the talking for him.

“Vince is a unique guy,” second-year Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin reflected about his co-captain during the team’s thanksgiving mass Sunday evening.

“When I wanted a leader, he said to me, ‘Coach, I’m not sure if I’m the stand-up ra-ra guy, but I’ll do my best to show them where to go’,” Baldwin shared.

“And didn’t he do a great job?”

But all of this almost did not happen.

Tolentino, a Filipino-Canadian, was initially recruited by the DLSU Green Archers. But he later realized that “blue fitted him better.”

Even if he was already with Ateneo, he contemplated transferring, feeling that he lacked playing time under then-Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol.

“The first few stages of my Ateneo career were very difficult,” recounted Tolentino, who played a total of just 242 minutes in his first three years. “I was a young teenager so far away from home with a dream and without a chance to go on the floor to prove himself.

“I thought of going back home to Canada or transferring to another school,” the soft-spoken student-athlete furthered.

“But then a beacon of white light came shining down in my senior year… Coach Tab Baldwin!”

Under Baldwin, Tolentino flourished. Moreover, he found his passion back that made him return for one last run with his brothers-at-arm.

“For me, going into my last year, that was one thing on my mind: I wanted a championship. And these boys promised me a championship,” Tolentino shared.

“Since Day One, we always talked about it, we were going to get it.”

After the promise was fulfilled, Tolentino made sure to give back to Baldwin, making a pitch to all the prospects to trust what his mentor is preaching.

“For me, I’ve never had a coach like Coach Tab. The attention to detail, his mind is just full of so much basketball knowledge,” Ateneo’s skipper expressed.

“For us young players, it’s so important for us to develop at a young age and Coach Tab has done that, and he will continue to do that for the Ateneo program.

This pitch will definitely resonate to the next batches of Blue Eagles as he is a testament of how the Ateneo basketball program has changed under Baldwin’s watch. All they got to do is ask Vince about it.

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Aaron Black can finally tell Coach Norman that he has one

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Back to Black

Back to Black was the battle cry of coach Norman Black and the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles during their title retention campaign back in 2009. Eight years later, the UAAP Men’s Basketball crown is once again back with a Black — second-generation cager Aaron, that is.

Prior to Game Three of the Finals last Sunday, coach Norman — who had steered the Blue Eagles to five straight championships — made sure to talk to his son before they headed to the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

“He told me that it’s the same game, this time we have forty minutes to win the championship,” said Aaron, who turned 21 on the same day as Game Three. “He told me to do what I can do to help the team. It’s not about stats anymore, it’s about doing what you can do to help the team.

“Once you win the championship, everyone becomes a champion.”

Black played 16 minutes in the game, finishing with four points, two rebounds, and three assists.

And after playing in all 19 games this season, the 6-foot-1 guard could not help but be amazed with the journey they had.

“Special. It’s been five years since we won the championship. We say that we are a brotherhood but we really are that on and off the court,” he expressed after Ateneo’s 88-86 title-clinching win. “It’s a really close bonded team and I enjoy being part of it.

“It was a great season, a beautiful season.”

But there was one moment in the game that went viral on social media. After Isaac Go made the dagger triple with 24.7 seconds remaining, the camera panned to coach Norman, who was bobbing his head to the tune of Ateneo cheer, “Go Ateneo”.

When told about this, the third-year Blue Eagle laughed, saying that he had been too focused on the game to see it.

“I was kinda too focused on the game to see it but I know he’s proud of me,” he shared.

Kidding aside, the son of one of the greatest imports in PBA history can finally tell his father that he has one under his belt.

“I can go home and boast to him that I have one… But yeah he has five.”

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