MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles, considered a "mystery team' by other UAAP coaches, will finally be unveiled today as they collide with a young Adamson squad in their first game of the Season 77 tournament Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles, which saw their five-year domination of the UAAP end last season, did not join any pre-season tournaments and were absent even during the press conference at the start of the season as they were playing in Korea.
"Hindi naman namin sinadya na maging mystery team kami," said assistant coach Yuri Escueta, who represented the Blue Eagles in the press conference. "Ayaw lang namin na kararating lang ng rookies, tapos sasabak agad kami. Wala naman kaming makukuha doon."
Escueta did assert that there was nothing mysterious about the Ateneo squad.
"Hindi ko alam kung bakit mystery kami. Alam naman ng lahat ng tao na wala kaming mga malalaki (na players)," he said.
The Blue Eagles, led by former Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena, will go up against a young Soaring Falcons squad that will have 11 rookies in their line-up.
New head coach Kenneth Duremdes admitted that not much should be expected of his young squad, as they are in a rebuilding mode and only hope to gain experience and learn lessons this season.
Yet he is also optimistic that they can match up well with the Blue Eagles.
"I think we can match with them, kasi wala naman silang import," said Duremdes. "Ang problema namin sa ibang teams is we don't have an import. We don't have the size."
"Marami ding bagong players ang Ateneo, so I think we can match up with them," he added.
Duremdes will have to rely on veterans Ryan Monteclaro, Don Trollano and Jansen Rios, as star guard Jericho Cruz opted to forego his final playing year and instead join the PBA Draft this year.
Game time is at 2 p.m.
In the second game of the double-header, last season's losing finalists, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers will take on the new-look National University Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs will no longer have last season's stars Bobby Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe, but will now have two foreign reinforcements in their line-up with Henri Betayene and Alfred Aroga.
"Obviously, last season, ang identity namin was really focused on Ray Parks. Everything revolved around Ray. But now, the way I see it, we have to rely on everybody, so it's going to have to be a collective effort, whether on offense or defense," NU coach Eric Altamirano said of his team.
UST lost a key cog in Jeric Teng but still retained part of the core that has made it to two straight UAAP Finals, including Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, and Karim Abdul. They also welcomed back swingman Louie Vigil into the fold.
"Hopefully, si Vigil, maging consistent," said new UST coach Bong dela Cruz. "Yun ang hinihingi namin sa kanya, 'yung consistency. On and off kasi siya kapag naglalaro, so ang hinihingi ko sa kanya ay consistency."
Game time is at 4 p.m.