Growing Their Wings: Pain is Growth

Thirdy Ravena and the Eaglets failed to win the title this year,
but they should come back stronger next season.
(image from Erwin Cabbab/

The Season 75 edition of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets probably don't see, much less appreciate, it now, but their travails these past few months have laid the groundwork for the success that should follow in the next couple of years.

Despite having a roster mostly made up of homegrown talent, which, in this age of high-octane recruitment, tends to be more bane than boon, the Eaglets were competitive. They finished with an 8-win, 6-loss slate. That was good enough for a Final Four slot and a date with top seed and eventual champions, the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws.

Young, Raw Talent
In many ways, this was a really talented bunch of Eaglets. Anton Asistio, who led the team in scoring with 16.7ppg during the elims (top four in the league), proved to be a reliable shooter. He led the league in 3-point percentage, connecting on 36% of his trey attempts while also making good on 81.1% of his charity shots, good for second overall. He’s a natural off-guard, but he showed some signs he could be a decent playmaker, too. If he decides to follow up on his career and play in the Seniors division, then further improving his handles and vision will really help him make the transition ala Jai Reyes.

Other guys who stepped up this season were rookie twins Mike and Matthew Nieto, and third-year swingman Aaron Black. Mike Nieto, at just 5’9 or 5’10 is probably the smallest center in the division, but he more than held his own. The super soph normed a near double-double this season – 10.8ppg and 9.5rpg. He also led the league in free throw accuracy, making more than 86% of his tries from the stripe.

Mike Nieto is small in stature, but
BIG in talent and heart.
(image from Erwin Cabbab/

His brother, Matthew, also did well. Although he’s as tall as his burly brother, Matthew actually plays guard for the Eaglets. Whereas Mike is a bona fide bruiser, Matthew is more of a slasher and playmaker. Nicknamed “Achoo,” Matthew averaged nearly 7.0ppg while grabbing more than 4 rebounds and dishing out a little under 4 dimes per outing. With the graduation of Mark Gamboa, it seems but natural for Achoo to inherit the primary playmaker role next season.

Aaron Black, for his part, continued developing in his second tour of duty with the team. He was part of the team’s third stringers last season, mostly playing behind Kiefer Lim and Lambert Tenorio, but he found more burn time in Season 75. His production went up, too. Black played off the pine for all but one game this season, and he proved to be a capable shock trooper – think a lanky James Harden. He’ll need to improve on his athleticism to fully realize his potential, but he should be a great talent in his final Juniors season next year.

The Evolution of Thirdy Ravena
Without argument, however, this past season’s best Blue Eaglet was Thirdy Ravena. Eager to step out of his more illustrious brother’s shadow, the younger Ravena blossomed under the spotlight.

I remember him struggling at times last season, playing the off-guard position at times and then at times finding himself under the basket against opposing bigs. This was because Thirdy grew about 6-7 inches from the moment he entered high school up until the latter part of Season 74. He was caught up in “position confusion.”

I can still recall him applying to the Ateneo Ultimate Frisbee club early in the 2010-2011 school year. He actually looked a little frail. He didn’t seem imposing at all. Right now, however, his presence cannot be missed when he walks in the halls of the Ateneo High School. He’s about 6’2 already, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he grows a couple more inches before he gets to college.

Thirdy Ravena should continue flying high well into college.
(image from Erwin Cabbab/
More impressive than his growth spurt, though, is the growth in his game. He has adapted to his strengths and has shown flashes of the greatness that might become him if he continues to work hard. His double-double averages – 15.3ppg and 10.9rpg – landed him in the Juniors Mythical Five, and another season with even better numbers should lift him into MVP status. Beyond that, however, I’m sure he’d want nothing more than to lead Ateneo back into championship glory. And, yeah, he needs to cut down on his errors, too (4.8 turnovers per game is too much).

Recruitment Malady and Remedy
One thing all those aforementioned players share is this: they’re all homegrown. They all finished their elementary schooling in the Ateneo Grade School. That’s a great thing for the players, but maybe not so much for the program.

The reality is, even at this level, recruitment and development have become the benchmarks for a successful basketball program. Ateneo has excelled at development, but we haven’t exactly been great at recruitment for the past two seasons. Perhaps the last big recruiting coup the Eaglets had was way back in the 2005-2007 years, when Juami Tiongson (from CS), Ael Banal (from Xavier), Al Bugarin (from CSA), Tim Capacio (from Zobel), Paolo Pe (also from Xavier), and Paolo Romero (from Claret) all came in to beef up the Eaglets’ roster. We already had outstanding talents like JV Dumrique, Kiefer Ravena, and Von Pessumal back then, but it would’ve been nearly impossible to achieve the three-peat of 2008-2010 had we not recruited the others (yes, even if we had super coach Jamike Jarin at the helm).

In contrast, the biggest recruits of the past two seasons were Cebuanos Kiefer Lim and Kris Porter. Both would go on to don the national youth colors and Porter played for the Seniors this past season, but, great as they were, it just wasn’t enough to topple the recruitment machines of FEU-FERN and NU. Even Zobel has gone on to recruit heavily, with most of their big guns coming from CSA and Lourdes Mandaluyong.

So why did the AHS “lose” the recruitment wars these past two years? Simple – we didn’t compete in the Milo Passerelle tournament. Why is this a big deal? It’s a big deal for incoming HS freshmen because it’s the biggest and most competitive basketball meet at their age level. If a great player from, say, Southridge wants to go to the AHS and play for the Eaglets, he would have to “sit out” one year and simply train while his peers played their hearts out in the Passerelle tourney. He would have to be content to simply practice with the UAAP, PRADA, and PAYA teams, while also playing in the less competitive My Ball competition. I’m not really sure why Ateneo ceased to participate in the Milo Passerelle tourney in the first place, but the important thing is the Eaglets played again starting this year. They didn’t win it all on the court, but they scored some awesome recruits that will serve as the core for the title-contending teams of the next few seasons.

So who are these guys on whom we should keep tabs?

Okay, children, remember these names (all of them are currently enrolled in the AHS already):

Gian Mamuyac and Benedict Cruz from the 2011 National SBP Champion team of Lourdes Mandaluyong.
Jossier Hassan from the 2010 Milo Mindanao SBP Champion team of Ateneo de Zamboanga.

Watch out for this guy: Gian Mamuyac.
(image from Blue Ateneo's Facebook page)

If everything pans out, then these kids, along with homegrown freshmen superstars Jolo Mendoza and Enzo Joson, should form another golden generation for the Blue Eaglets.

Pain IS Growth
So, you see, despite the heartbreaks of the past two seasons, the Eaglets are still in good shape and in good hands. The groundwork for success has been laid, and we will reap the benefits very very soon. Go Ateneo! One BIG Fight! 

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