UAAP77: Waiting game for Ateneo's backcourt of the future

By Camille B. Naredo,

Posted at Jun 25 2014 05:25 PM | Updated as of Jun 28 2014 05:38 AM

The Ateneo Blue Eagles take a brief break from practice Tuesday night at the Moro Lorenzo Gym. Photo by Camille B. Naredo,

MANILA - The noise inside the Moro Lorenzo Gym in the Ateneo de Manila University is unsettling at first. The soft thump of the ball against the court is multiplied when numerous balls are hitting the floor at the same time, and every so often a shrill whistle breaks the rhythm. Above all these sounds is the cacophony of voices - coaches shouting instructions, players yelling to teammates, and the teammates yelling back.

The Blue Eagles' practice on Tuesday night hits a brief lull when the coaches tell the players to huddle. The noise grows dimmer, but doesn't completely disappear -- at one end of the court, two of Ateneo's prized recruits continue to train, part of the team yet as of the moment, separate.

Jerie Pingoy, formerly of the Far Eastern University Baby Tamaraws, and Hubert Cani, formerly of the National University Bullpups, take turns driving to the basket, sometimes trying to make their shots as fancy as possible. Sometimes they stop to exchange a few words, but mostly they focus on the basket.

It is possible -- indeed nearly certain -- that both Pingoy and Cani will not see action at all for the Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament.

Much has been written of Pingoy, a high-scoring guard who led the Baby Tams to a juniors title in Season 75, his last season in FEU -- incidentally, against Cani's Bullpups. He created a stir when it became known that he was transferring to Ateneo for college, and later, he became one of the most high-profile student-athletes to be affected by the UAAP's infamous new residency rule.

Pingoy has not played UAAP basketball for a year. "Gustong-gusto ko ng maglaro," he says, and there's a bit of frustration in his voice, but also a tone of resignation, as if these are words that he has uttered many times before.

The year after Pingoy graduated, Cani led the Bullpups to the UAAP juniors title. Like Pingoy, he took his talents to Katipunan and decided to play for the Blue Eagles. And like Pingoy, he too was affected by the residency rule that will force him to sit out for two years -- unless changes are made.

"Siguro, unfair," Cani says of the residency rule. "Kasi alam mo 'yun, nagawa na naman namin lahat noong high school. Parang nasayang lang 'yun kasi kung makakapaglaro sana ako ngayon, mas okay sana 'yun. Mas okay talaga kung makakalaro ako ngayon, kaso wala talaga."

Cani remains hopeful that he can play this season - or at least, limit his residency requirement to only one year. He is keeping his faith in Sen. Pia Cayetano, who authored Senate Bill No. 2226, or the "Student-Athletes Protection Act," which regulates residency rules for athletes.

Earlier this month, the Senate approved the bill on its third and final reading. 

"Umaasa talaga kami doon," Cani says of Cayetano's bill. "Malaking bagay 'yung kay Senator Pia, malaking tulong 'yun sa amin."

The 18-year-old Cani had been initially optimistic that he will be able to play this season. He and his family believed that they had a gentleman's agreement with National University, that the school will give him his release papers that will allow him to immediately suit up in Season 77.

Things did not work out their way, however. Diplomatically, Cani would only say that there was a misunderstanding with the school, and now he is stuck in the same boat as Pingoy.

"Akala ko… naniwala kami na ano, na usapang lalaki," recalls Cani. "Usapang lalaki. Ganoon talaga 'yung agreement. Ang kausap ni Mommy at ni Daddy, sila Sir Junel Baculi at sila Sir Nilo Ocampo. 'Yun talaga 'yung kausap namin. Talagang okay na, um-okay na sila doon sa agreement na bibigyan nila ako ng release."

"Tapos itong upcoming season, biglang ayaw na. Ewan ko kung anong nangyari," he adds.

Still part of the team

Ateneo point guards Hubert Cani (L) and Jerie Pingoy (R) practice inside the Moro Lorenzo Gym. Photo by Camille B. Naredo,

Pingoy and Cani are still part of the Blue Eagles. Both players joined the team when they trained in Las Vegas this summer, as well as in Japan when they played in a pocket tournament. As recently as two weeks ago, they still trained along with the players who are sure to play in Season 77.

But Coach Bo Perasol has decided that it was time for Pingoy and Cani to stop practicing with the rest of the team.

"Probably two weeks ago, hinayaan ko sila mag-stop, kasi I too, will be expecting them to play, but then they probably won't," explains Perasol, who will be entering his second year as head coach of the Blue Eagles. "Their teammates are expecting that they will be in the rotation, eh paano kung hindi?"

"So I decided that I better take them off."

Perasol refuses to lose hope that either one of Pingoy and Cani can still be included in the Ateneo line-up, which as of now contains only one true point guard -- Nico Elorde. It is likely that players such as star guard Kiefer Ravena and even forward Chris Newsome may wind up having to take on some of the playmaking duties, says Perasol.

"I'm still hoping," the coach says. "I'm still hoping that two of them – or probably just one – isa sa kanila, can play. Both of them or even one of them, can be a very big help for the team. Malaking bagay talaga."

Still, even though they are still members of the team, Pingoy and Cani are excluded in some of the activities - not just in practices. Last week, the Blue Eagles went to ABS-CBN for a photoshoot, and because the two young point guards were not in the line-up, they were not included in the photoshoot and the commercial that the team shot for ABS-CBN Sports.

"Inggit na inggit ako," admits Cani.

Waiting patiently

The Ateneo Blue Eagles take a brief break from practice Tuesday night at the Moro Lorenzo Gym. Photo by Camille B. Naredo,

For now, there is not much that either player can do but wait their turn, keep honing their skills, stay in shape, and yes, hope for the best. The UAAP recently announced that it is considering a zero residency rule, and if Cayetano's bill passes into law, the league will have no choice but to let players like Pingoy and Cani - and others affected by the rule - play for their respective teams.

Pingoy is already thinking of the time when both he and Cani will both be on the court for the Blue Eagles, and he believes they will make for a great backcourt combination.

"Pinagsasabay na kami minsan," says Pingoy, who thinks they can alternate point guard duties. The former Baby Tam also believes he can play shooting guard, while Cani can take over the point.

Either way, Pingoy says there will be no problem regarding their chemistry even though they technically play the same position.

"Tropa ko 'yan," Pingoy says of the younger Cani, who smiles in agreement.

It will be interesting to see how they play together; the last time Cani and Pingoy were on the same court, the Baby Tams were playing the Bullpups in an epic, thrilling triple-overtime game to decide the UAAP Season 75 juniors championship. Pingoy made the game-winning assist and the Baby Tams took home the title. Both players still have clear memories of the game, and the conversation soon devolves into trash talk about each other's high school careers.

The one thing that both players are sure of is that they are committed to Ateneo, and have no regrets even if they are losing a couple of years in their basketball careers.

Last February, Pingoy visited his old stomping grounds at FEU-Diliman, leading some to think that he was thinking of returning. The player quickly squashed that thought, however, saying at the time: "Ateneo talaga ako. I choose Ateneo talaga."

Cani, too, says he has no regrets about going to Ateneo. "No regrets, kasi bata pa lang ako, dream ko na talaga mag-Ateneo," he said. "So wala talagang (regrets), kasi andito na ako ngayon."

"Kung ano ma 'yung consequences na darating, if-face ko na lang 'yun," he says.