MANILA, Philippines -- After an impressive preseason with Ateneo de Manila University, Kai Ballungay will get plenty of chances to prove himself in the UAAP Season 85 men's basketball tournament.
This, according to Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin who expects Ballungay to make an immediate impact for the Blue Eagles in their bid to reclaim the UAAP championship.
Ballungay committed to play for Ateneo in July 2021, transferring from California State University, Stanislaus to Katipunan. He sat out Season 84, which saw Ateneo's stranglehold on the UAAP come to an end after three seasons.
"Kai is a real talent. No question about that. He's a big 6-6, pushing 6-7. He's a high-flier, he's a great athlete, he can play above the rim," Baldwin told Nikko Ramos on the "Call to Arms" podcast recently.
"He can shoot the ball from the 3-point line. So he brings a lot of offensive talents, a lot of athleticism. He's good around the basket, he's a good rebounder. He's got a good nose for the ball, he gets up and down the floor really fast," he added.
"So we're expecting that he will be a performer that will get significant minutes this year."
Ballungay made his debut for Ateneo in the World University Basketball Series (WUBS) in Japan, where he emerged as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. In three games, the Filipino-American forward put up 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
Yet while he has high expectations of Ballungay, Baldwin also notes that the forward's adjustment into the team has not been ideal.
"[There is] that adaptation period that particularly, the Fil-Ams or the Fil-foreigners go through, that don't grow up playing basketball here, that don't grow up in the UAAP high school competition, that don't grow up in Ateneo. There is an adjustment period, it does take time," he explained.
Players like Ballungay and Filipino-American point guard Paul Garcia, another new Ateneo recruit, simply have not had enough time to make that adjustment due to the short turnaround between seasons.
Season 84 ended just last May, and Garcia came on board in July. The pair only had a few short months to learn not just the Blue Eagles' vaunted system, but to assimilate the culture that Baldwin has spent six years developing in the program.
"He [Ballungay] doesn't have the leaders built into the team who are helping him make all the adjustments, nor do the other players who might have been in the program but weren't playing minutes for us," said the coach.
Yet Baldwin also makes it clear that while there are "question marks over our program," they cannot use them as an excuse come Season 85.
"We gotta go out and play the game, and we better go out and be our best if we expect to succeed," he said. "But it is true that the question marks are there, and they are real."
Catch replays of UAAP Season 84 games via the UAAP Varsity channel on iWantTFC, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.