Ateneo head coaches Tab Baldwin and Oliver Almadro are in the same boat.
Their respective squads, the Blue Eagles and the Lady Eagles, are the defending champions in their respective sports – men’s basketball for Baldwin and women’s volleyball for Almadro.
Like the rest of the other events in the UAAP, their competitions have stopped due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
For first semester events which include basketball, they will have missed out on more than a year of competition when UAAP Season 84 rolls around. Second semester events would have missed almost three years of competition come 2022.
And with it, there will be many student-athletes already in their fifth year in college or even more come Season 84.
The difference for the men’s basketball and women’s volleyball student-athletes compared to the rest of the league is that they have the option of going pro.
For men’s basketball student-athletes, throwing their names in the 2021 PBA Rookie Draft automatically forfeits their UAAP eligibility. On the other hand, once any player steps on the court of the PVL’s bubble this April in Inspire Sports Academy, they are already pros.
But for Baldwin and Almadro, they won’t stop any of their players from turning professional if they want to.
“I would never stand in a player’s way about his career,” said Baldwin, even if Ateneo had just lost Thirdy Ravena, the Nieto twins, Isaac Go, and Adrian Wong to graduation in Season 82.
“We cannot force them to stay. In Ateneo, we value their careers even after college,” said Almadro.
History has shown that Baldwin and Almadro have allowed their seniors to move on from their teams.
Aaron Black and Adrian Wong did not play out their fifth years for Baldwin. Same with Deanna Wong for Almadro.
Currently, the Blue Eagles have William Navarro, Raffy Verano, Jolo Mendoza, and Gian Mamuyac as draft-eligible players. Out of the four, the versatile Navarro has been ranking high in mock drafts.
It gets more problematic for the Lady Eagles.
Kat Tolentino, who has already extended twice in Ateneo, turns 26 on January 27. Jho Maraguinot and Jamie Lavitoria will have extended thrice as well if they opt for a Season 84 return.
Wong and Ponggay Gaston, on the other hand, would have extended twice if they return to Ateneo next season.
The quintet are targets of PVL team Choco Mucho.
The priority in Ateneo is to have their degrees by the time they leave the school. Navarro and Mamuyac are just a few subjects away from graduating while Tolentino, Maraguinot, Lavitoria, Wong, and Gaston have already had their degrees.
“Graduating is the priority for our student-athletes. It’s not about playing the five years,” said Ateneo athletic director Em Fernandez.
Though losing all the student-athletes will difficult for Ateneo, Baldwin and Almadro believe that the programs they have built will be ready if their charges do decide to leave Katipunan.
“I think we will have to deal with that. I think we are more than prepared to deal with that. We have a program that can sustain that. We have created an environment that the players compete for their rights and their spots,” said Baldwin, as Ateneo’s Glory Be team is loaded with players ready for the UAAP stage.
“We don’t have Team B, only a pool. We don’t recruit that much and just rely kung sino ang dadating sa amin,” shared Almadro.
“As a coach, it’s going to be a challenge for me. Pero in Ateneo, we plot kung how many players are graduating this year and how many are incoming so we don’t end up over-recruiting. We are ready if we’re going to have a young team.”
The pandemic may have thrown a wrench in the two strategists’ plans for their title defense. Still, that does not mean that they are not ready for every scenario that will happen.
As Almadro put it, “‘Yung pros, it’s inevitable. Darating at darating ‘yan.”