Black is 'really concerned' about UST
MANILA, Philippines - While most coaches see National University as a top contender for the UAAP Season 75 men's basketball tournament title, a different team has caught the eye of Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles head coach Norman Black.
While Black acknowledges that NU will be a threat, he said he is more worried about their next opponent.
"A lot of people ask me about NU because NU did not lose this summer and of course they'll be very, very difficult to beat. You can only go by what you see and they showed us this summer that they are for real," he told Rappler in an exclusive interview for Talk Thursday.
"But the team I'm really concerned about this season is UST. I think that they are in a position we were in last year. We had almost all of our returning players coming back last year and UST has the same situation this year," he added.
Black said the University of Santo Tomas Tigers only lost one major player last year, which most of the time, is "what it takes to get over the hump."
He said that the continuity will help UST perform well, along with the players already knowing and believing in the system of the coach.
ADMU faces UST on Thursday, July 19 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Eyes on the 5-peat
While everyone waits to see if the Blue Eagles can take home its fifth UAAP title in a row, no one is as focused on the prize as Black.
He admits there is pressure but he is also the biggest believer of preparation.
"I always believe that if you prepare well and you put your work in - in other words you do your homework - you have a much better chance of conquering your pressure," he said.
Ateneo is still one of the favorites this season as the Blue Eagles attempt to achieve a 5-peat, which has never been done in the school's history.
And they are in a good place to do it.
The team may have lost 3 key players last year in Emman Monfort, Kirk Long and key reserve Bacon Austria, but still on the squad are their two leading rebounders, Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva, and their 3 leading scorers from last season.
Black said the team has a "good chance to do well," which they showed in their first game of the season, thrashing Adamson University 73-57, to start their 'Drive for Five' on a high note.
This is the last season that Black will be leading the Blue Eagles. Come October, the renowned coach will be taking his talents back to the professional league, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), where he was a player for 10 years and a coach for 17.
Black, who described his relationship with his players as more like a father but also a brother, said he has learned much from coaching college athletes.
He compared the difference between coaching the PBA and the UAAP, saying egos are bigger among the pros, who are making money and are consequently slightly harder to coach.
With college students however, he said the dynamic is different. Because he gets to recruit and choose his players for college, he said there is a connection already when his players come in.
"I think my job is to develop them as they grow older," he said. "In other words, my job is to make sure that when they enter as freshman, they leave as seniors better than they were as freshmen. In other words, to see them grow as players, improve their skills as players, they grow into men, thats what college basketball is all about. Development of skill, development of person."
According to Black, Ateneo has made him realize that skill development does not stop in college, a mentality he will bring as head coach to Talk 'N Text, where he is the current consultant of the team.
Loving the Philippines
Black said he was looking forward to returning to coaching the pros, and expressed his support for the PBA, which he said has been on the rise in the past 2-3 years under Commissioner Chito Salud.
In comparing the PBA today to the league he played in, Black said that basketball is still the same fundamentally, but that there are more Filipino-American players now -- a good thing, he said, despite controversy over Fil-Ams playing for the Azkals football team and the Philippine Volcanoes rugby team.
"I think the Fil-Ams are good for basketball here. For one, they are Filipinos why should they be denied the chance to play in the PBA?," he said. "I think their skill level is considered pretty high. They can bring something as far as skill is concerned."
Black also offered advice to these Fil-Ams, saying that while they played here, they should also "embrace the culture and learn the language," which would help fans accept them a little easier -- a lesson he himself learned when he first came as an import at a time that the PBA stars were all homegrown Filipinos.
The Baltimore-native first came to the Philippines in 1981 to play for the PBA supposedly temporarily -- until he married a Filipina 28 years ago.
Since then, Black stayed on in the country which he said his wife refuses to leave, the same country he too has fallen in love with. - Rappler.com