MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles may be a young squad, and one of the smaller teams in the UAAP this season, but they will play some fast, exciting basketball, according to assistant coach Yuri Escueta.
Ateneo does not have the same ceiling that they did in seasons past, when centers like Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Greg Slaughter patrolled the paint for the Blue Eagles. They will thus have to rely on their speed and athleticism on the perimeter, Escueta said.
"You can expect that we'll play faster, kasi compared to the other teams, we're smaller, and our best players are (perimeter players like) Kiefer (Ravena) and (Chris) Newsome," he said. "So we'll try to take advantage of it."
"So magiging exciting ang Ateneo basketball this year. Takbuhan, in short," he added.
But Escueta also acknowledged that it will be a rebuilding year for the Blue Eagles, who are fielding a young team with rookies like Thirdy Ravena and Arvin Tolentino being given big roles right from the get-go.
"Magiging challenge sa amin 'yun, pero nasa rebuilding phase naman kami ngayon," Escueta said. "Magiging challenge sa amin, kasi s'yempre, iba 'yung laro sa UAAP compared sa high school."
"But in terms of skill level and competing, wala namang doubt sa rookies namin. And nandiyan pa rin 'yung veterans namin, and very reliable naman sila Kiefer," he added.
Escueta revealed that Ravena is in the best shape of his collegiate career, and the former Rookie of the Year is expected to redeem himself after a subpar campaign in Season 76.
The Blue Eagles did not participate in any pre-season tournaments, with Escueta explaining that they first focused on building their team and jelling together.
Because of this, they have gained a reputation as one of the "mystery teams" in the upcoming season, although Escueta insisted that there is truly nothing mysterious about the Blue Eagles.
"Hindi ko alam kung mystery kami, kasi alam naman ng lahat ng tao na wala kaming mga malalaki (na players)," he said.
The Blue Eagles did participate in a short tournament in Korea last week, where they proved to be competitive against bigger college teams from the United States, Korea, and Australia, Escueta reported.