The Pantheon of Champions

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The Ateneo Blue Eagles UAAP Basketball Championship Timeline

There was a time when the terms “cellar-dweller” and “Ateneo” could be seen in the same sentence. There was a time when Ateneo’s UAAP Basketball season was a mere footnote in a college student’s life. There was a time when one could buy good seats to an Ateneo-La Salle game minutes before tip-off.

But that was way back in the 90s. The Dark Ages.

The past.

To say things are different now is a gross understatement.

Now seeing “championship contender” and “Ateneo” in the same sentence is not only commonplace, it’s automatic. Now college students fix their schedules around the Blue Eagles’ game schedules. Now patrons and fans have to line up practically at dawn to have any chance of getting upper box seats to the next Eagles-Archers affair.

Oh how things change.

Winning tends to do that.

And save for those not-so-bright years in the 90s, the Blue Eagles have always been winners.

Champions, too. Six times to be exact. UAAP Champions in Basketball in 1987, 1988, 2002, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

It’s more than a handful of gold, and we’re presently enjoying arguably the most golden basketball dynasty in school history.

History. Perhaps now that the drums of war that will open our 4-peat-seeking campaign are about to sound off, it would be enlightening to look back at history – a history of our best seasons.

Perhaps it would be good to turn our gaze to the pantheon of champions who’ve donned the Blue & White. Not out of arrogance or complacency.

But out of gratitude. Out of thanks for those who came before us – for those whose legacy has become our own.

Championship #1: 1987
That's Edu Manzano on the right side
(image from Rick Olivares/
The Eagles had a twice-to-beat championship advantage owing to them being the #1 seed. The Warriors, however, exploited all our chinks in the first half to lead, 51-38. We were sorely missing the services of 6’6” tower of power Danny Francisco (he was having lung issues), and it showed as Ateneo had some difficulties contending with the future “Defensive Minister,” Jerry Codiñera. Things got worse in the second half when UE built a seemingly-insurmountable 83-63 lead.

But this group of Eagles weren’t the top seeds for nothing. Jet Nieto ignited a crippling 22-2 (yes, 22-2!!!) run to tie the count. Nieto eventually teamed up with speedy PG Jun Reyes to snatch the lead, 92-86, with less than 2 minutes left. The erstwhile 18-time champion Warriors, though, didn’t simply bow down. Bernie Villarias, Conrado Barile and Modesto Hojilla all hit their charities to tie it up at 92 in the dying seconds. The Ateneo crowd, 7,000-strong, smelled the first-ever UAAP title only to have their hopes dashed.

Or so it seemed.

Nonoy Chuatico suddenly made a strong drive, got hacked, and split his charities. The Eagles, thankfully, retained possession and former La Sallian Eric Reyes penetrated, got fouled by Codiñera, and split his freebies to peg the final count at 94-92. The top-seeded Eagles nail their first UAAP crown.

Ateneo 94 – E. Reyes 23, J. Reyes 15, Nieto 15, Chuatico 9, Gayoso 9, Canlas 8, Jingoco 6, Araneta 5, Basa 4, Racela 0
UE 92 – Villarias 17, Bañares 16, Mariquit 13, Codiñera 10, Zamar 8, Bartolome 5, Hojilla 2

Championship #2: 1988
The victorious 1988 squad
(image by Erning Mendoza/Manila Standard)
Once again, the Eagles started sluggishly, falling behind 11-21 early against Dindo Pumaren’s Green Archers. Oh yes, it was Ateneo-La Salle. And the crowd? 15,000 warm bodies. Scalper-heaven.

The game? Lore-worthy. For the second straight season, we had the twice-to-beat edge.

After their slow start out the gates, the Blue & White gathered themselves and frustrated the La Sallians into sputtering play. Our triple-tower combo composed of Alex Araneta, Eric Reyes and the comeback kid Danny Francisco held sway and powered the Blue Eagle assault.

A pivotal 8-2 spurt in the final canto, anchored on Joseph Canlas and JunReyes, broke a 66-all deadlock and handed Ateneo the lead for good at 74-68. Dindo Pumaren tried in vain to spark an Archers fightback, but good clock management and tight defense enabled Ateneo to hold on. Danny Francisco fittingly iced the contest, and the title, with two charities at the end. Final score: 76-70. Our first UAAP back-to-back.

Obviously, 1988 wouldn’t be our last title season, but we had to wait 14 long years for the next one.

Ateneo 76 – J. Reyes 19, E. Reyes 15, Francisco 14, Canlas 10, Nieto 7, Araneta 4, Basa 2, Racela 2, Habana 0, Mendoza 0
La Salle 70 – Pumaren 24, Cardel 10, Sta. Maria 9, Monasterio 8, Bachmann 7, Peralta 6, Limpot 2, Abanilla 0, Viaplana 0

Championship #3: 2002
Rico spreads his wings
(image by Ernie U. Sarmiento/Philippine Daily Inquirer)
This was a sweet one. Sweetest one for me since it was my senior year in college. I watched the Eagles languish in the 90s, and got my hopes up repeatedly from 2000-2001. I was aching for Ateneo to break through.

And what a way to do it.

It was the classic fairy tale story. If Walt Disney were Atenean, he could’ve used Season 65 as great film material.

It was that insane, that improbable, that miraculous.

After falling in the standings to 4-wins and 5-losses, many wrote off the Eagles from the Final 4 picture. A season that was supposed to give graduating players like Enrico Villanueva something good to remember was mired in a downward spiral. The only thing that could save our team was something out-of-this-world.

So they did something out-of-this-world.

The Eagles won their last 5 elimination round assignments, including a 76-63 dismantling of the mighty Green Archers to halt their impending sweep. Ateneo shredded the twice-to-beat advantage of James Yap’s UE Red Warriors in the semis with the help of “The Shot” from intramurals hero Gec Chia.

And the Finals was one to remember. Game 1 was close, but it was punctuated by Larry Fonacier’s double denial on Mac Cardona’s patented hook shot (and Wesley Gonzales’s subsequent “In your face” reaction). Ateneo won 72-70. Mike Cortez re-established his supremacy in Game 2. DLSU won 85-77. And Game 3, wow, that was a classic feel-good game for the Ateneo faithful.

Who could forget the 4th period mini-run led by Sonny Tadeo and Epok Quimpo? The timely hits of Rich Alvarez and LA Tenorio? Enrico Villanueva and BJ Manalo hugging at midcourt post-game? The bedlam that followed? Wow. I could still taste the lechon baka.

Ateneo 77 – Gonzales 16, Villanueva 16, Chia 11, Tenorio 8, Quimpo 6, Fonacier 6, Cruz 2, Tadeo 2, Elmido 0
La Salle 70 – Manalo 19, Sta. Maria 14, Cortez 13, Sharma 11, Cardona 11, Wilson 2, Yeo 0, Cabatu 0, Urra 0, Ramos 0

Championship #4: 2008
Champs again!
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What is it with the Eagles and long waits? It took 14 years for Ateneo to get its 3rd UAAP title, and it took 6 years for the next one to come along. But this was worth the wait too. After all, we beat La Salle four times out of four. Sweet sweep.

We were expected to dominate, and we did. Despite the loss of skilled big man Ford Arao to graduation, we still had a good core of young players. Rabeh Al-Hussaini was a revelation. Chris Tiu blossomed into a peerless leader. Jai Reyes was automatic. And our rookie class? Arguably our most talented haul in history – Ryan Buenafe, Nico Salva, Justin Chua and Vince Burke. It was a season of promise.

And the Eagles made good on it.

Our lone loss was a 66-72 defeat at the hands of FEU in the 2nd round. Outside of that, we were practically flawless. 13-1 in the eliminations, and 3-0 in the Final 4/Championship. 16-1 in all. Amazing.

And have I mentioned that we SWEPT the Archers in all four games, including the two in the UAAP Championship series?

Nonoy Baclao’s Game 1 block on Rico Maierhofer is on perma-repeat in my head. Does anybody still remember the “dirty finger” incident?

It’s always wonderful to put one over our arch-rivals.

Ateneo 62 -Tiu 16, Nkemakolam 8, Baclao 8, Al-Hussaini 7, Baldos 6, Buenafe 5, Reyes 5, Salamat 3, Austria 2, Escueta 2
La Salle 51 - Casio 18, Walsham 8, Maierhofer 7, Revilla 5, Bagatsing 3, Atkins 3, Mangahas 3, Malabes 2, Ferdinand 2, Villanueva 0, Barua 0.

Championship #5: 2009
Back-to-Back champs!
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More than 20 years after our only UAAP repeat, we would do it again. Once again, we owned the elimination round with a 13-1 slate. Our only defeat came at the hands of the most unexpected foe – a 58-68 drubbing from the UP Fighting Maroons.

We would only lose once more after that.

The Eagles swept their next 12 games before surrendering Game 2 of the Championship series to the surprising UE Red Warriors. Our boys recovered in Game 3 and used their vaunted defense-leads-to-offense mentality to bag their second-straight title, 71-58.

It was unfamiliar territory for many young Ateneans – a back-to-back championship. And though Rabeh and Jai would bid us farewell shortly after, the future still looked bright.

Ateneo 71 – Al-Hussaini 21, Reyes 16, Buenafe 10, Baclao 8, Salamat 7, Long 7, Salva 2, Monfort 0, Austria 0
UE 58 – Lee 21, Espiritu 16, Acuña 8, Lingganay 5, Zamar 3, Llagas 3, Flores 2, Reyes 0, Duran 0, Ayala 0

Championship #6: 2010
(image from Studio 23/
Season 73 was not exactly the merry ride the previous two seasons were. A third straight 13-1 elimination round performance was out of the question. Without our MVP man-in-the-middle, that would be next to impossible.

But a three-peat was still in the offing, and achieving it would be squarely on the shoulders of graduating guard Eric Salamat and our 2008 rookie class (Buenafe, Salva, and Chua).

Needless to say, they responded splendidly. Despite FEU having arguably the stronger and more experienced roster, the Eagles fought hard to finish 2nd in the Elimination Round.

We faced the Adamson Falcons in the Final Four, and promptly defeated them  for the 28th straight time in the UAAP, 68-55. Up next were the pre-season favorites and top-seeded FEU Tamaraws.

The odds were stacked against us. FEU swept the Eagles in the elims, and they finished off the Archers in convincing fashion, 69-59, in the Final Four. They had the talent, the experience, and the momentum. A proverbial mountain to topple.

But we toppled them nonetheless.

Ateneo ran roughshod over the Tams in Game 1, 72-49. It was an embarrassment that FEU wanted to be rid of, and Game 2 was their stage. They were raring to come out strong.

But Ryan Buenafe, who was inconsistent throughout the season, had other plans. The former Staglet came up big in the closing minutes of Game 2 with big shot after big shot. The biggest? His this-is-my-time pull-up three-pointer over Carl Cruz with 22.1 ticks left.

No chance. For FEU that is.

And for us? Our first three-peat in the UAAP.

Can you say dynasty?

Ateneo 65 – Buenafe 23, Monfort 10, Salva 9, Long 7, Chua 7, Salamat 3, Golla 3, Escueta 2, Austria 1, Erram 0, Gonzaga 0, de Chavez 0
FEU 62 – Cervantes 15, Sanga 13, Ramos 9, Cawaling 8, Noundou 6, Garcia 6, Romeo 2, Exciminiano 2, Bringas 1, Cruz 0, Guerrero 0

Can we stand tall over the competition again in 2011?
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Championship #7: 2011???
It’s been a rocky pre-season for the Eagles:
-       Lost twice to La Salle (Dubai & Filoli)
-       Lost Mark Tallo
-       No Ryan Buenafe and no Art Dela Cruz for Season 74
-       Controversies about players left and right

But, in a sense, we welcome the adversity – the bad raps.

Looking at our championship history, adversity has led us to glory.

And IF Season 74 will hand us another diadem, let it be because we’ve learned from the past. Let it be because those before us have shown us the way. Let it be because, despite the adversity and uncertainty, we believe, as we always have.

One BIG Fight!

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3 Comment

This is going to be a great season to watch out for. A lot of so-called experts have Ateneo easily winning, but I beg to differ. We will have it tough this year. Slaughter's legitimacy isn't a sure thing yet. The losses of Salamat, Buenafe and Dela Cruz are highly understated. It's not easy to replace three high-caliber players, even with Kiefer on the board. Like you mentioned, it's a great test of adversity.



If we win this season, the next season will be easier seeing graduation of many vets from other team.


Fave: Totally agree. Everyone and his mom will tag the Eagles as run away favorites, but I don't think it'll be that easy. I would even go as far as saying we'll get surprised by some of the more unheralded teams. Still, I hope our boys can get the 4-peat.

Dan: True, but I'm sure there will be some marquee talents coming in too.