When Ferdinand C. Ravena III, more popularly known as Thirdy, played in the UAAP Seniors division for the first time in 2014, many regarded him as an afterthought, a benchwarmer, and second fiddle to his superstar older brother Kiefer. Five years after, he has managed to destroy all of those earlier impressions.
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Fans need not look farther than last season's finals series to underscore this point. Playing confident, skilled, and powerful basketball, Ravena emerged with both the championship and the Finals MVP plum, his second in as many seasons.
Growing up blue
Ravena spent three years in the juniors division with the Blue Eaglets, culminating in an MVP award in his final season. He believed that he was simply stronger and faster than all of his opponents. “I thought I could do everything on the court with athleticism," he admits. "When I got to college, I realized how strong and how big everyone was, so I had to undergo a huge adjustment.” The numbers showed how tough it was for him during that freshman year with the big boys as he posted just 1.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 28 percent field shooting.
But before he could bounce back, he suffered another blow, which he describes as the worst and most hurtful challenge of all. He was given an academic suspension in his second year for failing to meet the grade quota. Because of this, he was forced to sit out Season 78, which was also Kiefer’s final year.
But the suspension became a blessing in disguise. “It allowed me to take a year off, to better myself in terms of physical attributes, my game, and my approach—even more so when Coach Tab came in,” the 22-year-old explains.
Thomas Anthony "Tab" Baldwin was given the reigns of Gilas Pilipinas in 2015, quickly leading them to a 2nd place finish at the FIBA Asia Tournament. They lost the gold (albeit controversially) to China and, subsequently, a slot in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
After a bad showing by Gilas at the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Tab was let go as head coach. He eventually found his way to Ateneo, despite just weeks away from the UAAP season.
Baldwin made an impact right away with Ravena. “Coach Tab gave me a new perspective on basketball, to use my mind rather than my body to make the game easier. It’s been three years, all full of development. There’s not a year that goes by where I feel I’ve already become as complete a player as I can be," the cager admits. "It has always been a process. One year isn’t different from the next. Up until now, I’m still trying to be the best version of myself." Under Baldwin, Ravena and the team went from strength to strength. After a runner-up finish that first season, they bagged the championship the next two years.
Ravena played brilliantly in Game 2 of their last championship. He had 38 points built on 13 of 18 field goals, six boards, six assists, and three steals. “I didn’t expect that game to be honest. I just woke up feeling great that day. Everything else fell into place," the 6-foot-4 forward shares.
A conversation with the American coach in his second year made him realize that the pressure should never come from those who expect him to be like Kiefer or their dad, former pro baller and current TNT coach Bong. It should come only from himself. “He told me, ‘When you enter practice, can you guarantee yourself that you will be better once it’s done? The development you’ll have for those 180 minutes on the court, will it be like that every single day?’ It was that perspective that really made me step out of my dad's and my brother’s shadow,” Ravena reflects.
It isn't just Ravena who has benefited from Baldwin's approach, but the entire team. With his stints in New Zealand, Lebanon, Jordan, and Gilas Pilipinas, the coach has experienced just about every type of basketball there is.
“The past four years, I’ve played for him every day and yet I still learn something new each time. That’s what makes him different. With all the experiences he’s had, we’re the ones absorbing everything," Ravena says. "We get to learn all that knowledge. As a coach, he has all the bases covered."
Despite being heavy favorites, Ravena thinks that the team isn't done in its development. "We’re still trying to improve on certain things, even though we’re defending champions. But I’d like to say we’re excited because we’re working hard. And, of course, as hosts we want to give it all for the community, especially us seniors.”
The forward is playing out his final year together with seniors Isaac Go, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, and, potentially, Adrian Wong. Obviously, they want to leave Katipunan as champions. For Ravena, there’s no better way to thank the community that has supported him through his highs and lows.
“I think what makes me different from my family members is that ‘Ako yung pinakamayabang.’ By that, I mean in terms of believing in myself, what I can do, and where I see myself in the future," the young man admits. After that Finals loss to La Salle in season 79, he told his mom, sports analyst Mozzy Ravena, that he’ll be the second best player in the UAAP after Ben Mbala. "I told her that before the season we won our first championship. She replied with ‘Ang yabang mo naman.’ But that’s just how I like to motivate myself,” he explains.
According to Ravena, this yabang serves as his fuel. "It’s what makes me push through a workout, especially at times when other factors tell me ‘I can’t.’ It’s what reminds me that: ‘No! Remember your goals. These goals are what exactly need to happen.’”
But this attitude doesn't stop him from expressing his grattitude for the people who’ve stayed with him until today. “Even if things don’t pan out the way we want them to, I will never stop being thankful for the people who have supported me all these years. It’s been a tough ride," he admits. "Without my family, the Ateneo community, friends and teammates, I won’t be here right now.”
With a basketball resumè such as Thirdy’s, many expect him to be the top pick in the PBA draft, or even a highlight in recruitment boards abroad. But the young Ravena admits that he doesn’t know where to go just yet after this final UAAP ride.
“I’m still trying to focus on the now, because the future will come easily if I make sure I do my job well this season. Everything will fall into place eventually," he says with a big smile across his face. “I don’t think I’ll ever say no to flag and country. It’s always a chance that not everybody is blessed with. Anytime Gilas would call for my services I’ll always be more than happy to join."
What he's sure of is that he will always be involved in the sport that he has loved since he was a kid.
“In 10 years, I see myself playing for a professional or club team, whether here or internationally. I still want to be playing for Gilas. I'll probably do a little bit of business on the side, making sure all my earnings go to the right places,” he shares. “In 20 years though? Of course I still want to be associated with basketball, that’s for sure. If not a head coach, maybe a trainer, an assistant, whatever. But I really think basketball is something that you can never take away from who I am. It’s one of the things that makes me, me.”