Thu. May 23rd, 2024
ateneo blue eagles japan

Coach Tab Baldwin and Ateneo Blue Eagles during a friendly game against a Japanese selection team. –MUSONG CASTILLO

TOKYO—Looking at how tall the Ateneo Blue Eagles are for the coming UAAP season, there’s one small player conspicuously missing from the roster that gave them last year’s championship.

Forthsky Padrigao, the heady court general seen as the next big thing to come out of Ateneo, has left the program prematurely to create a gaping hole at the point and coach Tab Baldwin made it no secret of that being the case.

“Of course, I would love to have Forths here,” Baldwin told the Inquirer. “But it is what it is and we don’t worry with what we have and don’t have (in the lineup).

“We will cover that (Padrigao’s absence) by committee. We have the guys to do it.”

Gab Gomez, Ian Espinosa and Filipino-American Jared Brown are all jostling for that position, with Brown showing so much potential after delivering in most games that the Eagles have played, “40 (games) in the last 55 days,” according to Baldwin.

The Eagles are here to defend their World University Basketball Series (WUBS) championship starting Friday when they slug it out with the University of Sydney Lions at Yoyogi National Stadium gym.

They warmed up for that defense with a 70-69 win over an under-21 selection from Japan, with Joseph Obasa leading the charge.

‘Tough game’

“It was a tough game, just like the kind of games we need to be playing here,” Baldwin said after the highwire win the Eagles preserved despite going scoreless inside the final minute or so.

“We will be playing stronger rosters as the challenge may call starting with Australia,” Baldwin added after he elected to rest his top guns Kei Ballungay, Gab Gomez, Chris Koon and Geo Chiu in the exhibition match.

Ateneo is stacked at the center position with veterans Gio Chiu, Kai Ballungay and 6-foot-10 rookie Joseph Obasa, an agile trio that will be tested here against equally tall and beefy frontlines.

Baldwin admits to having little knowledge of the Aussies—and the rest of the opposition for that matter—as they have been concentrating on getting better as a team rather than worrying about their foes.

“We’ll get there,” Baldwin answered when asked if he has gotten any scouting reports.

Baldwin drilled his Eagles long and hard Wednesday afternoon, never mind if they were scheduled to clash in an exhibition game with Japan’s Under-21 selection the day after to formally open the WUBS

“We needed to remind the players of our principles because we’ve lacked practice,” he said of the three-hour practice at Toyo University gym, the same court where Team USA practiced for the 2020 Olympics. “We’ve played a lot of games in the past couple of months—40 games in the last 55 days.”

Ateneo will need to get past three powerhouse programs to repeat as WUBS champion, with a US NCAA Division 1 school, Radford University and Korea University in the other group. Japan will be represented by its top two collegiate teams and all four weren’t here last year when the Eagles won.

“We want that tough competition, as many games as we can get,” Baldwin told the Inquirer on the bus ride back to the hotel. “It (games here) should be UAAP-like. It has to be intense, physical, otherwise, winning it would be like fool’s gold.”

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By Sandra Winters

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