By Eriko dela Cruz
As the Arena barker announced the starting 5 for both Ateneo and FEU, a lot of Ateneo fans were at the edge of their seats.
At point guard, number 15, Forth Padrigao!
It was charting the unknown. How could Padrigao, someone who barely got minutes in Season 84, become Ateneo’s starting point guard? How will he be able to handle the team as a sophomore? Most importantly, how will he be able to fill in the shoes left by SJ Belangel?
If you watched the UAAP juniors tournament, or followed Batang Gilas, you knew who Forthsky Padrigao was. You would also know that skill was not a problem with this guy.
It was consistency.
When he was hot, it was special. You would see crazy shots from deep, PUJIT3s aplenty. Daredevil drives to the basket, crazy finishes. Pinoy Steph Curry, this kid was called once. When his game is not there, however, your forehead would be red from all the facepalming you were about to do.
Ateneo fans were antsy because they felt he was thrust into a situation he was not ready for yet. After all, he was supposed to have one more year of mentoring under SJ Belangel until Korea came calling, and answering became harder to refuse.
Ateneo has had a streak of having good to outright legendary floor generals since 2002. LA Tenorio, Macky Escalona, Chris Tiu, Yuri Escueta, Jai Reyes, Emman Monfort, Juami Tiongson, Kiefer Ravena, Matt Nieto, and SJ Belangel. Padrigao, as young as he is, has a giant pair of shoes to fill if ever he wants to be mentioned under the same breath as these Ateneo greats.
To put it simply in plain tagalog, hilaw pa si Forth. This showed when FEU pressed him. He replaced his habit of picking up his dribble early with another one; backing down his defender to put his body between the defender and the ball. The thing was, FEU’s guards were soft double teaming him to begin the game, and as he backed down, the soft double became a hard one. This led to turnovers and Ateneo losing the lead. A lot of Ateneo titos had Vietnam war flashbacks of a time when crossing the halfcourt line was something you had to pray for.
In the third quarter, it’s as if a different Forthsky came out of that locker room. He seemed steadier, much more within the flow of the offense. He used picks set to him by Ange Kouame much better. His court vision, his biggest asset, helped him locate Dave Ildefonso and BJ Andrade, among others, and feed them the ball. He was navigating through the paint and challenging guys like Sleat, Sajonia, and Anonuevo to get rebounds. During those last two quarters, he was reassuring everyone; Y’all don’t need to miss SJ that much guys, a new point guard has come Forth (you bet your ass this pun is intended).
Padrigao stepped up against the bigger, more experienced guards of FEU. That was a good showing. A stat line of 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and a +20 is nothing to sneeze at. However, how will we stack up against other kinds of presses and traps that Ateneo is sure to face? How will we handle pressure from DLSU’s Evan Nelle and Mark Nonoy? How will he face UP’s Fortea-Cagulangan rotation? Only time will tell.
For now, enjoy the excellent performance, and pray that the second half Forthsky shows up a hell of a lot more than the first half one.