UAAP: Growth vital as Ateneo defends title with ‘new team’

Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin gives instructions to his players during a timeout against Japan’s Hakuoh University at the World University Basketball Series in Tokyo, Japan. Photo from Musong Castillo/INQUIRER

MANILA, Philippines — Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin admitted his “new team” needs to grow as quickly as possible in its UAAP title defense which begins Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.

Defending their championship with almost an entirely different roster after the graduation of Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and BJ Andrade and the sudden exit of Forthsky Padrigao, the four-time UAAP champion coach remains patient with the progress of the Blue Eagles.

“This is a new team so this team is not champion of anything,” Baldwin told reporters. “We practice and practice since January. We practice hard and that’s the nature of our preparation trying to get these guys as much experience as quickly as possible.”

Baldwin will be pinning his hopes on holdovers Kai Ballungay, Chris Koon, Sean Quitevis, and Gab Gomez as well as prized recruit Mason Amos, who played for Gilas Pilipinas.

“Probably a different team from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. We’ve got to grow and develop and mature a lot through our experience of the first round. Hopefully, we’ll come out of the first round with enough wins to compete for a playoff slot by the end of the season,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said it’s too early to assess his team based on their preseason tournaments in the FilOil EcoOil Cup and 2023 World University Basketball Series in Japan as the Eagles’ progress will be tested in the UAAP. 

“I think this is a team that will probably be characterized more by growth than by experience,” he said. “They’re a team that I hope is a high-quality basketball team by the second round and is able to compete in the higher levels of the league. But first, we’ve gotta grow and we’ve got to develop as we’ve got a lot of young players.”

Ateneo kicks off its title drive against last year’s semifinalist National University, which Baldwin considers as one of the teams to beat this season.

“There will be surprises as there are every year. I think probably a lot of people were surprised that Adamson got into the Final Four last year but by the end of the season, nobody was surprised. They were that good. NU was the same, they were that good. Whether people respected them at the beginning of the season or not, that’s exactly why we play the season,” Baldwin said. “I’m not gonna disrespect any of these coaches up here and the work that they do. We go on the court to sort it out.”

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