Last week, former Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagle Thirdy Ravena announced that he signed with San-en NeoPhoneix, a basketball team based in Shizuoka, Japan.
The BLeague’s first ever Filipino import, made possible through the league’s Asian Player Quota initiative, which was introduced last November. In an online press conference, San-en NeoPhoenix CEO Kenjiro Hongo said that he expects Raven—who Hongo describes as the “best player in this country”—to bring in some Filipino fans for the league’s upcoming season. The squad is based in the Mikawa and Hamamatsu area, just two hours away from Tokyo, where there are around 8,000 working Filipinos.
Ravena also cannot wait to get the ball rolling so to speak, expressing how excited he is because the league attracts a lot of big-name imports outside the NBA. Japan’s BLeague’s is bringing in other Asian players in the hopes of improving the games of their locals and spur growth to match the levels of neighboring basketball powerhouses. Ravena will be that initial spark for the initiative.
How he got there
Before he caught the eye of scouts and teams overseas, Ravena of course had built a career for himself in the country’s most popular collegiate league, the UAAP. But it didn’t start out that way; in the beginning, he was playing under the shadow of his older brother Kiefer, who has been reaping accolades in the sport since they were little. He finally showed glimpses of greatness in his final year in high school, winning the UAAP Juniors Season MVP award in Season 76, when he put in averages of 18.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, leading his team to a second-place finish.
After a whirlwind first two years in college, both in athletics and academics, Ravena finally started to come out of his own shell by UAAP Season 79. He would become a UAAP Mythical Five awardee the succeeding two seasons, even finishing runner-up to then back-to-back league MVP Ben Mbala.
But it was Ravena’s final three years in collegiate basketball where he his game would reach the stratosphere. Ravena is the only player in UAAP basketball history to win the Finals MVP plum three consecutive times, leading the Blue Eagles to a three-peat conquest, the last being a perfect 16-0 season.
“It was after (his final) season when my decision to play abroad started gaining traction. I wanted to make sure we ended it all on a good note first before thinking of anything else,” shares the 23-year-old cager.
There was quite a number of factors that made him and his family choose Japan, says Ravena. “It’s a beautiful country with a rich history and culture. It’s also quite close to home kaya mas madali for my family to visit me from time to time. And we chose this team because it’s a great organization and I want to help bring the club back to greatness,” he explains. San-en NeoPhoenix just won five out of 41 games in the previous season that was cut short due to COVID-19.
Ravena recently cleaned up his IG account, leaving only a few posts including this announcement.
He admits that this was one of the toughest decisions of his life, as he feels a mixture of happiness, sadness, anxiety, and excitement. But his basketball energy is off the charts, he says, despite the lockdown and he cannot wait to represent everyone who has been a part of his journey, from his family, friends, teammates, and country.
Ravena is just waiting for his documents to get fixed, but as soon as the papers are signed and finalized he is ready to fly out. He’s hopeful that happens within the month of July.
“Loneliness siguro will be the ultimate challenge, in terms of the mental aspect,” Ravena shares. “It’s the first time I’m going to live by myself and malayo pa sa family ko, so that’s another hurdle I have to overcome.”
“But when it comes to the competition, I expect nothing but the best—which any player seeing action in a professional league should always do.” But unlike other Filipino and foreign players all over the world, Ravena is going to begin his pro playing career in the middle of a pandemic. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, but I have full trust in the league and the teams that they’re doing their best to take precautionary measures,” he adds.
Bong and Mozzy Ravena’s middle child can’t help but laugh when asked if his huge following and status here played a part in the Japanese ball club’s decision to hire him. He believes he has shown more than enough the past couple of seasons for them to consider the move. “Maybe it played a part, but ultimately I think I showed everyone what I am capable of during my final UAAP years and my last Gilas Pilipinas stint,” he says.
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Just like his first UAAP season in high school and his comeback in the seniors division after a year of hiatus, Ravena is ready to embrace a new chapter in his life. He even cleaned up his Instagram account, deleting all of his posts, but one (the NeoPhoenix announcement), signifying what may be another restart or rebirth for the former King Eagle.
During his high school and college years, Ravena says that his flashy, yabang style was his way of differentiating himself from his family and to motivate himself. That same outlook and attitude is what may once again help him get through this new chapter.
Perhaps this would be the differentiator in creating a different path from his older brother Kiefer and NU Bulldogs’ Bobby Ray Parks Jr., two other local players who tried their luck in overseas leagues. The older Ravena and Parks played for the NBA G-League in the past decade, but eventually found themselves returning to the country.
Who knows, maybe Thirdy’s time’s the charm.