By Peter Atencio
The Ateneo Blue Eagles will seek their sixth straight finals appearance and another title when Season 86 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament blasts off this Saturday the Mall of Asia Arena.
Coach Tab Baldwin said he will have a brand new team, as veterans Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and BJ Andrade have already graduated.
The leadership role of the team will now fall in the hands of senior players Kai Ballungay, Sean Quitevis and Chris Koon.
Baldwin said a younger set of players who did not see much action in Season 85 will have more time on the floor when the Blue Eagles seek a title repeat.
The Blue Eagles will again be the favorites as they seek the crown against a tough field, led by last year’s runner-up, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
The National University Bulldogs, coached by Jeff Napa, battle the Blue Eagles at 4 p.m. in the second game, while the University of Santo Tomas Tigers, coached by returning mentor Pido Jarencio, meet the Jack Santiago-coached University of the East Warriors earlier at 2 p.m.
Baldwin said the rebuilding efforts done by NU, UE and Far Eastern University will also make them tough contenders this season, along with the work done to make the UP Fighting Maroons, the Adamson Falcons and La Salle Green Archers strong favorites as well.
Season 86 will have the theme, “Fueling the Future,” which embodies the spirit of resilience, determination, and innovation that continues to define collegiate sports in the Philippines.