Since I started following the Eagles, they’ve been blessed to have fielded big men that were a strong presence inside (offensively and/or defensively). Rich Alvarez, Ford Arao, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao and Greg Slaughter are all the names that come to mind when I remember those years watching Ateneo basketball.

So consider this as a shock that all the big men that Ateneo has fielded over the past two years are names like Frank “The Tank” Golla, Gideon Babilonia, Ivan Enriquez, Vince Tolentino and Kris “Gwapo” Porter. Not exactly the type of big men you normally associate with “strong interior presence”.

A big part of that is the scarcity of that said quality. Teams usually have to import tall student-athletes from other, less vertically-challenged nationalities. 4 of the top 10 rebounding big men in the league are not Filipino. It’s no wonder, therefore, why Ateneo is having a hard time finding the next great Ateneo big man – they were (and still are) rare in the first place.

While there’s no question that Ateneo’s center situation right now is volatile, with the position currently manned as a committee by Giboy Babilonia, Kris Porter and Ponso Gotladera, I don’t think there’s any need for it to be. I think Ateneo’s found the answer to their problems in the unlikeliest of places.

So Good-ladera

Gotladera barely got any action from the school that originally recruited him – the De La Salle Green Archers. He played a total of 48 minutes in two seasons, never getting more than 7 minutes of playing time and largely being forgotten among the trio of La Salle bigs (Torres, Van Opstal, Andrada) not to mention the other new (and/or incoming) players such as Perkins, Rivero and Tratter.

He needed a place where he could earn significant minutes and be a factor. In six games so far with Ateneo, he’s done just that. He’s done it better than anyone Ateneo currently fields at center.  This is how Ateneo has currently divided the 240 minutes at center:

Player % of Minutes















If we zero in on the Top 3 (not including Tolentino since he plays mostly in a small-ball 5 role), this is how they’re producing:

Name PER ORB% DRB% TRB% BLK% TOV% Team DRTG when on-the-court


21.6 10.9 19.0 14.9 6.2 18.7 87.5


-2.0 7.6 9.5 8.5 0 30.8 104.4


6.6 8.6 4.5 6.6 0 25.8 105.1

As you can see, Gotladera is without a doubt the best big man option for the Eagles. His PER – an overall measure of how a player contributes to a team (mostly from an offensive point of view) – is in the 20 range, normally signalling when someone’s good, his rebounding is the best in the group by a mile (but still not mind-blowing, mind you), he’s the only one that’s blocked a shot and to cap it all off, Ateneo actually plays better defensively when Gotladera is on the court.

Even better is the fact that Ateneo, overall,  actually plays better when he’s on the court:

Points per 100 Points Allowed per 100 Difference

On the Court

105.2 87.5 17.7

Off the Court

101.8 97 4.8


+3.4 -10.5 +13.9

If you’re having a hard time reading what that means, it means Ateneo scores 3.4 points per 100 better and defends 10.5 points per 100 better when Good-ladera is actually on the court. This isn’t buoyed by which team they plays against.

Opp Points per 100 Points Allowed per 100 Difference

vs ADU

100 52 48


115.9 101.6 14.3

vs FEU

115.6 115.6 0

vs NU

88.9 76.8 12.1

vs UP

113.5 97.3 16.2

vs UST

100 76 24

He’s battled against some pretty good front court – Norbert Torres (~10 minutes), Van Opstal (~24 minutes), Aroga (~20 minutes), Troy Rosario (~17 minutes) and Abdul (~15 minutes). He struggles a bit when he plays against bigs who can shoot from deep and/or move more comfortably from the perimeter  (see: FEU and NU bigs). But that’s nitpicking — Gotladera is Ateneo’s best option at center. Why?


Gotladera is surprisingly nimble on his feet. This allows him to execute Ateneo’s hard hedges/traps well and he can, on occasion, keep up with guards just as he did with Nalos and Vosotros in these clips.

The great thing about Gotladera is that he’s hyper aware, head always on a swivel, tagging his man, checking if help is needed and redirecting traffic when needed. That’s a rare thing — to have a big man who is both nimble and aware. Most of the time (especially in the UAAP), it’s one or the other or none at all. Credit both the coaching staff and of course to Gotladera.

The last thing that needs to be mentioned about Gotladera is something that’s quietly gained some mainstream attention: the idea of verticality. Porter and Babilonia haven’t mastered this yet as well as Ponso has (especially Babilonia, who has a tendency to lower his arms on contests). When Gotladera finds himself as the help defender, he usually goes straight up with two hands in the air – in the NBA nowadays, that’s called a “Hibbert contest”.

He’s providing Ateneo with the necessary rim protection it needs to execute their swarm defense. He’s not perfect – he’s jumpy on fakes, he tends to give post players deep position and he has a hard time defending when bigs pop. He may be quicker on his feet than all Ateneo big men but he still can’t stop on a dime to contest the shot and stop dribble drives.

Nevertheless, Gotladera is Ateneo’s best rim protector right now.


Offensively, Gotladera fits in well with the skill set of his more renowned Ateneo teammates. He doesn’t have a jump shot and his range extends to about 8 feet. But that’s okay. Between Tolentino, Newsome, Pessumal, Kiefer and Elorde, Ateneo has more than enough spacing to accommodate  Gotladera’s more traditional game.

He’s a monster pick-setter on ball screens – hard and unmoving. This allows his teammates to get an open lane. When he does connect on those ball screens, he times his roll depending on how the defense is playing it. He has this little hop skip that few big men in the UAAP possess. Most of them just rim dive and wait for the pocket pass. Gotladera is more deliberate — he’ll stay in that in-between lane longer if his teammates needs him to. It’s an important trait for a team that needs someone to play that all important low usage role. (Side note: those big on big ball screens involving Gotladera/Tolentino are magic. Hopefully we see more of those especially when Ravena is not on the court). Off the ball, he’s not as good setting picks and that’s somewhat a problem if one of your main scorers is Von — a guy that’s super reliant on staggered screens and flare screens for him to work.

He doesn’t have a jumpshot so it somewhat limits when and where he can be used. When not directly involved on the ball, he’s usually stationed along the baselines — in basketball’s off-ball cutting highway. But all of that is, as I said, secondary to his primary purpose — be the rim protector we need, clear the way on offense and finish baskets when you have to.

What’s keeping him from significant minutes?

One thing keeping him from playing significant minutes is his free throw shooting – so far, he’s made just half (8-of-16) of his free throw attempts and that limits his playing time especially in crunch time (see: La Salle game). That hasn’t been an issue so far, considering the only close games Ateneo’s had is against NU (where they were down so NU had no reason to hack him) and against UST (where he barely played in the fourth).

He’s also not a great rebounder. He doesn’t suck but he doesn’t suck in rebounds as well. He’s decent. That becomes a problem when you pair a decent rebounder with a not-so-decent one in Arvin. Newsome can offset some of that and Ravena has shown he can contribute in the rebounding department (but his transition game will suffer). But if you want Gotladera to fit that role, he needs to be this great rebounder or box-out setter. It’s not that he doesn’t box out — he does and it’s admirable really how he lasers in on ONE La Salle player crashing to the glass and boxes him out. But his balance isn’t perfect and that allows La Salle players to push him and get a better spot to rebound their teammates’ misses or tap balls out when he actually gets a hand on them.

Nevertheless, I think Gotladera deserves more minutes than the 18 minutes he’s gotten, on average, this season. Unless there’s an injury here that we don’t know or there are some conditioning issues that aren’t readily apparent to everyone, there’s no reason why Gotladera shouldn’t be getting 25+ minutes (or about 60 percent of the available minutes at center) on a nightly basis. I can understand not getting him a lot of minutes in the last 5 minutes of a game — we saw how his free throw shooting can be used against us when we played La Salle. But there’s time for him in the first 35+ minutes of a game.

The one thing keeping Ateneo from becoming a true contender in my mind is their defense. Currently, they’re allowing 91.7 points per 100 — 3rd worst mark in the season. They’re scoring at a rate that far exceeds what UAAP teams can score (101.5 points per 100). That scares me — no team has ever maintained an offense that good for an entire season. The highest so far in our database (4 years) is  98 points per 100 — scored by the Blue Eagles circa Season 75. If their offense just sputters a bit (see: NU and UST game), they’re in trouble. Down the line, a few breaks of the game could mean a championship or bust. If their defense was better, I’d feel more confident. The only way that happens is if Gotladera starts playing more minutes.

Featured image courtesy of Philip Sison, Fabilioh.