Norman Black firmly believes that Ryan Buenafe should have been a star in the PBA today.
The former Ateneo chief tactician said so during his talk in the Hoop Coaches International Webinar on Friday, when asked who could be the players that will comprise his all-time Blue Eagles five.
And Buenafe is his bet for the small forward position, as Black said he was the most talented he’s ever coached.
“There’s no question the most talented guy was Ryan Buenafe that I coached,” Black said.
“Ryan should be in the PBA right now. He should be a star if he could just control his weight.”
Buenafe was drafted by Alaska with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 Draft. His contract then with the Aces included a body fat clause to address his weight issues.
He was chosen in the first round after being projected as a second-rounder. Buenafe was picked ahead of his fellow Blue Eagles Nico Salva and Justin Chua, which were more highly-regarded rookies then.
Buenafe was seen to be one of the Aces’ pillars for the future, but his stint there didn’t last long. In 2014, he joined the Meralco Bolts — where he reunited with Black — and was there until 2016.
Since then, Buenafe has had stints both in the PBA D-League and the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League.
His pro career may not have panned out the way it was expected, but there’s no denying how good he was in Ateneo, where he won four of the Blue Eagles’ five consecutive championships.
Buenafe was the Finals Most Valuable Player of the 2010 title, which was just right. His dagger three-pointer with 22.1 seconds left in Game 2 versus FEU clinched Ateneo’s three-peat.
“He led us to four championships, and he was just multi-talented,” Black remembered of the 6-foot-3 Buenafe.
Black was the architect of that five-title run, and so the majority of the players he mentioned for his all-time Blue Eagles squad were part of that historic achievement.
But it was a challenge for him to name players since he had coached many good ones. For Black, it’s a toss-up at the center spot between UAAPSeason 71 MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Greg Slaughter.
Al-Hussaini was part of Ateneo’s first two championships. Meanwhile, the 7-foot Slaughter — who transferred to Ateneo from University of Visayas — was there in the last two title runs.
“At the center position, obviously the most successful was Rabeh Al-Hussaini. He had a couple of years where he was just great, particularly the year where he won the MVP award,” Black said.
“He was a very dominant player for us,” he added.
“At the same time, you have to remember I coached Greg Slaughter too. So that’s a toss-up as far as the center position goes between the two.”
Black also found it tough to name his power forward, since he also had in mind Japeth Aguilar. But he awarded the spot to Noy Baclao, Al-Hussaini’s batchmate, who was the 2008 Finals MVP.
“Remember Japeth Aguilar, I also coached him in Ateneo before he went to Western Kentucky. He was a young guy then but he was a very good player for us, great shot-blocker, great rebounder.
“But I would say Noy Baclao was the best defender in that position for us,” Black explained. “He’s also part of Meralco now, so hopefully, he’ll be well soon by the end of June.”
But if he found it hard to name his frontcourt players, it was much easier for Black to name his backcourt.
His two-guard is Chris Tiu, the main man of the Blue Eagles squad in 2008, which was his final year.
“I would have to go with Chris mainly because the girls just love him. It was crazy.
“He was the King Eagle,” he added. “He was the best player in the team that year, he was the player we went to in the clutch almost every single game, but he was very popular too.”
Black’s point guard, though, was not part of any of his championship teams. Still, it is an understandable choice — and merits no explanations — for LA Tenorio.
Black had the opportunity to coach the floor general when he took over Ateneo’s coaching reins in 2005.
“I’ve had a lot of good point guards in Ateneo when I was coaching there. But my best point guard was LA Tenorio,” he said. “He is still by far the best outlet passer I’ve ever had as a player.
“Even though I didn’t win any championships with LA, he basically carried our team.”
And as he had completed the five, Black added two-time UAAP MVP Kiefer Ravena to his fantasy team.
Coming out of the Blue Eaglets, Ravena’s first two years with the seniors’ team resulted to two titles. Black said that they wouldn’t have won those crowns if it wasn’t for the second-generation star.
“Let me not forget one guy. Kiefer Ravena. We got Kiefer somewhere down the line because he was part of the last two championship teams,” recalled Black, who left Ateneo in 2013.
“I don’t want to forget him, too, because I don’t think we would’ve won those last two championships without him,” the multi-decorated mentor added.
“So I don’t wanna forget Kiefer.”