Tab Baldwin seems to be uncomfortable being told that his Ateneo is the team to beat in the University Athletic Association of the Philippine Season 86 men’s basketball tournament that gets off the ground this Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think what the coaches think who will be at the top or at the bottom will be irrelevant. It’s gonna sort itself out after the season,” the Kiwi-American mentor of the Blue Eagles said during Wednesday’s press conference.
In fact, Baldwin is wary of what the Eagles would look like when they tangle with the National University Bulldogs in the opener.
“The only team I’m worried about right now is NU in our opening game. We all know how tough NU is going to be,” Baldwin, the former Gilas Pilipinas tactician, added.
Ateneo is going after back-to-back crowns with recruits like Shaun Tuano, Kyle Gamber and former Gilas Pilipinas big man Mason Amos leading the way for the Katipunan-based squad.
Also gracing the presser were Baldwin’s fellow coaches: Nash Racela of Adamson, Topex Robinson of De La Salle University, Denok Miranda of Fra Eastern University, Jeff Napa of National University, Jack Santiago of host University of the East, Goldwin Monteverde of University of the Philippines and Pido Jarencio of University of Santo Tomas.
The Blue Eagles and the Bulldogs will highlight the double-header fin the inaugurals with the Red Warriors and Growling Tigers clashing in the first game at 2 p.m. at the MOA Arena.
With most of the squads jacking up their rosters for this season, Ateneo’s bid to shore up its frontline is not outrageous.
Last season’s runner-up UP will have promising cager Francis Lopez in its ranks along with the likes of former La Salle Green Hills standouts Luis Pablo and Seven Gagate, who were named as members of the Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association Mythical 5 in the juniors division.
UST, which finished Season 85 in eighth place with a 1-13 win-loss record, brought back Jarencio and some members of Letran College’s three-peat NCAA winning squad, led by consultant Bonnie Tan and assistant coach Jaren Jarencio, into the Tigers think and got a big boost from San Miguel Corporation, its new sponsor.
La Salle will have Rhyle Melecio and former US NCAA Division 1 player DJ Mitchell and while Adamson University still has veteran point guard Jerom Lastimosa and rookie Eli Ramos, the younger brother of Gilas guard Dwight Ramos.
NU will also have UAAP junior Most Valuable Player Reinhard Jumamoy to join a squad led by Kean Baclaan and Omar John.