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Aaron Black, Adrian Wong: A glimpse at Ateneo’s future



By: Joaqui Flores and Matthew Li

The Ateneo Blue Eagles’ up-and-down performance during the first round seems a distant memory with the way they are playing now.

Since losing against the FEU Tamaraws during their second round opener, the Eagles have hit their stride, winning their next five games capped with a scintillating victory over rivals, the De La Salle University Green Archers last Sunday.

Besides the usual suspects and seniors Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, two first-year players stepped up at the right time. Former Batang Gilas member Aaron Black and Filipino-American Adrian Wong stepped up to blitz the Archers’ defense. Black ended the game with a statline of 13 markers on 5/9 shooting in just 13 minutes of play, while Wong tallied ten points on a 75% clip. More importantly, they gave Ateneo a shot at a twice-to-beat incentive.

Since Jerie Pingoy went down with an injury, Wong has quickly picked up the cudgels as the second unit’s primary playmaker. With his height and size advantage, he is a walking mismatch on the court, especially when lined up against the league’s smaller guards. The squad also benefited from his ability to play in multiple positions.

On the other hand, Black’s ability to create his own shots has proved a lethal weapon for the second-unit of the Blue Eagles. Last Sunday, with the Blue Eagles down by as much as ten in the first two quarters, Black led the Eagles in a second-quarter turnaround that cut the La Salle lead to just five entering the second half.

UAAP 78 FEU vs. ADMU - Black-1255“When we come into the floor we always want to be aggressive on offense and defense. In our team we bank on the fact that a lot of guys can score, break out, and have a good game,” Black said about the second quarter Ateneo rally. “It wasn’t really planned, it was just everyone coming out and being aggressive.”

“Coach Ronnie [Magsanoc] told me to stay aggressive and keep attacking the basket,” Black reflected when asked about what the staff had told him during halftime. “[Coach told me to] Look also to my drop passes to the bigs so we can get them going.”

Wong, who tallied six points in the third quarter to give Ateneo the lead, credited Coach Bo Perasol for giving him the confidence and trust he needed. “He’s always trusted me even before the season. He always told me that you could this and I know you can. He’s always putting me up,” Wong said with gratitude.

“So I mean, that helps a lot on the player and coach has everyone’s back on the team. It’s his job and what he does. He’s a great coach,” he added about his mentor.

Playing big minutes in one of the Philippines’ biggest sporting rivalries, Wong admitted that the jampacked arena was a sight to behold in person. “It’s great [winning against La Salle]. Coming here, I heard about how this is one of the biggest rivalries here,” Wong shared. “I mean, from what I see, the stage is packed and the crowd is into it. It’s just a great feeling to do good in this game.”

It’s the same sentiment shared by fellow rookie Aaron Black. “The past few games Coach Bo has been telling me to be ready, especially in the UST game. So i just stayed ready. The crowd had a really good atmosphere, so once I came out and got going it really helped me a lot,” he said. “Well, of course for an Ateneo – La Salle game everyone is nervous. I try to make it into a point that when I get into the game I turn [the nervousness] into aggression.”

A stint with the Batang Gilas squad helped Black in his transition to the college game. “Well the Gilas experience was really big. In Qatar it felt like we had home court advantage every game. There were at least five to six thousand Filipinos every game. It was a crazy atmosphere,” he delightfully shared. “It wasn’t as big as Ateneo – La Salle but it was something that prepared me for that. Gilas also helped with my skills, develop my ball handling more, which was something I needed to develop last year.”

UAAP 78 ADMU vs. UP - Wong-8320
On the other hand, Wong credited senior Kiefer Ravena for helping him prepare for the big games. “He’s big. He tells us everything. He’s been here four to five years and he’s been through everything,” Wong added. “He’s been through all the ups and downs so he just tells us from his experience on what is good or bad. He always keeps us composed.”

With just one regular season game remaining for the Blue Eagles and the Final Four just a week away, Wong and the Blue Eagles are locked-in on the prize: the UAAP Championship. “I’m satisfied [with my current performance now], of course. As long as we get the win, it doesn’t matter what I do. We’re just striving for the championship,” Wong ended. “Hopefully I just make my shots and that’s all I could say for now.”

Black added that they are doing this for their seniors and want them to graduate with the crown back in Katipunan. “You can expect us to do whatever it takes to help the team win a championship, because that’s what we want. We want Kiefer, Von, Gwynne [Capacio], and Fonso [Gotladera] with a ring on their fingers.”

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Calvin Abueva rejuvenated with return of physical play: ‘Masarap maglaro’



Photo by PBA Images

For Calvin Abueva, it feels great to play in the PBA nowadays.

The Beast, who has always been known as one of the league’s most physical players since entering in 2012, was all praises for the way the officiating has changed this 43rd season — by just letting all the players play.

“Mas gumanda yung tawagan ngayon, naging physical nga. Naging exciting para sa mga tao, mas marami na nanonood ngayon eh,” said Abueva moments after their 97-83 victory over the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Sunday night.

As has been said many times, physicality had become something controlled over the last two years. Abueva knows it too well, having been a casualty, as he has paid a bevy of penalties during that time.

And now that it is a thing of the past, the 6-foot-2 bruiser feels much better, knowing that he can display his brand of basketball once more.

“Masarap maglaro, talagang pisikalan,” said the 29-year-old forward from Angeles, Pampanga. “Siyempre makikita naman natin kung sinasadya o hindi, basta katawan lang.

“Pisikal. Yun yung magandang laro di ba?”

Aside from the comeback of physicality, what makes Abueva beam even more is the way the Aces have been playing in the 2018 Philippine Cup. After a 0-2 start in the tourney, they have now booked their third straight win.

“Nung 2017 parang nilubog na namin yung losing streak namin doon. Ito 2018 na at panibagong destination na naman yung ina-ano namin,” said Abueva, who had nine points, nine rebounds, and five assists against Ginebra.

“Sustain muna namin ‘to… Sana magtuloy-tuloy ‘tong winning streak namin.”

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Alaska takes advantage of Greg Slaughter’s absence



For the streaking Alaska Aces, their stunning 97-83 victory over the favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Sunday night was partly made possible by the absence of one key player: seven-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter.

The 28-year-old center, who was averaging 20.67 points and 10.3 rebounds prior to Sunday, did not play against the Aces due to a hamstring injury. How he incurred the injury has yet to be determined.

“There’s a small person named Greg Slaughter who didn’t play; I think he has an impact on the game,” quipped coach Alex Compton after the match.

“[They missed] a guy who I think is gonna win an MVP soon in Greg Slaughter.

“Sometimes dito sa liga natin, you have to take advantage when opportunities come your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt [though],” added Compton.

With Slaughter out of the way, the Aces’ big men feasted.

Vic Manuel top-billed with 18 points and five rebounds, and elder statesman Sonny Thoss turned back the clock with a 17-point, four-rebound outing.

“Malaking bonus na rin sa amin, kasi wala nga si Greg kaya nakuha namin yung panalo,” said Manuel.

“Yeah it definitely helped,” added the six-foot-seven Thoss, who shot 6-of-12 from the floor and made four of his freebies.

“He’s a big guy, he’s a big presence inside so it took one big guy off our shoulder.”

Slaughter was approached and asked by scribes regarding his injury, but he was not in the mood to comment. No one can blame him, though, since the Barangay have slipped to their second straight defeat after a 2-0 start.

“I’m always there in practice, going over our gameplans. But it’s better if you ask our PT,” he said.

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Alaska completes turnaround at Greg Slaughter-less Ginebra’s expense



Photo by PBA Images

A strong second half surge was all the Alaska Aces needed to turn back the heavily-favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 97-83, and book their third straight victory, Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

The Aces, who have yet to lose this 2018, have now improved to 3-2. Meanwhile, the Barangay absorbed their second straight loss and have dropped to 2-2.

“I was telling the guys na parang ang dami nating iniisip, hindi natin ginagawa yung ginagawa natin noong nakaraang dalawang linggo. Sabi ko relax lang tayo,” said coach Alex Compton, sharing what he told his wards that sparked the win.

Vic Manuel led the Milkmen with 18 points and five rebounds. Sonny Thoss turned back the clock as he made 17 markers on 6-of-12 shooting, while Chris Banchero supplied 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

The Aces were trailing by eight, 36-44 at the half, but it became a different ball game come the third chapter as they outscored the Gin Kings, 37 to 19, to erect a favorable 73-63 cushion heading into the game’s final 12 minutes.

From there, Alaska kept their foot on the gas to sustain their lead, which grew to as much as 18, 85-67, after their 6-0 spree — punctuated by Banchero’s lay-up plus a foul — with 6:14 remaining in the final frame.

Ginebra still tried to make one last push as they inched within 10, 75-85, but baskets by Thoss and Kevin Racal propelled Alaska to an 89-75 lead with 3:42 left to play — more than enough to knock out their counterparts.

“I was glad to come away with the win,” added Compton. “Sometimes, we have to take advantage of opportunities coming your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt but when two number one picks on the other team aren’t playing… There.”

Jvee Casio had 13 markers for Alaska, while Calvin Abueva nearly had a double-double of nine points and nine boards along with five assists in 20 minutes.

Aljon Mariano had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three dimes for Ginebra, who — despite having Sol Mercado back in the fold after ankle issues — missed the services of Joe Devance and Greg Slaughter due to injuries.

Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, and Kevin Ferrer each scored 12 for the Barangay, with Thompson adding five assists. The trio combined for 15 of Ginebra’s 43 rebounds.

Alaska will aim to extend their streak versus the Blackwater Elite on Saturday, January 27 at 4:30 PM, while Ginebra will look to end their slump against the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Friday, January 26 at 7:00 PM. Both games are at SMART Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:

Alaska 97 — Manuel 18, Thoss 17, Banchero 14, Casio 13, Abueva 9, Teng 9, Cruz 5, Enciso 3, Potts 3, Exciminiano 2, Magat 2, Racal 2, J. Pascual 0.

Ginebra 83 — Mariano 15, J. Aguilar 12, Ferrer 12, Thompson 12, Caguioa 8, Cruz 8, R. Aguilar 5, Tenorio 5, Mercado 2, Taha 2, Wilson 2, Jamito 0.

Quarterscores: 26-23, 36-44, 73-63, 97-83.

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Frustrated Jared Dillinger admits ‘he’s getting sick’ of Meralco’s bad PH Cup runs



It’s no secret that the Meralco Bolts have struggled in the Philippine Cup for the last three years. During the last two seasons, the eight-year-old franchise’s win-loss tally is four wins and 18 losses.

And in the 2018 edition, the narrative has been the same, with little to no hope of it turning the other way around.

The Bolts bowed to the TNT Katropa, 99-81, Sunday night — their third straight defeat after winning over Blackwater Elite in their opener last December. If things continue as they are, it looks like another poor all-Filipino tilt run is looming.

“We’re 1-3 and there’s nothing to be happy about,” said Jared Dillinger, who had 14 points and five caroms in the match at Ynares Center in Antipolo. “It’s a long season though… We [shouldn’t] panic but it’s not fun right now.

“The Philippine Cup has been our Achilles heel and every damn Philippine Cup we get our ass kicked. I’m getting sick of it.”

In this game, Meralco missed the services of top forwards Ranidel De Ocampo and Cliff Hodge due to injuries. But for Dillinger, those issues shouldn’t be excuses.

“When you get two guys like Ranidel and Cliff out, as a team, that’s the opportunity for the guys below them to step up,” asserted Dillinger, who has been with the franchise since 2013.

“It doesn’t have to mean scoring, getting the assists or rebound, it’s just making the right play, being smart.”

Asked what went wrong in this particular loss versus their sister team, where they shot just 39.2 percent from the floor and had committed 17 turnovers, the 10-year veteran lamented the poor effort that the Bolts put up.

“TNT didn’t do anything much, given that they played well. But they didn’t have any secret schemes against us. They just passed the ball around, and they got open shots,” added the 10-year pro, as TNT made 23 assists and shot 18 triples.

“Our effort wasn’t there. We got to put up the intensity cause it sucks right now.”

Meralco have a chance to end their slump against the Kia Picanto this Wednesday. Dillinger sees it as a do-or-die affair, warning that it will be a grind-out affair knowing that the Picanto is coming off a skid-ending win over Rain or Shine.

Do-or-die ’cause that’s gonna be a playoff game. Thank God they beat Rain or Shine ’cause you don’t want to be that one team that gives the win to a 0-16 [team]. You don’t want to play teams like that,” stressed the all-around forward.

“Nothing to take away from Kia though. It’s gonna be tough.”

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