After failed six-peat bid, what's next for Ateneo?
MANILA – For the first time in fourteen years, the Ateneo Blue Eagles will not be part of the Final Four of the UAAP men's basketball tournament.
The Blue Eagles, winners of five straight UAAP titles, bowed to the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers, 74-82, in their do-or-die game for the last spot in the semi-finals yesterday at the Araneta Coliseum.
After the heartbreaking loss – which saw the Blue Eagles fall short after twice rallying from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter – what’s next for Ateneo?
For assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, who called the shots in place of suspended head coach Bo Perasol, the focus now shifts to the players’ academic responsibilities.
“Life has to go on. Our players who are graduating, they still have to study. The graduating players have to finish, they have to graduate,” said Arespacochaga.
Ateneo will lose seniors Ryan Buenafe, Juami Tiongson, Frank Golla and JP Erram to graduation.
“Our next goal is to make sure that these guys finish and graduate,” said Arespacochaga. “That’s the more immediate plan for our school.”
He is optimistic that the four seniors can also see action in the PBA D-League, but hopefully not at the expense of their academics.
“We’re hoping that they get a chance to play in the D-League, but at the same time, we’re hoping that it doesn’t interfere with their studies,” Arespacochaga said.
As for the younger players, Arespacochaga said they will now turn their attention to the post-UAAP tournaments that the Blue Eagles usually participate in.
“All of our other young guys, they have a next tournament to look forward to,” he said. “Right now, we’re gonna rest, and then we’re gonna prepare for exams and studies. Then, the Unigames is up next for us. Our undergrads will be playing there.”
After the Unigames, the Blue Eagles will next participate in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).
“But the immediate one is the Unigames, and we join that league every year. Our undergrads will play there, and hopefully, those we project that will have a good chance of making the team next year from our Team B,” Arespacochaga said.
Though obviously disappointed at their failure to extend their championship run, Arespacochaga said the team will accept their fate.
“Basketball, it’s like life. Sometimes, you end up on top, and sometimes, you end up at the bottom. The most important thing is you don’t let the bad times define who you are,” he said. “You improve, and you learn from it.”
“Life goes on. We are humble enough to be gracious for our past victories. We are humble enough, also, to accept this loss,” he added.
Arespacochaga is also looking forward to seeing the top four teams in the UAAP contend for the crown.
“The UAAP will go on. We have a very tough Final Four cast, and any team there can win the championship,” he said. “There might be an upset or two.”
The UAAP Final Four will start this weekend, with the Far Eastern University Tamaraws and the De La Salle Green Archers battling in a playoff for the twice-to-beat advantage on Saturday. The top-seeded National University Bulldogs will then take on UST on Sunday.