'The system remains': Belangel proud of Blue Eagles after triumphant Japan trip

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2022 11:22 AM | Updated as of Aug 12 2022 11:53 AM

The Ateneo Blue Eagles celebrate after sweeping the inaugural World University Basketball Series. Photo courtesy of Smart Sports
The Ateneo Blue Eagles celebrate after sweeping the inaugural World University Basketball Series. Photo courtesy of Smart Sports

MANILA, Philippines -- SJ Belangel couldn't hide his pride after watching the Ateneo Blue Eagles rule the World University Basketball Series (WUBS) in Tokyo, Japan on Thursday afternoon.

Belangel was on his way to Ayala Malls Manila Bay for the JG4 Manila Tour while the Blue Eagles took on Tokai University, the defending champion of the All Japan Intercollegiate Basketball Championship. Ateneo held on for a 68-59 win to complete a three-game sweep of the competition. 

"I think for me right now, sobrang saya ko. Kanina actually, noong papunta ko pa lang dito, nanonood ako ng game nila," said Belangel.

The Blue Eagles were competing for the first time since losing in the UAAP Season 84 Finals to the University of the Philippines in May. The squad featured plenty of new faces, notably Filipino-American forward Kai Ballungay and guard Paul Garcia.

Belangel was no longer part of the team, having opted to turn professional. Reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame did not suit up as he was still recovering from a knee injury. In his place, Ateneo fielded Joseph Obasa as their foreign student-athlete.

It was not entirely smooth-sailing for Ateneo despite opening their campaign with an 86-point rout of Indonesia's Universitas Pelita Harapan. They had to rally from an 11-point deficit to defeat the National Chengchi University, and struggled offensively in their final game against Tokai University.

Still, Belangel sees the potential in the team and believes that the result of the WUBS speaks for itself.

"It proves na the system is always there. Whether or not the players are out, good players are out, madaming bago, pero the system remains," said Belangel. 

"That means na 'yung binuild naming system ni Coach Tab [Baldwin] is -- whether or not you like it or not -- andoon pa rin," he added. "Magcha-champion pa rin kahit anong mangyari, basta sumunod ka lang."

"I'm just proud while watching kanina," he also said. "Masayang-masaya ako para sa kanila, especially for Coach Tab."

The WUBS was an opportunity for Ateneo's newcomers to introduce themselves to Filipino fans, and Belangel says that the likes of Ballungay and Garcia did not disappoint.

The point guard was especially impressed with Ballungay, a 6-foot-7 forward who showed great athleticism and energy throughout the three-day tournament. 

A transferee from California State University, Stanislaus, Ballungay averaged 13.67 points in the WUBS.

"Hindi naman ako nagulat, pero si Kai," Belangel said on who among the newcomers stood out for him. "Kai has been waiting for that moment, especially noong time na hindi siya nakalaro due to residency and papers."

"Napakita niya why he's gonna be the future of Ateneo. So, excited na ako sa kanya, sa UAAP career niya," he added.

Belangel was also pleased with the performance of Garcia, another transferee who was recruited in part to shore up Ateneo's backcourt. 

"Paul Garcia, nakita ko mga highlights niya and he proved it," said Belangel. "He's worth it."

The Blue Eagles are headed back to Manila for a brief break, after which they will head to Israel for another training camp. As for Belangel, he will fly to South Korea on Friday to officially join his team, the Daegu KOGAS Pegasus, in the Korean Basketball League.

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