Whether he or Gilas Pilipinas national team coach Tab Badlwin will call the shots for Ateneo, Sandy Arespacochaga is bent on speeding up the development of the promising Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney as they enter the post-Kiefer Ravena era.
Arespacochaga, who spent a big portion the past decade as an assistant coach under Norman Black and Bo Perasol, is expected to play a bigger role this season.
For one, the 58-year-old Baldwin’s appointment as the Blue Eagles’ bench tactician remains shrouded with a cloud of uncertainty.
Nonetheless, Arespacochaga told FOX Sports in a phone interview on Friday that he and Baldwin have already come up with their own plans as they brace themselves for the worst-case scenario.
“We have come up with a system wherein we’ll help each other,” he said. “The main focus of what we talked about is that the coaching staff will have to work well as a team and as a unit. It’s not only me and him, it’s the whole coaching staff. Like what coach Tab said, regardless of what his title will be, we’ll just work together,” added Arespacochaga, who played for Ateneo in the 1990s.
Arespacochaga should also deal with how he can help the Blue Eagles find a new identity following the graduation of the six-foot Ravena, a two-time UAAP MVP awardee, and sweet-shooting Von Pessumal, leaving them big shoes to fill.
Ateneo also suffered a combination of big blows in the off-season when several of its potential vital cogs, led by transferee CJ Perez and former Rookie of the Year awardee Arvin Tolentino, failed to meet the school’s academic requirements, forcing them to bolt out of the Katipunan-based camp.
The task seems more daunting than it looks, but Arespacochaga appears ready to face that head-on.
“We’ll try to squeeze the best out of them,” he said.
Tipped to lead the way for the revamped Blue Eagles is Kiefer’s younger brother, Thirdy, who will make his return after sitting out last year due to academic woes.
Backing up Ravena are veteran big men G-Boy Babilonia, Vince Tolentino, Kris Porter, Cameroon import Chibueze Ikeh, combo guards Aaron Black and Adrian Wong.
“We have lost of our young players,” noted Arespacochaga, with the Blue Eagles parading five rookies that include Shaun Ildefonso, son of retired pro league great Danny.
“We’re hoping that as we continue to play, our maturity would be fast tracked. We’re hoping to keep on improving and mature as fast as possible.”
Having Baldwin in the fold is an added boost for the Blue Eagles, according to Arespacochaga.
“We’ll take advantage of his coaching acumen and experience,” he said. “I’m still gonna differ to him kung ano man ang kailangan naming gawin. Basically, ganun ang set-up namin.”
While he feels their archival, powerhouse La Salle, is the clear cut title favorite, Arepacochaga said Ateneo and the other teams have what it takes to pull big surprises.
“La Salle is the only team that’s way ahead of the rest. But you cannot take any team for granted. It’s a dangerous and exciting season if you think about it,” he pointed out.
Ateneo opens its title drive against host University of Santo Tomas on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. – Jerome Lagunzad
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