|Ateneo forward Nico Salva is named Most Valuable Player of the UAAP Season 75 Finals. Salva averaged 19 points per game to lead the Blue Eagles past the UST Growling Tigers. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – In a perfect ending to a remarkable UAAP career, Ateneo forward Nico Salva was once again named Finals Most Valuable Player after saving his best efforts for the biggest stage and helping the Blue Eagles claim a historic fifth straight championship.
It was Salva who promised the Ateneo community that they will win a “five-peat.” Last October 8, 2011, as they celebrated their fourth straight title with a bonfire, Salva took the microphone and, without being prompted, promised that "there's gonna be another bonfire next year."
Salva made sure that he would keep his promise. The versatile scorer averaged 19 points per game in the Season 75 Finals, which saw the Blue Eagles defeat the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers in two games.
He etched his name into the record books with a stunning 30-point performance in Game 1, as he became only the third player since 2001 to score 30 or more points in a Finals game.
In the process, Salva became one of the few players in UAAP history to have won five championships in all of their five playing years. Two of the others include teammates, Justin Chua and Tonino Gonzaga.
"I think this one is the sweetest," said Salva, who also becomes the first player to win back-to-back Finals MVP trophies. "There's nothing like leaving your school with a championship and with a win."
Salva admitted that he "never imagined to get five championships in five years."
A former San Beda Red Cub, Salva was part of Ateneo's celebrated 2008 recruiting class which included Chua, Gonzaga as well as Ryan Buenafe. In his rookie year, he came off the bench to play spot minutes, but his role in the team grew in his second season.
By his third year in the league, Salva was being recognized as one of the better forwards in the UAAP. But it was during Game 1 of last season's Finals that Salva truly announced his presence: he scored a then career-high 24 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the line on his way to winning the Finals MVP.
Salva credited Ateneo head coach Norman Black not only for guiding them to five straight titles but also for creating a strong basketball program for the school.
"It's just the foundation that Coach Norman said. They were able to build, and they were able to look ahead and plan for the future," he said.
"They recruited very well, and they got players who are willing to sacrifice and are very coachable," Salva added.
Salva is now ready to move on to the next phase of his basketball career, which starts when he suits up for NLEX in the PBA Development League.
"Hopefully, I'll get a week or two off," he said. "I'll be playing for NLEX, and I'll be part of the Gilas cadet pool also. Then hopefully, I'll probably join the (PBA) draft in August."
As for a sixth straight title for Ateneo, Salva said the pressure is now on the returning players.
"Graduating na ako, so I won't be there next year. Bahala na sila Kiefer (Ravena)," he said.