MANILA, Philippines – Thirdy Ravena exits the UAAP on the highest of highs, having done what no other player has before – winning three consecutive Finals MVP awards.
The forward was given the honor on Wednesday night, after leading Ateneo de Manila University to a thrilling 86-79 triumph against University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 82 finals.
He had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the victory that clinched the Blue Eagles' third straight title, as well as the first-ever 16-0 campaign in the history of the league. Ravena lived up the "Finals Thirdy" hype, averaging 24.5 points on 55% shooting, along with six rebounds and four assists in two games.
"Bonus lang 'yun," Ravena said of the Finals MVP trophy. "Honestly, mas masarap 'yung feeling na nag-champion kami nang tatlong beses kesa sa mag-MVP nang tatlong beses."
Still, it is an unprecedented achievement. Since they started giving out the award in 1983, no player has won the award more than twice – until Ravena came along.
The three Finals MVP trophies are proof of how far Ravena has come, since his shaky rookie year in Season 77, to his lost year in 2015 when academic deficiencies knocked him out of the Ateneo line-up. Since he returned to the UAAP in 2016, Ravena has emerged from the shadow of his older brother, Kiefer, and proved himself to be one of the best – if not the best – player in the collegiate ranks.
His three championships are one more than Kiefer won in his own celebrated UAAP career, and his three Finals MVPs are three more than Kiefer ever received. Even "Manong" had to admit that his younger brother has surpassed his own UAAP stint.
Ravena credited Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin for helping him recognize his potential – the same potential that he showed in high school, when he won juniors MVP honors in Season 76.
"Ever since Coach Tab came in, he already talked to me, and he told me that the biggest pressure shouldn't be you're trying to be like your brother or your dad," said Ravena.
"The biggest pressure should be coming from yourself and trying to be the best player you can possibly be. And, with that, I think I've effectively removed myself from my brother's shadow, and focused on how I could be the best player I could possibly be, not just for myself but for my teammates," he added.
He can also look back on the most trying year of his life with fondness. Ravena has made no secret of how difficult it was for him to miss out on Season 78 – Kiefer's final year in the UAAP – and how much it pained him to have to step away from collegiate basketball for a whole year.
In hindsight, however, it was a blessing for Ravena. He returned at the same time that Baldwin took over as Ateneo head coach, and the one-year gap allowed him to finish his collegiate career at the same time as his longtime high school teammates, Matt and Mike Nieto.
"It really is a testament that God has plans eh," said Ravena. "During that time, hindi ko maisip kung ba't nangyari sa akin 'yun, sobrang unfair."
"But in the long run, hindi ko ma-express 'yung gratitude ko na nangyari 'yun sa akin, na natutunan ko 'yun, nagka-wake up call ako," he added. "With Coach Tab, he's done a lot for me, for my career, not just inside the court but off the court as well."
"I'm just really happy na I got to spend one more year with him because of that. Ayun, very grateful for that."
Ravena is vague when asked about what the next step will be for him. He is expected to declare for the PBA Rookie Draft, where he will be surely among the top picks. For now, however, his focus is on one thing and one thing only.
"We'll see," he says. "Magse-celebrate muna kami ngayon then bahala na 'yung decision natin after."
"Ito talaga 'yung pinaka-focus namin eh. We had 16 days na talagang mental focus kami doon sa task at hand," he added, referring to their title defense. "I wasn't trying to think about anything else because that would be considered distractions."
"Inuna muna namin ang UAAP, and we're gonna make a decision, we just need to talk to my family and people."
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