MANILA, Philippines—There was no way the Ateneo Blue Eagles would let Anton Asistio exit without a championship.
Asistio was the lone graduating member of the Ateneo men's basketball team, and his teammates gave him a perfect send-off as the Blue Eagles overwhelmed University of the Philippines 99-81 in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball Finals.
Asistio scored just six points, making 2 of his 8 field goal attempts, but he was showered with adulation by the Ateneo crowd at Araneta Coliseum who chanted his last name after the game.
"All I want was to have the best goodbye gift to him which is the championship," said Thirdy Ravena of Asistio, who has been his teammate since their high school days with the Blue Eaglets.
"I've seen him develop incredibly. Dati shooter lang siya now he does a lot and I wish him nothing but the best sa next step sa career niya."
Matt Nieto, Ateneo's starting point guard, added that he was "really playing for my senior, Anton."
"I never want him to be let down," he said.
For Asistio, it was the fitting conclusion to a collegiate career that has been a roller-coaster. He was a seldom-used reserve in Seasons 76 and 77, getting so little playing time that he scored a grand total of six points over the course of two seasons. In Season 78, he was sent down to Team B.
"Instead of seeing that as a downgrade, I looked at it as an opportunity, an opportunity to get better, kasi the fact that they sent me down means na may kulang pa ako as a player," said Asistio.
"With the help of coach Yuri (Escueta), I was able to develop my skills and regain my confidence," he added.
Asistio got his break when Tab Baldwin took over as the head coach of the Blue Eagles ahead of Season 79. "It was a clean slate for everyone," the guard noted. "It was another challenge for me, and the rest is history."
This isn't to say that Asistio immediately impressed Baldwin. The Kiwi-American coach was frank in his assessment of Asistio: "The coaching staff were encouraging me, 'Come on, Anton is a great shooter, he's a great competitor, he's not gonna back down.'"
"And I'm like, 'He's too short, he's too weak, he's too slow, and he can't handle the ball.' And this is all true, and he knows it," he added.
Asistio made it clear that Baldwin's assessment of him was nothing he hadn't heard before. Rather than hurt his feelings or discourage him, it only motivated him to work even harder.
"Dati pa sinasabi sa akin 'yun, before pa ako pumasok ng college, sinasabi na sa akin 'yun. So what I did was, if it's true, I should do something about it. So 'yun nga, I just worked on getting better," said Asistio, who shot a blistering 45.2% from behind the arc in the elimination round.
Baldwin was impressed with the work that the guard put in.
"We ended up with a guy who got in the weight room, changed his body, changed his mentality, continued to be a great shooter, became very dependable handling the ball, and also is one of our more dependable defensive players," said Baldwin.
"So of course, he's sitting here today as a graduating senior with all the laurels that he deserves because he worked his tail off to get them."
After seeing how hard Asistio worked, Baldwin has no doubt the graduating guard will find success and the coach vowed to back him every step of the way.
"I would endorse this guy, I would back him in any endeavor, because I believe in him so much," he said. "He's a great kid, he's a great young man, and he's gonna do great things in life. We're very blessed to have him in our program."
Asistio intends to play in the PBA D-League and the MPBL after his UAAP career, while also finishing his master's degree in communications from the Ateneo.
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