While many of the UAAP coaches consider the upcoming 75th season an open race, they also almost unanimously agree on one thing: the four-time defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles are still the favorites to win the crown.
“I believe Ateneo is still the team to beat, and NU is the top contender,” said Adamson coach Leo Austria.
“I think being in the system of coach Norman for a very long time spells the difference between a good and a great team,” said Abanilla. “I think they’re one of the teams to beat in the UAAP.”
Ateneo coach Norman Black said that the Blue Eagles have their eyes on the big prize.
“We’re looking forward to a big year again. We’re trying to accomplish something that hasn’t been done recently, trying to win five championships in a row,” he said.
The feat has not been accomplished since before the university became a member of the UAAP in the 1978-79 academic year. More recently, University of Santo Tomas and La Salle both won four in a row in the 90s and early 2000s.
Black said he expects tougher challenges from the other schools this season..
“NU had a great summer. La Salle has improved a lot,” he said. “I think UST is going to be really tough this year.”
“I think any team can be beat on any night. I expect the games to be tough. I don’t expect it to be easy at all.”
And Black insists that his impending departure from the team — he will take over the helm of Talk ‘N Text in the PBA after the season — will not be an issue.
“Everything I’m focusing on right now is all about Ateneo,” he said. “I’m trying to beat Adamson on the first day.”
Beating SMART-Gilas select
If their performance in a recent tuneup game is any indication, the Blue Eagles might be on their way to something special.
The UAAP champs, led by 7-foot center Greg Slaughter, Season 74 finals Most Valuable Player Nico Salva, and last season’s top rookie Kiefer Ravena, defeated the SMART-Gilas select team bound for the SEABA qualifying tournament for the FIBA Asia Cup in a pre-tournament tuneup game last June 29.
“We played the SEABA national team last week and we beat them pretty good,” said Black. “But they did not have any practice before the game so even though they were pro players and they had Marcus Douthit, we’re already a team and we’re in pretty good shape because we’re leading up into the UAAP season.”
Apart from naturalized center Douthit, the SEABA squad was backstopped by Alaska stars LA Tenorio, Sonny Thoss, and Mac Baracael, as well as former Blue Eagle Chris Tiu. The SMART-Gilas select squad went on to sweep their qualifying tournament in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“In fairness to them, they’ve only had a couple of practices so I don’t think we can gauge too much from that,” said Black.
“Besides we just played the Ateneo alumni and we lost so we’re right back to square one right now. I don’t base anything on that game.”