MANILA, Philippines – The spotlight on Ateneo guard Kiefer Ravena will be even brighter this year as he is expected to be the undisputed leader of the Blue Eagles, who are trying to return to the Final Four after failing to make the semi-finals in the previous season.
Ravena famously suffered an injury before the start of the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball tournament, and it was just the beginning of a difficult campaign for the Blue Eagles that ended with a 7-7 record – one game out of the Final Four.
"Tapos na 'yun," Ravena said of last season's campaign. "Hindi kami magmo-move forward if we keep on thinking about what happened last year."
"Gagawin na lang naming motivation 'yun," he added. "It was very painful not going to the Final Four, so that’s what we're going to do."
Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol makes no secret that he is expecting a lot from Ravena, who is now the most experienced player among the Blue Eagles.
"Importante 'yung leadership niya by example, 'yung encouragement niya sa mga bago (na players)," said Perasol. "Ang laki kasi ng gagawin niya… wala naman kaming ibang aasahan sa opensa kundi siya."
Perasol believes his star guard is "definitely" up to the task, and that the experience that he had in the previous season can only help him in this year’s campaign.
"I think that he learned a lot from last year, para bang ang nangyari doon, he stepped back a little bit and he was able to see and figure out what needs to be done," said Perasol.
"But what he needs to realize – and I think he knows this already – is that he can't do it by himself. He needs the support of his teammates, he needs his teammates to deliver also, and for everybody else to do their own share," added the coach.
Ravena, for his part, said he is ready to be the leader. "I don't lead by talking, I lead by example. I go hard every practice and I push them, try to get the best out of them as soon as possible, kasi you want results immediately," he said.
It seems that Ravena is also more driven to lead his team this year after falling short last season. While it is true that they are no longer the defending champions, Ravena insists the Blue Eagles are still capable of competing at a very high level.
“Ang tingin ko sa amin, lason kami. Hindi mo alam kung sino ang tatalo sa ’yo talaga,” he said. “Yun yung advantage namin, with a lot of players, with new players coming in, especially the rookies.”
“Number 2 (in pre-season polls) may be too high, pero, I mean sa isip ko, kami ang number one pa rin. That’s my mental approach towards it,” he added.
Ravena explained his mentality, saying: "In the end, kahit defending champions ang La Salle, kahit malakas ang UE, I don’t want to have that attitude that we're underdogs, even though in reality, we are. I don't want to have that loser’s mentality na hindi kami malakas."
Perasol believes that with the way Ravena is expected to play this season, it is not out of the question for him to be among the top contenders for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
"Oo, I think kayang-kaya niya 'yun," Perasol said. "But I think hindi naman importante sa kanya 'yun."
"I'm very optimistic that personally, he's going to have a better year than last year, but he needs to convert that into team wins," he added.
Ravena won the Rookie of the Year award in Season 74 and made the Mythical Five in the same season.