The Ateneo Blue Eagles are having an offseason quite like no other as they continue to represent the Philippines in the ongoing 40th William Jones Cup in Taiwan.
Like a summer internship, the defending UAAP champions are getting their feet wet in the real world, gaining elite training against topnotch competition. The only collegiate team in the tournament has faced national teams and professional clubs, bigger and more experienced foes than they are used to at the amateur level. But five games into the annual invitational, the Blue Eagles have shown maturity and brilliance to earn a 3-2 record.
Acquiring basketball know-how and building chemistry are among the many things that the Blue Eagles will take home in preparing for the collegiate season. However, they will also carry with them a valuable lesson in professionalism.
"Five games in five days is tough. This trip has taught us to be more professional," pointed out Isaac Go. "Taking care of our bodies, watching what we eat, being ready mentally for each opponent, being able to put a good or bad game behind us, are just some of the things that fall under being professional."
The Jones Cup has a unique tournament format wherein there is no playoffs, no semifinals, and not even a championship game. All participating teams will battle it out in a single round robin format and the team with the best record wins. A simple format for sure, but the only catch is that everyone has a game every single day. A total of nine teams are competing in the 40th Jones Cup which means that the Philippine team has nine games in nine consecutive days. This is a far cry from what the Blue Eagles are used to as nine games would already surpass the first round of the UAAP.
Go's sentiments that the Blue Eagles are learning to be a professional on the fly is appropriate. As he said, they need to keep a short-term memory after a good game or a bad one.
Last Wednesday against Japan, Go had an uneventful six minutes and scored only two points. Granted that Ateneo's coaching staff is probably rotating its players given the tight schedule, but Go was not able to contribute in his limited time on the floor. True to his words, the big man put his poor outing behind him and came out with a sensational performance against Indonesia the following day. In Ateneo's 89-78 win, he had his best game in the tournament with 21 points on an amazing 6-for-7 shooting clip from beyond the arc.
"I guess it was just my day. I didn't play well (Wednesday vs Japan), but my teammates and coaches still had belief in me," the soft-spoken center said, who also mentioned that their daily routine is not too different back home. "I just wanted to come out and make up for the game yesterday."
The experience gained from facing the likes of South Korea, Japan, and Canada among others, will undoubtedly help Ateneo in the long run. From a basketball standpoint, going up against more physical and older opponents plus witnessing how elite level teams operate on the court are tremendous lessons that a college team can learn from. But as Go shared, this international trip has also taught them how to conduct themselves with maturity and a sense of responsibility.
Ateneo has three games left on their schedule - Lithuania, Chinese-Taipei Blue, and Iran.
"I guess we're just [going to] continue to play who we are. We can't allow external factors to affect the way we play," Go said.
Spoken like a true professional.