Monday, 13 June 2011 30 Comments
(Note: This piece was actually written after the first playing date of the Filoil tournament several weeks ago. But given the win of the Ateneo Blue Eagles over San Beda again in the finals (with Kiefer and Greg starring for Ateneo again), I thought it would be a nice reprint. This was originally posted on Bleachers’ Brew.)
Sandy Arespacochaga leaned against the wall with his head bowed while one of his team’s prized recruits fielded questions from the media. When asked the obviously rhetorical question, “Magaling talaga si Kiefer, ano?” the usually animated assistant coach simply nodded in silent agreement. He then flashed a knowing smile that captured what everyone else at the San Juan Arena was buzzing about long after the conclusion of the game.
The rook just put the rave in Ravena.
Kiefer came off the bench midway through the first quarter to palpable anticipation. He didn’t disappoint. From the moment his first fadeaway baseline jumper swished cleanly through the net a few plays in, The Kief Show was on. He would only miss three shots all game long while making eleven on a mix of hanging jumpers and electric drives. He made several passes that exhibited an incredible court sense for a neophyte. And in the critical final minutes of the fourth quarter, he had hands big enough to both carry the team to victory and have the crowd eat out of them at the same time.
The San Beda Red Lions assigned different defenders to shadow The Phenom. But the peskiness of Melo Lim, aggressiveness of Anthony Semerad and intimidation of Rome de la Rosa could only do so much to stem the tide. Whether matched up against stronger, taller or faster defenders, Kiefer remained unfazed. The doubters called out that he wouldn’t be able to elevate his game from the Juniors division to the Seniors. He would be a lost boy among men, they said with conviction. Norman Black is more than willing to refute this. “(Kiefer) plays beyond his years,” the coach reasoned and at least for one game, Ravena proved it. He may have been a young lad competing against grownups, but on this day, he was The Man.
Towering alongside the 5’11” Ravena and his scintillating performance was 7’0” center Greg Slaughter, whose equally outstanding debut should not be lost in the hoopla over the rookie guard. With skills chiseled by experience in both domestic and international tourneys, Greg played Tim Duncan to Kiefer’s Kobe Bryant by displaying a fundamentally efficient game. He actually top scored for the Blue Eagles with a quiet 26 and did it with an equally varied – albeit less flashy – blend of moves when compared to Kiefer. Jump hooks, short stabs, free throws and an unexpectedly nimble dribble-drive were his chosen arsenal, all the while challenged by San Beda’s imposing front line. Just like Kiefer, Slaughter entered the game with the weight of crushing expectations on his out-of-reach shoulders. Just like Kiefer, he, too, didn’t disappoint.
It’s quite fitting, therefore, that these two players teamed up for a backbreaking alley-oop in the game’s final minute, a play that marked what could be a significant basketball moment. It ignited the only “One Big Fight!” chant of the afternoon from the Ateneo faithful, which was without its Blue Babble Battalion cheer squad. It relegated the Ateneo bench to gushing fan boys, a couple of whom would otherwise have been on the court if not for Kiefer and Greg. It shifted the balance of power from the team’s veterans to a bunch of newcomers, possibly for years to come. And it served as an urgent notice to the college basketball world: even after three straight UAAP championships, winning hasn’t grown old at all for the Blue Eagles.
In fact, winning has just gotten a whole lot younger.
For more about the Ateneo Blue Eagles and San Beda Red Lions, secure a copy of Rebound Magazine, out in stores sometime in July!