Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

Can last year's top newcomers keep it up?

The Sophomore Slump isn't just something rock bands suffer. Many Basketball players run into a wall in their second year too. A hotshot rookie can get see a promising career take a nosedive as defenses wise up and confidence plunges.

Four exceptional second-year players will enter UAAP Season 75 hoping to avoid this fate.

Kiefer Ravena had a sensational freshman year, leading the Ateneo Blue Eagles in scoring with 14 points. His 3.17 assists per game average were also tops for the champs. The guard easily had the most amazing debut for an Atenean guard since L.A. Tenorio.

But this year things haven't been so easy. Ateneo failed to capture the Filoil preseason tilt, won by the NU Bulldogs. Several observers feel that Ravena's form seems to have dipped. But this is dismissed by Eagles assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.

“It's no surprise that teams are more aware of what he can do,” says the former Blue Eagle. “They trap him off pick and rolls now and make other adjustments. In terms of scoring he didn't have a good summer, but if you look at the box scores you'll see something like seven points, five rebounds, and five assists. He is really contributing in other ways.”

As they have done for a few years now, the Blue Eagles held a training camp in Las Vegas. There they played teams composed of American college players. Kiefer played so well that Arespacochaga  overheard some of the yanks gushing about Ravena's seemingly bottomless arsenal of moves. One memorable quote: “That number 15... he's a son of a b___h!!

Ravena's frontcourt partner is also in his second season. But unlike Kiefer, Greg Slaughter's sophomore year is also his last. The transferee from the University of Visayas and SMART Gilas veteran will run out of eligibility after Season 75. Last season Slaughter was good for more than 13 points a game and just shy of 10 rebounds per outing. His average of 2 blocks easily led Ateneo.

Arespacochaga says that the center isn't taking the challenge of this season, a possible five-peat, lightly.

“Teams are double teaming Greg and trying to get the ball out of his hands. But that's good for us since he's such a willing passer” explains Arespacochaga. “He is helping other teammates get better by passing the ball around. Last summer his rebounds were up and he almost averaged a double-double.”

“We're also getting Greg earlier this year. Last year we got him late because of SMART Gilas.” Slaughter has also been busy beefing up. He has noticeably added more muscle to his gangly frame.

Another second-year player who is looking to build on rookie success is National University's Ray-Ray Parks. The league MVP is flush with confidence after the Bulldogs ruled the Filoil. Many pundits have them as a twice-to-beat team in the Final Four.

“I expect him to be a better all-around player this year” says coach Eric Altamirano. “He's our go-to guy in scoring but I also want him to be a premier defender.” Last year Parks normed over 15 points a game.
 
“Ray-Ray is getting used to being bumped and is really learning to make the right decisions when he's being guarded tightly.   He's also working on his middle game (mid-range shots) and that's the hardest to work on.”

But Parks' biggest contributions are probably the intangible ones. “He's the hardest worker in practice,” says Altamirano. The coach also admires how he has taken a leadership role in games, being more vocal with his teammates. Parks is a co-captain of NU along with Emmanuel Mbe and Ajeet Singh.

Flying perhaps under the radar of these standouts is Kevin Ferrer of UST. Ferrer is a long, athletic wing man with the ability to slash and pull up and shoot from distance. This skill set earned him an average of 7.64 points a game last year. This year he is gunning for more.

“Gusto kong i-improve ang focus ko,” says the Bangkal, Makati native. “Pag nawala yun, nawawala talaga ako.” Some observers have noticed a tendency to get frustrated during games, leading to ill-advised three-pointers and other mental errors.

For his sake, he hopes those foibles will be a thing of the past.  Ferrer is also dedicated to honing his post-up game for even more versatility on offense.

Ferrer is happy at how the team gelled during the Filoil and thinks that they have a shot at the championship.  His favorite player? “Kevin Durant. Kase pareho kaming gumalaw.”

The OKC Thunder star fell short of a first title in the recently concluded NBA season. For certain these four sophomores want nothing less than a first-place finish in their second year at the UAAP.

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