Ateneo expects tough season, but Final 4 'doable'
MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol believes the Blue Eagles can make it to the Final Four of the UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament after they missed the semi-finals last year.
After winning five consecutive UAAP titles, Ateneo came up one game short of the Final Four in Season 76, which was Perasol’s first year at the helm. It was a difficult season all around for the Blue Eagles, with key players, including star guard Kiefer Ravena, missing some games due to injuries.
"We're not trying to feel bitterness (from last season)," Perasol said in an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com. "Ang gusto naming maramdaman is – although it's also going to be a struggle this coming season – at least alam na namin 'yung haharapin namin."
"I know we are going to be better, in a sense that we learned our lessons (from last year)," he added. "Ang nasa isip ko is, we have to be in the Final Four. Doable 'yun sa amin, very doable."
If they make it to the Final Four, then anything can happen, the coach said. "But we need to put ourselves in the position that we'll play there."
Perasol believes the strong recruiting class that Ateneo acquired – which includes former San Beda Red Cub Arvin Tolentino and former Ateneo Blue Eaglet Thirdy Ravena – has led some to believe that they can immediately return to title contention.
But the coach is quick to temper expectations of his rookies, noting that for all their talent, they are still 18-year-olds who have yet to experience UAAP collegiate basketball.
"Kahit sabihin mo na magagaling 'yan noong high school, bata pa rin sila," he said. "Mga 18 (year olds) pa rin sila, as against sa mga 23 (year olds) na nauna sa kanila."
"At saka malaking bagay 'yung bago pa lang sila na magkakasama eh," Perasol added, noting that the team has only been together for some three months.
Moreover, Ateneo will most likely be without the services of highly touted point guards Hubert Cani and Jerie Pingoy, both of whom are still serving their residency periods.
"Malaking bagay 'yung kawalan nilang dalawa," said Perasol. "So we really have to adjust, and we're going to take it as a challenge, but I know we would be prepared for that."
The leadership role has been thrust upon Ravena and athletic wingman Chris Newsome, and Perasol is hoping that his rookies – and not only the younger Ravena and Tolentino, but also players like Clint Doliguez and John Apacible – can make an immediate impact.
"I need them to make an impact, kasi wala na namang iba," he said. "Graduate na sila Frank (Golla), 'yung mga point guards namin, and si Ryan Buenafe na nags-score para sa amin."
"But it's really going to take time, kasi puro scorer sila, puro mga alpha male sila, and ball dominant," Perasol said of his rookies. "They need to realize what the task at hand is, and that it's going to be more difficult."