Leche, matatalo na naman Ateneo sa UP. Okay lang. There’s a reason why the Fighting Maroons are the kings of the UAAP. Tanggap ko na.
These were some of the thoughts racing through my head as Dave Ildefonso hit his pair of free throws to keep Ateneo within three points in the last minute of action this past Sunday.
I accepted my alma mater losing to UP even before Season 85 began.
Call it denial or an acceptance of fate but, I don’t see how Ateneo could stand up to UP in another Finals matchup.
A laundry list of improvements needs to happen between now and the Final Four including better bench play from the guards, Forthsky Padrigao making major strides as a playmaker and everyone hitting open shots.
For this wannabe sports journalist though, I’d argue Ildefonso is the biggest piece of the puzzle.
The greatest basketball mamarus of our time had their hot takes about that game against La Salle – a new norm in the land of sports journalism to protect oneself from critics and would-be analysts.
“Si Dave, star lang naman ‘yan sa pangalan eh. Hindi kasi nag-preseason dito sa ‘Pinas before Season 85 kaya ayan, hirap tuloy sa clutch situations.”
While I’m just a dude who has more opinions than basketball skills, I’ve been around enough athletes of different disciplines and skill levels to believe that it’s not a confidence thing with him. He’s overthinking what to do in the moment.
We all know he can make shots with a hand in his face. We’ve seen him dismantle defenses with crisp passes to shooters. We all started asking “what if he did join Ateneo” prior to Season 84. We wondered how great he would be under the guiding hand of Tab Baldwin.
Season 85 Ildefonso just feels…well, off.
His picture-perfect jump shots are not falling, he struggles to make the right decision when the ball is in his hands, blitz-heavy defenses are having a field day stopping him – in short, he doesn’t look like the player that the Ateneo hopefuls yearned for.
Last season was at least a bit easier to stomach when he had vets like SJ Belangel and Gian Mamuyac helping him learn the ins and outs of the Baldwin system. The former was supposed to be with the Blue Eagles this season as the main guy to take the pressure off of Dave Ildefonso on offense.
But when life throws you curveballs in the form of losing your best player to pro basketball overseas, the mere thought of being placed in that role will often catche you off guard. It’s a fact of life.
As a member of the Bulldogs, Dave had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to do.
But with Ateneo, he had to tone it down for his first season and was then expected to take over again in just a few months for Season 85. It’s not as easy as some armchair analysts make it out to be. Winning the mental battle with yourself is the hardest part of doing anything in life.
In other words, sa sobrang dami ng options niya ngayon, parang nalulula siya.
Ildefonso was doing his best to be a playmaker while also getting buckets of his own against UP. Most were good shots that just didn’t go in and most of his passes ended up in the hands of his shooters who just couldn’t convert.
He had a good idea of what he wanted to do, but the Fighting Maroons are just that damn good at locking him down which led to his four turnovers.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles need someone to lead them this season and he has the opportunity to be “that” guy: the sure-handed forward/guard who cooks opposing defenses for lunch and then has what’s left of them for merienda just because he can.
Becoming the head of the table for a group that once featured the likes of Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto and SJ Belangel is no joking matter. The pressure to deliver lies on him as the face of the team.
We don’t need someone to blame. That’s tabloid journalism. Kumbaga, madali lang manisi ng iba.
Coach Tab previously mentioned Ateneo missing that man-for-others mentality earlier in the season following their win over UST last Wednesday. In crunch time against UP, we needed someone to take control of the situation. A literal man-for-others. The man willing to take the pressure off of his teammates.
Being a man-for-others works in certain situations like in nation-building. But sometimes, it means taking on a role you did not expect to get wholeheartedly and to just run up that damned hill. Basketball is a team sport and being a leader willing to take both blame and praise are part and parcel of being a man-for-others.
Everyone’s guilty of putting the pressure on Ildefonso to win a title, probably even himself. That’s okay. If my now-barely used history degree has anything to say about it, the course of human history has always revolved around competition – the same is more evident in the realm of sports.
I’m reminded of what a certain blonde-haired, bad-ass said from a spin-off comedy-drama from the 80’s once said that applies perfectly to his situation: When an eagle’s hungry, it doesn’t hesitate. If you want to be an eagle, you first have to learn how to fly.
We’ve already seen you learn how to fly last season. Just catch your breath first and then show them how hungry you really are for a championship.