“We shall return and be champions in 2017,” Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin memorably concluded his speech at the thanksgiving Mass last year, following a sweep by the De La Salle Green Archers in the men’s basketball finals of Season 79. And that they did.
"I don't think they needed to win the title for that to be validated in my mind. I don't think they needed the title for that to be validated in their minds. But that sure helps."
This year’s thrilling best-of-three series saw the Ateneo Blue Eagles draw first blood in Game 1, with a final score of 76-60. The Green Archers made a stunning comeback in Game 2 to force a third meeting, but in the end, the Blue Eagles emerged victorious in the do-or-die match, 88-86—their first championship since the five-peat era that ended in 2012.
After the initial celebration on the court, Baldwin was seen approaching the La Salle bench to comfort some of the Archers. Later, he addressed the blue side of the
Proving gracious in defeat, the façade of De La Salle University’s St. La Salle Hall on Taft Avenue was illuminated in blue after the game, in a magnanimous gesture of sportsmanship. DLSU’s official Facebook account posted a picture of the blue-lit campus, writing, “We celebrate a good fight. We’re proud of you, Green Archers! To the Blue Eagles, congratulations!”
We celebrate a good fight. We’re proud of you, Green Archers! To the Blue Eagles, congratulations!Posted by De La Salle University on Sunday, December 3, 2017
Ateneo de Manila, for its part, posted a green banner on its official account that read, “Thanks for a great series. Congratulations, La Salle Green Archers!”
A Day of Thanksgiving
As an annual tradition, the Ateneo community gathered at the Church of Gesu for a Thanksgiving Mass after the game, followed by a short program that allowed Baldwin and the graduating members of the team to share stories and messages.
Businessman Manny V. Pangilinan, an alumnus and the team's chief backer and staunch supporter, thanked Baldwin and the team for all their hard work this season. A sweet surprise from the chairman, CEO, and president of SMART, he said he would give all the players new iPhone Xs and would fly them out for a celebratory trip to Hong Kong.
The three graduating students from the team also took their turns at the microphone. First up was Kris Porter.
“In all my years in Ateneo, it was always me on the other side, seeing all my seniors say goodbye. Now it’s my turn to say goodbye.”
“I have never given so much of myself to something… and all I have to say is thank you," he said. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of something greater than myself."
Chibueze Ikeh, the team's Nigerian
Word From the Captain
In winning the championship, the Blue Eagles fulfilled a promise they had made to their team captain, graduating senior Vince Tolentino, at the start of the season. The promised that he would graduate a champion. In his speech following the game, Tolentino recounted his journey as an 18-year-old rookie player, "fresh from Canada, chasing a dream." He revealed that when he came to the Philippines, he wanted to try out for La Salle. But "green didn’t really work out for me and blue was a better fit," he said.
“The first stages of my Ateneo career, I sat on the bench," Tolentino said. "It was very difficult for me, as a teenager, so far away from home, chasing a dream.”
Finally, during his fourth year on the team, he was given the opportunity to step up. “In the distance, a beacon of white light came shining in the Ateneo facilities—Coach Tab Baldwin,” he said, as he introduced his coach. “This man has taught me more about the game of basketball in my last two years than I had in my whole lifetime. With this coach, nothing was to go to chance.”
Tolentino thanked his teammates for standing in as his family. “You are the reason why I stand here today, fulfilling my Ateneo dream,” he says. “Every day, I would see you guys whether I wanted to or not. All the blood, sweat, and tears we shed for each other were definitely worth it in the end."
“When it comes to reaching a goal or a milestone such as a championship, you will love the moment when it happens and you will celebrate," he said. "But what you will remember and miss the most is the everyday chase and the people you were surrounded by along that journey.”
It's About the Journey
Baldwin's speech recalled the journey to this win. "I remember vaguely standing here last year. I
I said, 'Just do what you’re capable of doing, do the best of your ability, and be ready. Because when I or the next coach or your future wife or best friend or your mom and dad or your kids one day come to you and say 'We need you,' you need to be ready.
Baldwin says that while he echoed the sentiments and the pride of the Ateneo community when the team finished second to De La Salle last year, part of him knew that "there needed to be more. Because the qualities that these young men have are championship qualities. I don't think they needed to win the title for that to be validated in my mind. I don't think they needed the title for that to be validated in their minds. But that sure helps."
When Baldwin began coaching the Blue Eagles last season, he took over a team that had just seen several star players graduate or end their time with the Blue Eagles for various reasons, leaving him with new key players to build and hone.
He paid tribute to the three players leaving the Blue Eagles this year.
"Vince Tolentino is a unique guy. I wanted a leader. He said to me, 'Coach, I'm not sure I'm the stand out rah-rah kind of guy who could tell them where to go, but I will do my best to show them where to go," he said. "And he did a great job."
For the last two years,
"Ikeh, since I have known him, has been as criticized as any player I've ever coached, oftentimes with good reason," said Baldwin. "Let me tell you about something about Ikeh. This is something a lot of Filipinos can appreciate. He is a young man who left his home, left his country, left his friends, left his family,
Baldwin said it was important for him to gain Ikeh's trust and make him trust his teammates as well. "This was a man who didn't trust me, who didn't trust a lot of people," he said. "But through his teammates, through the work ethic that he had, through some conversations, he started to trust. When he did, he started to grow. You saw it on the basketball court with the rebounds, the baskets, the three-point shots, and the
"So, be ready boys, because obviously this year we validated that extreme hard work works."
Baldwin also applauded Porter and the rest of the team who didn't get to have as much floor time in the finals.
"Kris is a guy who has played successfully. He is a guy who questioned himself when I questioned him: What are you going to do for this team? And what he said to me was always one thing: 'What do you need me to do?' I said, 'Just do what you’re capable of doing, do the best of your ability, and be ready. Because when I or the next coach or your future wife or best friend or your mom and dad or your kids one day come to you and say 'We need you,' you need to be ready, Baldwin said. "When I tapped him on the shoulder, he was always with confidence. It was the confidence that grew in me for him because he did what’s asked and with every effort, he did everything for one reason: his brothers."
Baldwin ended his speech saying he looks forward to the new season that will be starting soon. "So, be ready boys, because obviously this year we validated that