The Ateneo Blue Eagles surpassed all expectations, surprising even themselves, with their outstanding showing in the recently concluded 40th William Jones Cup. The only collegiate team in the tournament was able to test the mettle of older and more experienced squads and still managed to finish fourth place with a respectable 5-3 record.
Truth be told, the Ateneo-Philippines contingent wasn't completely ready to represent the country and face other national and professional clubs.
"We were really not ready to represent the country, not ready to represent Ateneo. We wanted to begin representing ourselves to be ready for September 8 (UAAP opening)," Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin admitted during the team homecoming on Tuesday supported by Chooks-to-Go.
"It was a bit premature to put this team with such a heavy burden," he went on, also mentioning that the team decided to participate in the Jones Cup a week before the tournament started. "I think it's a testimony to the character of the team. I think that's the character that boss Ronald (Mascariñas) and the entire country seem to admire. It's that character that makes them true sportsmen."
Baldwin and the entire Ateneo team expressed their gratitude to all their supporters particularly national team backer Chooks-to-Go, their fans at home, and including the Filipinos who were able to catch their games live in Taiwan.
"Ateneo did not win the championship nor did they get a podium finish. But the fourth place finish of Ateneo shone brightly more than gold," beamed Chooks-to-Go President Ronald Mascariñas. "You did a very good job as ambassadors of goodwill to our country. You showed grit, hard work and more importantly, you showed the highest level of sportsmanship."
"It's a redeeming grace for us that they were really excellent, goodwill ambassadors for the country," noted Mascariñas on how the Blue Eagles handled themselves. "On and off the court, they really made a good account of themselves representing the country. The expectation then was just for the Philippines to participate. But for them to go this far I never expected it."
The Blue Eagles were pitted against formidable foes and were able to stand their ground. Some of the team's feats include a gallant effort against Canada's 3D Global Sports and a thrilling win over the Chinese Taipei national team. All throughout the week-long tourney, the young team displayed maturity and poise beyond their years.
"This truly was a tournament that was a bridge too far from our team, these are very strong teams, basketball programs," shared Baldwin. "So to pit ourselves against this level of competition and to be standing at the end, maybe not the champion but to be still standing, I think speaks positively about this team."
With their head-turning performance in the international stage, it may be safe to assume that the defending UAAP champions are resting on their laurels. However, Baldwin and the rest of the Blue Eagles know that their work is far from over.
"As the coach of this team, I tell a word of warning to our players, we are the Ateneo Blue Eagles," stressed Baldwin. "While we can perhaps, in the short term, bask in the glory of a job well done in this time of the year, we shouldn't drop our guard our true reason of existence - representing our alumni, coaches, ourselves, to the best of our abilities."
"We're excited for the UAAP season. We believe in the pursuit of excellence," he closed.