[PHOTO AT LEFT - Tamaraw Mark Barroca takes a left-handed lay-up against Blue Eagle Nicolas Salva in a match between two top ranked teams at the Araneta Coliseum yesterday. Jun Mendoza MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, JULY 13, 2009 (STAR) By Joey Villar - Ateneo, playing as if to prove something, scuttled pre-season favorite Far Eastern U, 63-59, to set in motion its back-to-back title bid in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament before a packed Sunday crowd at the Big Dome.

The Eagles drew strength from reigning MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini and made key stops down the stretch to foil the Tamaraws who rallied from double-digit deficits to set up the down-to-the-wire finish.

But the Loyola-based cagers showed championship poise then came through with clutch free throws to complete the win to the big disappointment of FEU fans who had looked forward to a successful debut of a talent-laden team tipped to go all the way for this year’s crown.

“They kept on saying FEU is the team to beat this year. This win should send a message that Ateneo is still stronger,” Al-Hussaini said.

The reigning MVP, who scored 33 points against the Tams in one of their duels last season, found a tougher FEU defense but still scored a game-high 17 points, including six in the stretch to stymie the Tams’ comeback.

“They really gave me a hard time because they know what I can do to them but coach (Norman Black) told me to take my time because it will eventually fall,” said the 6-7 Al-Hussaini.

Black said he expected the game to be one of the toughest.

“We just really want to concentrate on our defense because we came into the game knowing we’re playing probably the toughest game,” said Black of the Tams.

The match had been billed as a title preview with both teams gaining the top 2 rankings in the pre-season.

In fact, experts have ranked FEU slightly higher than Ateneo because it has retained the core of its last year’s team, headed by Smart Gilas Pilipinas standouts Mark Barroca, Aldrech Ramos and JR Cawaling.

“It was to be expected because FEU is a very good team and this is really big for us to beat them,” said Black.

The spitfirish Barroca unloaded 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, made two assists and two steals while the 6-6 Ramos finished with 15 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, four shot blocks, three assists and a steal.

But Cawaling struggled all game and was held to just four points.

Eric Salamat groped for form as he took over the spot left by playmaker Chris Tiu, winding up with eight points. Kirk Long likewise struggled on his first starting job since joining the Eagles three years ago by finishing with three points.

But Ryan Buenafe and Nico Salva, coming off the bench, combined for 19 points, including 12 second quarter points when the Eagles, who fell 0-8 in the early going, turned things around.

Noy Baclao, the 2008 Finals MVP, failed to score but had 11 rebounds, five blocks and a steal.

Earlier, National U, with SM malls and NU owners Henry and Hans Sy among the crowd, trimmed University of the Philippines, 74-64, to join the opening day winners University of the East and University of Santo Tomas.

The UE Junior Red Warriors crushed the Jr. Maroons, 80-56, as action started in the junior division Saturday.

“We dedicate this game and the whole season to the late Rolando “Bren” Perez who had supported us unceasingly throughout the years,” said rookie head coach Mark Herrera, referring to the UE PE director who passed away Friday night.

Sports for higher purpose THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco Updated July 13, 2009 12:00 AM

Each time college basketball season comes around, it’s like a collective switch is turned on in Philippine society, particularly among the youth. Similar to summer around the world and soccer season in Europe, there is an increase in awareness of sport, and the media are suddenly filled with details of every sporting event available to the youth. In fact, locally, the last few years have even seen new websites and magazines catering exclusively to amateur (meaning school) sports.

If you look at all the sports news now, a common thread one can pick up is the question of purpose, from acquiring head coaches to switching teams to putting together sports programs. The question often left unanswered is: why did that happen?

Let’s start with the NBA. For example, why did the Detroit Pistons not come to terms with Avery Johnson, when there seemed to be such good communication between them? Apparently, Johnson wanted a four-year deal, so he could reap the rewards of rebuilding the team. Pistons management, apparently, didn’t want to be stuck in the situation of owing a head coach money after they terminate him three times in a row. That seems to be the only reason that makes sense of the decision to hire Cleveland assistant John Kuester, instead. Hedo Turkoglu is another case in point. After coming within a few games of an NBA championship, the versatile forward opts to move to Toronto, even though he was already deep in talks with Portland. Apparently, his wife prefers Toronto because there is a big Turkish community there, and of course, the money ($56 million over the Trailblazers’ $50 million) is substantially bigger. Therefore, Turkoglu’s main purpose in moving is not to win an NBA title but to have security.

I often ask myself these questions when covering college basketball, as well. Why do the schools do it? Historically, sports has been a substitute for war, a showcase of school pride, and a way to generate commercial interest from advertisers and even alumni. Players do it to get a free education, board and lodging, and exposure in their dreams of becoming pros. That’s why certain schools breed more pro basketball players than others. The students use athletics to prepare for a future in basketball, not necessarily in whatever field it is they’re studying.

Sometimes, one of my sons will ask me: what’s the point? I turn the question around to them: why do it at all? They inevitably answer me, because they enjoy it, but maybe their team isn’t as good this year, they want to learn more, and so on. Of course, there are times they don’t like the referees’ calls, or some other kid from another school is getting on their nerves, and so on. I just remind them, why are you playing basketball? My older son wants to make Ateneo’s UAAP team. My younger son wants to play in the PBA. When I remind them of that, I ask: will getting upset help them achieve their purpose? They get the message, and nod.

There is a saying that, while most animals grouse and grumble in the storm, the eagle flies above it. That should be our attitude when we have a higher purpose. For my sons, aside from their personal self-expression, I believe they play basketball because they want to be better at it, and it reveals to them their attitudes about life in a safe environment.

This reminds me of the program initiated by former Philippine Sports Commission chair Butch Ramirez in Mindanao. His Sports for Peace program has drawn government support, and has unified Christians, Muslims and indigenous peoples in Mindanao for the last few years. His affiliated project, “Bola, Hindi Bala” also took him and his team to some dangerous places, where he exposed each side’s humanity to the other. His mission is clear: use sports to bring Filipinos closer together. I’ve always wondered why it hasn’t been done nationwide.

Looking further back, I recall a young man who permanently changed the way the Olympic Games are ended, with a simple anonymous letter.

Seventeen-year-old apprentice Carpenter John Ian Wing, who was in Australia during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, wrote a letter to the organizing committee a few days before the games were to end. He suggested that all the delegations march together at the Games’ climax, as one nation. After all, he reasoned, wasn’t that what the Olympics were all about? His suggestion was followed, and every Olympics since has featured the athletes walking freely in every Olympic stadium, shaking hands, taking pictures, waving to the crowd, as one.

Thirty years later, Wing revealed himself as the one who wrote the letter. He was awarded an Olympic medal for his outstanding contribution to the Olympic movement, becoming the first Chinese individual to ever receive an Olympic medal. He was clear on what the purpose of sports was for him. All that was needed was a means to express it.

And as they say, when the intention is clear, the mechanism will appear.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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