For a basketball program like the Ateneo de Manila University’s, mediocrity is unacceptable. After the Blue Eagles’ run of five straight UAAP Men’s Basketball championships ended unceremoniously last year, and with the team not even qualifying for the Final Four, heads were expected to roll. However, instead of firing coaches or pointing fingers, the school’s braintrust did what any successful program does: it began rebuilding.
On the Sunday of March 9, 2014 at the Ynares Center in Pasig, several components of that rebuilding process were on display in, of all things, an all-star game. The SEAOil National Basketball Training Center High School All-Star Game featured the 30 best fourth year high school players from around the Philippines. Divided into “SEAOil Extreme Dark” and “SEAOil Mako Light” squads, it was an opportunity for these kids to show off their wares, particularly those who had yet to decide where they were planning on studying and playing in the next UAAP season.
In an exhibition game with few ramifications, perhaps the most talked about talents were on the same SEAOil Extreme Dark team, namely former San Beda Red Cub Arvin Tolentino and former Ateneo Blue Eaglet Thirdy Ravena. The pair are no strangers to one another as they previously joined forces (together with La Salle Greenhills’ Prince Rivero) in the FIBA-Asia Under-18 3-on-3 tournament.
From red to blue
Tolentino, the 6-5 forward/center who won the Finals MVP as the Red Cubs won a fifth straight NCAA Juniors title, was experimenting with shooting from the outside. “Actually kahapon tumira talaga ako ng more than 200 shots kaya lang dito sa game na ‘to, medyo minalas,” he says with a grin. Still finishing with eight points, Tolentino and his family know that better things are ahead of him.
Arvin is keenly aware of the more physical play that college basketball brings. “Last year pa lang tinitingnan ko na kung paano sa college eh,” he notes. “Siguro ready na ready na ako. Kakayanin natin.”
Carrying on the legacy
Standing near Tolentino is another heavily-recruited player in Ravena. Already bearing the burden of carrying on the names of former University of the East star cager Bong Ravena and former University of the East volleybelle Mozzy Ravena as parents, Thirdy now follows the footsteps of his superstar brother Kiefer.
Though he failed to win the UAAP Juniors title in his last playing season for the Blue Eaglets, Ferdinand “Thirdy” Ravena III still snagged the regular season MVP plum for averages of 18.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.0 steals while shooting 47.1% from the field. At 6-2, Thirdy is an ideal wing player who can handle the ball but has also shown he can thrive in the paint.
There was speculation that Thirdy would play elsewhere for college and form the Ravena version of the sibling rivalry that Jeric Teng of UST and Jeron Teng of La Salle showcased in the Season 76 UAAP Finals. “Di ko naman po sinasabing wala akong matututunan sa ibang schools,” Thirdy explains regarding his decision to stay in Katipunan Avenue, “but I feel like I belong in Ateneo along with my brother.”
The Teng Brothers famously joined forces in torching high school competition at Xavier School before they went their separate ways. Going the reverse route, this coming UAAP Season 77 will mark the first time that the Ravena Brothers will ever be teammates. “Not even once, never kaming naging teammates in an official game,” Thirdy excitedly shares. “That’s why I’m really looking forward to playing with him during the season and we’ll try to develop each other’s game along with our teammates.”
Arvin and Thirdy join fellow rookies John Apacible and Clark Doliguez of Hope Christian High School and Isaac Go of Xavier School in hopes of making it to the main roster of Ateneo for the coming season. Already attending practices manned by Blue Eagle mentor Bo Perasol, neither can hide their excitement at the prospect of playing before packed coliseums before the Blue and White faithful.
“’Yung crowd sa UAAP kakaiba talaga,” Thirdy says. “Hopefully I won’t crack under pressure kasi sa UAAP, the crowd is a really big factor. So I’ll just try to shut out muna yung crowd.” For his part, Arvin states, “Isa yan sa kina-e-excite ko tungkol sa paglaro sa Ateneo eh. Yung crowd. Sana matuwa sila sa akin.”
With guys like new National University Bulldog Meds Salim and new San Beda Red Lion Ranbill Tongco carrying the scoring for SEAOIl Mako Light, a balanced attack is what SEAOil Extreme Dark used to win this all-star game, 123-94. Good games were on display from new UST Growling Tiger Renzo Subido and new Far Eastern University Tamaraw Richard Escoto, but one player shone brightest among them.
With 11 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal, and a block, Thirdy’s whole arsenal was on display for all to see. “What I really wanted was to see where my game is at kasi it’s not every day that you get to play against the other top high school players from around the Philippines,” Thirdy notes as he won the games MVP honors. “So I really grabbed every opportunity that I got now. Tinodo ko, binigay ko lahat both on offense and on defense.”
A new challenge
“What I’ll do for the team is to provide energy and play defense,” Thirdy answers when asked what he will provide for the rebooting Blue Eagles. “I’ll do what ever the coach tells me to do. Providing screens, calling plays, whatever the team needs from me.” Arvin then says of Coach Bo’s system, “Di naman ako masyadong nahihirapan. Flexible naman ako sa anumang challenge na mapunta sa akin.”
These two young men, with bright futures ahead of them, are undoubtedly the building blocks that the Ateneo Blue Eagles plan on using as a foundation in their quest for lost glory. The question now is, can they live up to the potential that made them superstars in high school?