By Nikole Javier
Minus his old reliables in SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac and Tyler Tio, Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin is looking to push up the pace of their preparations as he banks on the recovery of reigning Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame in their bid to reclaim the UAAP crown in Season 85.
Baldwin, who led the Blue Eagles to a Finals stint but fell in a dramatic fashion against the hard-fighting University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in the previous season, said that he finds it unusual that he was given “a little bit of false sense of security” after coming off from decent training camps in their offseason trips to Japan and Israel.
“We need more preparation, we need more preparation games and we’re not gonna get them. So, it’s time to buckle up and really prepare for the fight and we have to make it not (as) one big fight, but 14 big fights in order to get to the one big fight,” said Baldwin in Nikko Ramos’ Call To Arms podcast on Sunday, Sept. 25.
With the departure of his most trusted players in Belangel, Mamuyac and Tio who all decided to go pro, Baldwin is digging deep to fill the void in terms of leadership inside the court.
As the Blue Eagles approach the upcoming season which will kick off on Oct. 1, the 64-year-old tactician is now looking at last season’s MVP Kouame who suffered a meniscus sprain and a partial anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear three months ago.
“He isn’t that close, he missed two months. He’s a big guy, the body doesn’t heal, maybe they heal, (but) getting back to the coordination, the agility, the mobility, (and) the quickness which is such a big part of Ange’s game hasn’t come all the way back yet. The desire is there, the heart is there and those are important factors for him,” added Baldwin.
Joining Kouame in the fold are BJ Andrade, Dave Ildefonso and Jacob Lao.
With such a short offseason, Baldwin was certain Ateneo hasn’t reached its peak yet.
“No, I don’t like the short turnaround because I’ve always been a big preparation guy. And with a short turnaround, this team, which has so many new players in it, needs more preparation time and I think our play in the preseason right now reflects that. We don’t look very good in my eyes,” Baldwin continued.
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