|Ateneo head coach Norman Black holds up a banner reading "The Drive for 5 Ends Here." Black steered the Blue Eagles to their fifth straight UAAP championship past the UST Growling Tigers in the Season 75 Finals. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – Multi-titled head coach Norman Black officially said goodbye to the Ateneo community and the Blue Eagles last Saturday, as they were celebrating their fifth straight UAAP men's basketball championship with a traditional bonfire.
Next year, when the UAAP’s 76th season starts, the Blue Eagles will take the court without Black pacing at the sidelines for the first time in eight years.
Black has led the Blue Eagles to five straight championships – the most in the UAAP's Final Four era, and the most since Baby Dalupan's University of the East Red Warriors won seven straight in the late 1960s.
But more than the championships he won, the records he set and the history he helped create, Black is most proud of leaving behind a basketball program than can thrive even without him at the helm.
"What I would like to be remembered for, as the coach of Ateneo, is basically leaving a foundation for a successful program," Black said shortly after the Blue Eagles defeated the UST Growling Tigers in the UAAP Season 75 Finals.
"When I first came in, obviously I inherited the players, and they were good players," he explained. "But what we did in the next few years after that, is we went out to the countryside and we started to recruit."
"We tried to bring in the best players that we can bring in, to play for the Ateneo team. And we also had to bring in players who actually wanted to study," Black added.
"That's what I would like to be remembered for – the fact that we went to build a foundation, and we were able to build a foundation for the Ateneo program."
Team manager Paolo Trillo said the Blue Eagles’ fifth straight title was a testament to how the school’s basketball program has been built.
"It's not something that was just done overnight. It was planned well and a lot of hard work was put into it," he said.
Black's basketball program in the Ateneo is year-round: Immediately after the UAAP season, they are set to participate in the University Games in Bacolod.
"We work the entire year, and we push our players a lot. We ask a lot of them and they came up big for us, they came up big for myself, they came up big for the community and for the school," he said.
Although the program demands a lot from the players and even the coaches, Black noted that they were able to build it in such a way that they were able "to bring in good players over the years, and it has become very, very successful."
"I think that because it has a strong foundation, even when I leave, it will continue to be strong," Black stressed.
During the bonfire, Black asked the Ateneo community to "continue to support the team," even as he and several key players are leaving the Blue Eagles.
Aside from Black, the Blue Eagles will be losing big man Greg Slaughter, two-time Finals MVP Nico Salva, key reserve Justin Chua and defensive stalwarts Oping Sumalinog and Tonino Gonzaga.
"Next year, they’re probably gonna be a bit of a problem because some of the key players are leaving, but it will be up to the next coach to go out there and start recruiting again, because the foundation has been laid down especially as far as the network for the recruitment is concerned," Black said.
So far, the Blue Eagles still don’t have a new coach. Former PBA head coach Bo Perasol was reported to have signed a contract with the Blue Eagles, but he is currently in limbo following the falling out between the university and its top patron, Manny V. Pangilinan.
Trillo said there is "nothing definite" about the status of Ateneo's coaching search.
"We'll have a time to discuss what to do and how to move forward with this," he said. -- With a report from Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News