MANILA, Philippines -- Defending UAAP champion Ateneo de Manila University will have some work to do when the Blue Eagles reunite after a prolonged offseason due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Coach Tab Baldwin, who has led Ateneo to three consecutive UAAP titles, admitted that the long break will have a massive impact on their player development program, even though the Blue Eagles have been diligent in following the routines set for them by the team.
"I think our players have done an excellent job with their home training. But we will have gone backwards as a basketball player, as a basketball program," said Baldwin.
"We miss that very important ingredient in our program of individual development, which we spend in the months of February through June," he added. "We've entirely lost that."
The Blue Eagles usually spend those months in intensive training camps both in the Philippines and abroad, where they prepare for the grind of the UAAP season while also working on their individual games.
In 2018, the Blue Eagles competed in the William Jones Cup to sharpen up for their title defense in Season 81. In 2019, they competed in the PBA D-League, winning the title there, before embarking on camps in Greece and Australia.
Those opportunities to train together, build chemistry, and learn have been lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I expect that we will go backwards because of that," Baldwin admitted. "But from an attitudinal standpoint, I'm really proud of our players. They've worked extremely hard."
"But it's gonna take a lot of hard work to try and catch up as much as we can on what we have missed," he added.
But Baldwin stressed that the Blue Eagles' current experience, where they miss the game of basketball and the competition that they all seek as athletes, is "a very small sacrifice" compared to what others are going through because of the pandemic.
The coach said he and the Ateneo coaching staff have sought to keep the situation in the right perspective, and they explained to their players that they are going through an "extraordinary event in human history."
"We're dealing with something that can, at a minimum, be described as extraordinary circumstances for the entire planet," said Baldwin.
"That far outweighs the discomfort that we all feel by missing each other and missing the competition and missing the training," he stressed. "So we try to keep a perspective."
"It takes a big toll on a lot of people, and of course the ultimate toll on some people and some families," he added.
In the Philippines, there have been 245,143 reported cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon. A total of 3,986 fatalities have been recorded.
Globally, some over 27 million have been infected, with over 900,000 deaths. There are nearly 6.5 million cases in the United States, with over 190,000 fatalities.
"We can't get carried away with our own wants and desires and what we miss. We can't get away with that, as much as we feel like it, as much as we wanna complain and you know talk about we wish we were back at work and enjoying our university and our program, we have to keep that in perspective," said Baldwin.
At the moment, Baldwin and the Blue Eagles are still waiting for the go-signal to resume their training. Last week, the Inter-Agency Task Force approved the resumption of practices for student-athletes, but the country's collegiate leagues are still waiting for the official guidelines that will be released by the Commission on Higher Education.
CHED chairman Popoy de Vera expects the guidelines to be given out within three weeks.