Ateneo de Manila University head coach Tab Baldwin is laser-focused on his team’s UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament opener against National University this Saturday, and he does not want to tempt fate by indulging everyone with predictions of how the competition will pan out.
The four-time UAAP gold medalist refused to name any tournament favorite or provide an outlook as to which schools will finish at the top or bottom of the league come December when asked by members of the media during the pre-tournament press conference.
“The only team I’m worried about is NU,” said the former New Zealand mentor.
“It’s our opening game. We all know how tough NU is going to be. I expect that we’re going to get the brunt of that on Saturday, so we have to be ready for that.”
Baldwin has a reputation in the country for always speaking his mind.
“I think that these sorts of speculative questions are great for the media but not so good for the coaches up here. It puts us on the spot to do something none of us want to do. We don’t want to be disrespectful to one another,” said Baldwin.
“There will be surprises as there are every year. I think probably a lot of people were surprised Adamson got into the Final Four last year, but by the end of the season, nobody was surprised. They were that good, and you will think that they were that good,” he continued. “Whether people expected that in the beginning of the season or not, that’s exactly why we play the season. That’s why I just prefer to pass on this type of question because I’m not going to disrespect any of these coaches up here and the work that they do and the players out there.
“We go to the court to sort it out. We’re all pretty big guys and ladies over here. We’re all fighters too. Come those Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, we put on that fighting hat and that’s what we do. Until then, we can be very respectful, complementary, and nice guys and nice women, but come competing time, we change, and we should. We should for the fans, the alumni, the media, for our players, for the benefit of everybody who cares about the game. It’s our responsibility to fight like that for our universities, and this is what everybody will do, so let’s have some fun.”
Ateneo is one of the league’s perennial contenders for the championship every season.
The Blue Eagles are coming into the season as defending champions, and the pressure to retain the crown is strong despite losing the likes of Forthsky Padrigao, Ildefonso, Angelo Kouame, and BJ Andrade in the off-season.
While it may be easy to count this batch of Blue Eagles out, no one will be naive to do so as long as Baldwin is at the helm.
As the former Gilas head coach refused to state any predictions, it is only right that his team will take it one game and training session at a time.
“This is a team that will probably be characterized more by growth than by experience. They’re a team that I hope is a high-quality basketball team by the second round and is able to compete with the higher levels of the league,” said Baldwin.
“We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to develop. We’ve got a lot of young players, and that’s a really exciting thing for the players and the alumni, but not so much for the coaches. We’ll get there. There’s a lot of hard work going in. There’s a lot more to do.”