MANILA, Philippines – Thirdy Ravena is the Finals MVP, and Isaac Go is the cult hero, but one player who has endeared himself to the coaching staff of the Ateneo de Manila University is first-year player Gian Mamuyac.
Long and lanky, Mamuyac earned his minutes, thanks to his hard work on defense. His breakout game came against National University (NU) in the second round, when he helped slow down J-Jay Alejandro in the second half of Ateneo's 85-72 win.
"Mamu," as he is fondly called by his teammates, averaged 10.6 minutes per game in the elimination round. He continued to earn playing time in the playoffs, even coming up with a shocking rejection of De La Salle University's Ben Mbala in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 80 finals.
Mbala still got the ball back and scored, but Mamuyac's effort to defend the two-time MVP, who is considerably bigger and stronger than him, is one reason that the young Blue Eagle has earned the appreciation of his coaches.
"He is the poster boy for humility," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin of Mamuyac. "He is incredibly humble. We have a few like that, and he's certainly one of them."
Baldwin rarely likes to single out players. Indeed, Ateneo's triumph in the UAAP finals was credited to their teamwork. However, he was very willing to discuss Mamuyac in an appearance on "The Score."
"Our coaches, the coaching staff, they often joke that he has no idea how good he really can be, and even how good he is right now," Baldwin said of Mamuyac, who averaged only 3.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game during the elimination.
"He's still very, very young, 18 years old. And he has a huge future ahead of him," he added.
Baldwin noted that Mamuyac is "built for the game," both physically and mentally as the young guard is blessed with long arms, quick feet, quick hands, and "a very sharp basketball mind."
Moreover, Mamuyac's remarkable defensive instincts ensures that he will be able to fit into virtually any system of basketball, he added.
The young Blue Eagle first burst into the national consciousness thanks to a defensive play: he memorably blocked Steph Curry during an Under Armour camp in 2016, while he was still playing in Ateneo's Team Glory Be.
"He gets the game," said Baldwin. "The game was made for him. His upside is huge."
Of course, there are plenty of things to work on for Mamuyac. He clearly needs to tighten his ball-handling skills, as he at times struggled to bring down the ball for Ateneo, especially when he under pressure. While he showed a good shooting stroke, Mamuyac still made only 21.7% of his three-point attempts.
And even though he has already bulked up -- from 147 pounds in high school to 160 pounds now -- Mamuyac still needs to get stronger physically, Baldwin said.
"But innately, he was made for the game," the coach said emphatically. "This is a kid with a great upside."
"We've got to teach him how to shoot the ball better, we've got to teach him how to read the game better. But you know, so much is already there in place," he added.
Thus, it will be no surprise if Mamuyac plays a bigger role in Season 81, when Ateneo tries to defend its UAAP crown.
"He's going to feature more, I suspect," said Baldwin. "The sky is the limit for the kid."
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