Ateneo star guard Kiefer Ravena has earned a lot of nicknames in his young basketball career.
Many knew of him as “The Phenom” when, as a 13-year-old, he busted onto the UAAP juniors scene as the first high school freshman to make it onto Team A of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets.
He finished his juniors career with four finals appearances, including three straight championships in his last three years and two finals Most Valuable Player awards before moving onto the seniors ranks.
Lately, he’s been dubbed by Ateneo fans as the “Blue Mamba,” a homage to Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, of whom Ravena admits he’s a die-hard fan.
But Ravena may soon have to get used to being called something new. Because it likely won’t take long before people dub him with a title reserved for a select few in Ateneo basketball’s history: that of the “King Eagle.”
With the departure of teammates Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva, Ravena is expected to see his role increase exponentially this year. His new coach, Bo Perasol, admits as much.
“It’s no secret that our most prolific scorer would be Kiefer. It would always be a matter of priority — and even for the players, that’s the initial tendency — is to look for Kiefer,” Perasol said during one practice.
The Blue Eagles expect him to be trapped, to be double-teamed, to see increased defensive attention. But also — as he’s done so many times in the past and most recently against rival La Salle in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Tournament — they expect him to be up to the challenge.
Ravena feels he’s ready as well, mainly because of the support of his old coach, Norman Black, and teammates.
“Siguro kasi yung role ko, Coach Norman trusted me with a lot of stuff na eh,” he said. “So para sa kin, hindi ako nahihirapan mag-adjust sa role na ginagawa ko ngayon.
“Yung mga (veteran teammates) ko before, they gave me the confidence and trust. Alam nila na the time will come na mawawala rin sila so pagdating na panahon, ako naman hindi masyado mahirapan (to take the lead).”
On top of his new role, Ravena is also adjusting to a new coach and a new system. The Blue Eagles are planning to become an up-tempo, guard-oriented team to better fit the personnel on the roster. They’re primed to resemble the personality of their budding, young superstar. And it’s up to Ravena to see it through.
For all intents and purposes, Ravena seems more than up to the task.
As a sophomore, he was already his team’s leading scorer at 16 points a game — fifth in the league despite sharing touches with Slaughter and Salva — alongside 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists. And he always showed up in big games, like their second final four game against rival La Salle or in Game Two of the UAAP finals, where Ravena scored 21 points as they clinched a fifth straight title.
He always seems to save a little something extra for the Green Archers, though. In last year’s semifinals, he brought the Blue Eagles back from a nine-point deficit by scoring or assisting on 21 straight Ateneo points. He finished with 28 points (16 in the fourth period), 12 rebounds, and seven assists as they eliminated their arch-rivals from contention.
In their preseason clash a few weeks ago, Ravena torched La Salle yet again, this time for 31 points, as his Blue Eagles, down to just nine men with most of his teammates out with injuries, went out of the preseason on a blaze of glory. They pulled out of the tournament after the win, citing health concerns heading into the UAAP.
“I like playing against La Salle. I can’t lie about that,” he admitted. “There’s just something really with La Salle that pumps me up. I really enjoy going against them.
“Hopefully it continues in this coming season, cause we’ll really need it.”
He admits it’s nothing personal against the Green Archers, though, and especially not against La Salle’s Jeron Teng, the player he’s often pitted against as the current faces of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry.
Ravena and Teng are longtime friends and former teammates with the national youth program and the rivalry between the two young talents stays on the floor.
“We’re very good friends. It’s something on the court lang talaga that our rivalry intensifies. Off the court naman, we’re very good friends.”
He also has a unique relationship with another former teammate, two-time UAAP MVP Ray Parks — the college league’s LeBron James to Ravena’s Kobe — who was his teammate in Sinag Pilipinas, the national team that competed in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games.
Ravena is a deadly scorer and clutch performer who seems to have drilled some of Bryant’s signature moves, like the fadeaway jumper from the post, to perfection. But Parks is a physical specimen rarely seen in the UAAP, a five-category stud that ranks among the top 10 in points (1st), rebounds (9th), assists (3rd), steals (2nd) and blocks (7th).
And like Bryant, Ravena, too, is the one who currently owns more championship hardware.
“Si Ray, iba rin yung relationship ko with him. People compare us and everything. Pagdating niya dito, lagi kami pinaglalaban,” he said. “So we really talked about it na it’s just something about the people here in the Philippines. Compete, compete, compete.”
People are already anticipating an exciting MVP race between Ravena and Parks, who will be shooting for a third consecutive one. Ravena, though, has his eyes on another prize.
“I don’t mind him getting a third straight MVP as long as we get a third straight championship.”
For Ravena, this is the year where he gets the opportunity to shine as an individual. But it’s never been about individual success for him, and that’s partly the reason why he’s won a title — counting the UAAP juniors — in each of his last six years as a player.
So as far as being the “King Eagle” goes, it’s not something that weighs on him.
“What’s important for me is we’ve been the kings the last few years. I don’t mind that but I don’t think of that as something. It belongs to the 16 to 20 people that are there with me.”
But the man of many names, “The Phenom,” “The Blue Mamba,” the “King Eagle,” he’s not one to turn down a good thing.
“Of course, to be given a nickname, choosy ka pa,” he said with a laugh. “Anything, okay ako doon.”
» New career? Willie Miller brings thrills in Kiefer Ravena’s charity game… as game barker
» IN PHOTOS | Kiefer Ravena sings, Jose Manalo balls in ‘Yolanda’ charity event
» Kiefer Ravena and co. raise more than P800k in charity match for ‘Yolanda’ relief