By: Karl Batungbacal
Dave Ildefonso is coming home.
The former Ateneo Blue Eaglet standout spent the last two years as a member of the NU Bulldogs alongside his brother Shaun. Twitter and Facebook was abuzz with rumblings of Dave leaving the NU program and that a return to Ateneo was imminent. He ended all doubt as he confirmed the news on his own social media feed.
— Dave Ildefonso (@ildavefonso) January 13, 2020
Before everyone starts panicking, they can still heave a sigh of relief as Dave will only become eligible come Season 84, redshirting Season 83 for residency purposes.
However, Season 84 will feature William Navarro in his final season and SJ Belangel and Ange Kouame in their 4th. At this point, Geo Chiu and Jason Credo are being armed and groomed to carry Ateneo in the future. Ildefonso will have two years left in his playing years, perfectly slotting in either the shooting guard or small forward position.
It’s a foregone conclusion to say that he’ll have the starting small forward position locked up by the start of the season. Ateneo fans can expect the younger Ildefonso to play similarly to how Thirdy Ravena did. A crafty scorer that uses an explosive first step to blow by his defender, Ateneo will surely be able to find a way to incorporate his slightly iso-dependent attack.
Whether it was from the outside or from mid-range, the Bulldogs found ways to accommodate his skill set. However, those who followed his career closely with NU will note that he was their primary playmaker and go-to scorer. As a Blue Eagle, he’ll have to give up some of that and there will be a dip in his offensive stats but that’s because he’ll be working with a great point guard in SJ Belangel.
Coach Tab Baldwin has a penchant for transforming his wings and combo guards into multi-role, plug-and-play pieces. A perfect example would be Gian Mamuyac. Coach Tab was able to mold Mamu’s game into a versatile forward that can space the floor, go up against the opposing team’s big men, and hustle. In his debut with the Blue Eagles, Mamu was perceived as this one-dimensional 3-and-D player who made waves for blocking Steph Curry in an exhibition match. But look at him now. The Nieto twins named him team captain for Season 83 and it’s an honor that Mamu is willing to accept. Dave has that same potential to blossom on the court too. It’s not hard to imagine that he’ll be named as co-captain alongside Belangel. I mean, what could go wrong? In the case of Ildefonso, he’s proven himself to be a reliable scorer but under Coach Tab’s tutelage, he’ll learn how to move off the ball better and help on team defense. Dave’s more known in the league for his offense but his defense is one of the more underrated aspects of his game. Developing as a wing defender will be on his checklist of things to improve on and transform into a two-way monster that can be relied on every given situation.
There’s also one other thing that UAAP teams, and fans, have to keep in mind with the pending arrival of Dave: him, Belangel, and Jason Credo were teammates back in high school. And the troika, along with Philippine basketball wunderkind Kai Sotto, helped lead the Blue Eaglets to the Season 80 Juniors diadem. This will be huge in terms of figuring out how Ildefonso will fit and blend with the team.
When he’s finally on board come Season 84, Credo will have a much more defined role with the team but the Ildefonso-Belangel combo will put the league on notice for sure. Fans already know what Belangel can put on thanks to his coming out party in the Finals of Season 82 no less. With Ildefonso joining the team in Season 84, Ateneo fans can look forward to seeing the Dave-SJ pick-and-roll action play out in the seniors division.
Both players can play either role and that will definitely be a nightmare for the opponents to guard against. Dave has range and can beat defenders off the dribble, SJ is coming into his own as a leader and can create shots for himself and for others.
Think of it as the Steph Curry-Kevin Durant PnR nightmare that gave the Golden State Warriors a back-to-back title run. Who will you guard? How will you ice the simplest action Tab can have these two guys run? Sag down, Belangel will pull the trigger on your face. Switch, you put a smaller man on Dave’s hip and that’s good night. Blitz? Don’t even try as Belangel has an explosive first step to turn that corner. And with the chemistry Dave and SJ have between them? The possibilities are endless.
Dave will have a lot to sacrifice on the stat sheet but if that’s what it takes to experience success in the senior’s division, that’s something he’ll learn to live with. He has yet to reach the Final Four in his two years with the Bulldogs and choosing to come home gives him a much, much better shot at doing so.
The Blue Eagles have positioned themselves very well for the future and Dave Ildefonso has done the same thing for himself. Both parties are set to benefit from this relationship and the UAAP should watch out. The Ateneo Blue Eagles’ chase for greatness isn’t stopping any time soon and the addition of Dave just made the Boring Death Machine even deadlier.