With Ateneo de Manila University’s defeat to the University of the Philippines in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Blue Eagles will not be a part of the Finals for the first time since 2015.
This is also the first time in Tab Baldwin’s UAAP coaching career that his team failed to make the championship round.
Despite all the challenging facts mentioned above that may be hard to accept, Baldwin knew it was bound to happen.
Since Season 79, the Blue Eagles made six straight Finals appearances with key players ranging from Thirdy Ravena, Nieto twins Mike and Matt, and Adrian Wong to Tyler Tio, Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel, and Ange Kouame.
Then came this season, where Ateneo’s lineup was composed of nine rookies or transferees.
“A lot of people will look at this season and will say it’s a season of failure, it’s a season of indifference. But you know, I just like to look at the glass being half-full and I’d like to think that this season is a bridge for us and we’ve just come out of an amazing era of Blue Eagle basketball,” said Baldwin after their 57-46 loss to UP on Saturday.
“It’s very difficult to continue that just uninterrupted.
“There were so many disruptions in our program, the pandemic and players leaving before their eligibility was finished and it impacted our recruiting and we had to contend with all of that and I think the conspiracy of circumstances sort of caught up with us this year,” continued the decorated coach after absorbing that stinging loss in front of 14,505 fans at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
However, Baldwin hopes that this season, which he described as a “rollercoaster,” would serve as a link that brings Ateneo basketball back to its dominant era in the coming season.
“We’re looking at this year now as a bridge to what we hope would be a new era of success for Blue Eagle basketball.
“So we’re gonna be optimistic, we’re gonna learn our lessons, we’re gonna continue to develop and grow and I think the team you saw this year would be almost intact when the team takes the floor next year so this could be a very very valuable season for the Blue Eagles and our future,” said Baldwin as one of the key recruits of Ateneo for Season 87 is Ayodeji Balogun — CEU’s former big man.
He also praised the work ethic of his team despite missing the podium.
Ateneo did not have Raffy Celis and Andrew Bongo in their Final Four clash with the Fighting Maroons due to illness, while also missing Gab Gomez for the majority of the second half of this season due to a hand injury.
“These guys showed a lot of heart, showed a lot of heart today, they stood toe-to-toe with what I think as an outstanding basketball team and gave ourselves chances,” said Baldwin, who led the Blue Eagles to four championships.
“I don’t think I can ask much more with this team than what they accomplished this year.”
Moments after the Blue Eagles’ thanksgiving mass at the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo campus, Baldwin exclaimed one brave statement.
“Let’s bring our minds, our hearts, and souls together; and let’s bring that championship back to where it belongs.”