By Colin Salao, Karl Batungbacal, Juro Morilla
It’s the end of a decade! From Season 73 to Season 82, a lot of players have come and gone from the UAAP, players that dominated the court, changed the landscape of the league, fired up their teams or simply captured the hearts of fans. In this All-Decade Team series, we at HumbleBola highlight the athletes and coaches who have defined the 2010’s of UAAP basketball for their respective schools.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles All Decade Team
C: Greg Slaughter
Greg Slaughter earned the center spot on this list as he anchored the Blue Eagles in the earlier part of the decade. Norman Black always had the luxury of a dominant big man (Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Doug Kramer, to a lesser extent Ford Arao and Justin Chua), and Greg fit the bill. Opposing defenses tried to find ways to stop him. Double teams and “Hack-a-Greg” were the most common tactics employed to try and stop him but rarely did they work. Either he used his size to finish at the rim, or his feathery touch at the free throw line would earn him points.
What made Slaughter stand out compared to other candidates for this spot (read: Angelo Kouame) was his value and consistency to the Blue Eagles. Underrated with Greg was how consistent he was despite whatever flaws he brought to the game. He was a nightly 13-10 threat and the stuff he could do, he was able to do effectively. Whether it be crashing the boards using his height or even as simple as hitting jumpers from the mid-range, Greg never forced the issue and simply focused on his strengths.
F: Thirdy Ravena
Thirdy Ravena did not start as an all-decade talent.
His rookie year comprised of riding the bench for most of the game and seeing limited minutes. He had big shoes to fill, with Manong Kiefer destroying the league with his otherworldly talent. He wasn’t able to recover from his poor rookie season right away due to academic deficiencies, but the gap year served him well as he matured as a player and as a person.
Thirdy was instrumental in the team’s unprecedented runs to the title which ended in him owning three Finals MVP awards, the most in the Final Four era. Athleticism for days, a motor that doesn’t stop until the end of the game, and his crucifixion of Regie Boy Basibas, Thirdy has proven that he has long stepped out of kuya’s shadow and made a name for himself.
F: Ryan Buenafe
Buenafe was polarizing at worst for the Ateneo Blue Eagles. People have often talked about what could have been with Ryan, as his lingering weight issues hindered him from reaching whatever potential he supposedly had coming out of High School.
But at best: Ryan Buenafe is a FREAKIN’ ATENEO LEGEND. He was arguably the heart and soul of the Ateneo Blue Eagles for a part of his stay. This is a very ironic idea to grasp, since Ryan is pretty much the antithesis of a stereotype Ateneo student. He is as rough and swagger as can be, and it adds to his charm to the fans.
We have to appreciate Ryan for what he brought to Ateneo. He was never the efficient killing machine that made the Black and Baldwin eras so successful. His cold-blooded play in the clutch was what cemented his legacy. Everybody knew Ryan would dominate the whole of Game 2. Fans knew he would take that dagger in Season 73, never mind his 7% three point clip. By the end of the game, he was the consensus Finals MVP. Moments like these that solidify his all-decade inclusion.
G: Matt Nieto
Matt Nieto was one of Coach Tab Baldwin’s most reliable playmakers in crunch time and repeatedly torched teams on both ends of the ball. His defense was superb throughout his time with the Blue-and-White as Nieto’s length gave him an advantage over opposing point guards. Off-ball switches were not a problem as he had the ability to defend taller wings. The former Blue Eaglet’s offensive performance was equally impressive, often times acting as Baldwin’s extension on the court.
Aside from calling the shots on the fly, his ability to knock-down jumpers was instrumental to Ateneo’s success. Remember that Jones Cup game-winner? Although he doesn’t have as many individual accolades compared to his peers, his ability to succeed under Coach Tab’s system puts him in a league above the rest.
G: Kiefer Ravena
Kiefer was a lock to be in this spot. Two MVPs, two championships, and of course, the title of being The Phenom. But let’s take a step back and dig deeper into what made Kiefer the legend that he is today.
It is often forgotten that Kiefer felt like a redemption story for many old school Ateneo fans. He was everything the notorious BJ Manalo was supposed to be; an Ateneo High School phenom who stayed in Loyola Heights to dominate the collegiate level. Kiefer did all of that, but what mattered the most for many in that moment was the one thing BJ didn’t do: stay in Ateneo.
His legend only grew from there. Despite playing with stacked teams during Seasons 74 and 75, Ravena found ways to stand out thanks to his on-court savvy and control of Ateneo’s offense. During his final two seasons, he established himself as the alpha dog among all alpha dogs, capturing two MVPs and cementing himself as an all-time Ateneo great.
He was dubbed the Blue Mamba during his rookie year and it seems even more fitting today. While filled with controversies off the court and a large chunk of haters, Kiefer’s always stayed true to himself and what’s mattered to him. The result: an all-time great not just as a Blue Eagle, but in college basketball history.
6th Man: Nico Salva
It may feel like an insult to Nico he’s only a sixth man for the Blue Eagles given all of his accolades, but consider that as a testament to how good Ateneo is. Otherwise, Salva deserves to at least be recognized for his contributions to this program.
A 5-peat champion under Coach Norman Black’s tutelage, Salva shined as the versatile scoring forward who owned the midrange, thanks to his uncanny ability of always being at the right open spot. His journey from a spark plug off the bench to a bona fide collegiate star was impressive. Salva certainly didn’t shrink when the opportunity presented itself.
He was never Coach Norman’s primary option during his five years, but he never complained. He always found ways to contribute as evidenced by his often elite play in the Finals. He’s a winner through and through, something no one can take away from him.
Head Coach: Tab Baldwin
There are two things that we would like to point out about Coach Tab’s work so far: player development, best examples of this is Anton Asistio (from Glory B to Team A) and Isaac Go; and his system. He squeezed out every ounce of talent from each of his teams and the results speak for themselves. Nobody expected the Blue Eagles to prevent that stacked DLSU Green Archers team from achieving a sweep in 2016. And oh, they were able to reach the UAAP Finals that year as well. Though they lost in the Finals, the fruits of their labor was seen when in the following season they dethroned the Mbala-Rivero led Green Archers in a hard-fought three-game series. Coach Tab’s drive for success catapulted the Blue-and-White to the pinnacle of college basketball. Three championships. An unprecedented 26-game winning streak dating back to October 2018. A 16-0 record, a first in UAAP men’s basketball.
Though they stumbled in the middle of the decade, Ateneo more than made up for it with a storied start and a legendary end.
Six titles, seven Finals appearances, all in 10 years. No matter how subjective lists can be, what Ateneo did as a team, as a program, cannot, and will not be denied. Ever.