The Phenom strikes back

By Jason Inocencio

Posted at Aug 15 2013 01:03 PM | Updated as of Aug 17 2013 08:35 AM

The Phenom strikes back 1Ateneo star guard Kiefer Ravena (No. 15) returned to UAAP action on July 14 against the Adamson Soaring Falcons. Ravena, who missed several games because of an ankle injury, played only 11 minutes and scored four points. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com

Frustration. Helplessness. These are emotions one doesn’t usually associate with Kiefer Ravena.

In his UAAP Seniors career, the son of former PBA player Bong and former volleyball varsity athlete Mozzy has been the veritable “Golden Child,” “Chosen One,” and as most Ateneans have called him, “The Phenom.”

It was as if his parents had bred a basketball machine gifted with athleticism, high basketball IQ, and an uncanny knack for showing up at the most important times for the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.

Coming off back-to-back UAAP Juniors championships with the Blue Eaglets, Kiefer was the subject of a recruiting tug of war between several teams before eventually deciding to stay home in Loyola Heights. Almost immediately, he was plugged into coach Norman Black’s lineup and proved all the hype was indeed real.

Dazzling the rest of the college basketball field with a plethora of fakes, jukes and jumpers on offense while using quick hands, hops and even quicker feet on defense, Ravena ran away with the UAAP Rookie of the Year award for Season 74 while helping Ateneo earn its fourth straight championship.

The story only got better in 2012 as he joined forces with Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva in becoming a near-unstoppable trio as Black and the Blue Eagles marched to their historic five-peat.

When Season 75 drew to a close, however, there was an air of finality hovering over Katipunan Avenue. Black ended his eight-year run as the most successful coach in Ateneo history and was succeeded by former PBA mentor Bo Perasol. Slaughter, Salva, Justin Chua, Tonino Gonzaga, and Oping Sumalinog had all played out their years of eligibility. There was even the uproar surrounding Ateneo booster Manuel V. Pangilinan backing out of the Ateneo sports program before returning after a few tense months.

Alone in the spotlight

As a result of those shakeups, the consensus was that a lot more was going to be expected of 19-year-old Kiefer this year. Entering his third UAAP season, he was supposed to be mentioned among the MVP contenders along with two-time winner Bobby Ray Parks, RR Garcia, Roi Sumang and others.

Perasol, who did wonders for the Powerade Tigers with Gary David as the featured scorer, was expected to have Ravena in the David role. With Ateneo’s seven rival teams supposedly beefing up their respective rosters, Ateneo would be very hard-pressed to secure the mystical “six-peat.”

Unfortunately, before the season even started, Kiefer was felled by an injury. “I slipped then sat on my ankle,” Kiefer relates pertaining to his Grade 3 right ankle sprain. “I knew immediately that it wasn’t an ordinary sprain so I was panicking because the UAAP season was about to start.”

In Ateneo’s first game of the season against Parks and the dangerous National University Bulldogs, Ravena was clearly hampered by the injury. He could hardly run, and his jumpshot was off. Ateneo ended up losing the contest.

So bad was this sprain that Kiefer was forced to do something he had never experienced in his juniors or seniors career before: he missed a game. In fact, he missed several games as team doctors instructed him to rest and stay off his feet.

Meanwhile, Ateneo would fall to the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in overtime, then suffer a loss against the archrival De La Salle Green Archers. This meant that the Hail Mary squad would start the season 0-3 for the first time since 1997.

Recovery and return

As he watched from the sideline, Kiefer experienced the frustration of being a mere spectator while the guys he considers his brothers were playing their hearts out for the Blue and White.

He says: “You could see that the team was really trying so I was very proud of them, but I just couldn’t wait to play.”

Having gone through their own share of injuries during their playing days, parents Bong and Mozzy tried to lend strength to their firstborn son while he waited for his chance to return. “They just kept telling me to always be positive and recover day-by-day,” Kiefer says of his parents.

Declaring himself fit enough, Kiefer forced himself to suit up versus the Adamson University Falcons, although he was hardly needed when the defending champions earned their first win. The rejoicing was short-lived though as they then lost to the rising University of the East Red Warriors led by powerhouse Charles Mammie in their next match.

Kiefer says that, “Lumaki nga 'yung role ko sa team, pero the guys did their best to make up for it. Kinapos lang talaga.” He notes with frustration that while he was out, “I really wanted to help the team but, looking long term, the doctors said it wouldn’t be worth it so I just had to be patient.”

Still in contention

Slowly, the man alternatively called “The Phenom” and “The Blue Mamba” has worked his way back into health and into Perasol’s regular rotation. Though Gboy Babilonia’s injured shoulder has forced him out for the rest of the season, Ravena has counted on old hands like Juami Tiongson, Ryan Buenafe, Frank Golla, Nico Elorde and the returning JP Erram to pick up the slack together with old high school running mate Von Pessumal and former Team B sensation Chris Newsome.

After back-to-back wins over University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo now stands at 3-4 after the first round, tied at fifth place with La Salle and Adamson. Though FEU is undefeated at 7-0, NU, UE, and UST are tied for second with similar 4-3 records.

Thus, Kiefer and the Eagles remain optimistic about their Final Four hopes entering the second round.

“We just have to know our roles and perform,” Kiefer states. “The pressure is just there so I just try not to think about it.”

The win over UST saw Kiefer show flashes of brilliance that indicated he is slowly rounding back into fighting form.

According to him, the two-week break due to the 37th FIBA-Asia Championships has been, “Very big. It’s so we are able to recuperate better from all our nagging injuries.” He added that the end of the first round showed that the Blue Eagles have been getting a better grasp on what Coach Bo wants from them.

Regarding the Final Four, Kiefer indicates that the Blue Eagles’ collective aim is still the so-called “Six-peat.”

“’Begin with an end in mind’ as the cliché goes, but we have to take it a game at a time,” he shares.

As for his message to his fans and the supporters of the Ateneo program, one cannot help but share in his optimism when he defiantly says, “Believe lang palagi. Matagal-tagal pa ang season.”