“I KNOW you want me to promise championships but all I will offer is to give my best to mold this group to have the character and attitude that will make you proud to call them Atenean.”
Those were the words of Ateneo Blue Eagles coach Tab Balwin to the Cebuano Ateneo Alumni during a small gathering in a Lahug restaurant to welcome him as coach in March of 2016.
“I earned my college degree in Notre Dame and you all did the same to get your Ateneo degree,” Baldwin said. “I want all players in my team to go through the same things you all did academically so that the degree you earned won’t be cheapened,” he said.
“I specifically asked the school for a five-year contract because I want that towards the end of my tenure, all the players I’m coaching are all from my system and not those I’ve inherited from the previous program.”
Baldwin said that his system will not rely on “hero ball” or team superstars. Work ethic and attitude are more important to him than raw talent because he wants to cultivate a culture of teamwork and camaraderie in his team.
During that introductory meeting with the Cebuanos, Baldwin had yet to coach a single UAAP game. But having already been part of some team building outings, he proudly shared anecdotes of bonding moments which had nothing to do with basketball but more about how the players were learning to carry each other’s backs.
In Baldwin’s first UAAP season in 2016, he dismissed many of the good players he inherited because of their failure to meet academic standards. This left Ateneo with a very weak team on paper. After making the finals where they lost, observers felt the Blue Eagles overachieved.
Now after three straight championships, including this year’s rare perfect season, Baldwin’s words have proven to be prophetic. He did not rely on superstars because the academically challenged high-profile recruits he inherited, such as Jerie Pingoy never even suited up under him.
The fact that no Ateneo player made the UAAP Mythical 5--even though the team went unbeaten in the elimination round--illustrated that Baldwin’s team was not superstar-reliant. Most importantly, the way the players have carried themselves under Baldwin’s tenure has made the entire Ateneo community proud.
Coach Tab Baldwin did not promise championships. He only promised to bring his system to the team. In the end, that proved to be good enough.