If last year’s UAAP finals were an indication of things to come, Ateneo’s SJ Belangel and Mark Nonoy of University of Santo Tomas could find themselves locked in epic duels in the next few UAAP seasons.

Belangel drilled big shots for the Blue Eagles as they completed a sweep of the Tigers in the finals last November that also saw the rookie Nonoy finally show his true worth with a 26-point explosion in his first championship appearance.

With their seniors Matt Nieto and Renzo Subido already moving up to the pro ranks, both Belangel and Nonoy, who grew up in cities just an hour away from each other in Negros Occidental, are ready to embrace bigger roles in Season 83.

“Even when I was in my rookie season, coach Aldin [Ayo] already gave me a voice in the team,” Nonoy said in the CPT Crossover podcast on Friday night.

“But I didn’t think I was able to fully assume that role. Right now, I’m working hard to prepare myself to lead the team, run the team, and serve as a second coach on the team while on the floor.”

Ateneo’s SJ Belangel goes for a layup against UP’s Juan Gomez de Liano —Sherwin Vardeleon

MVP performance

The Bacolod City-born Belangel already has a couple of UAAP titles tucked under his belt, but insists he is far from satisfied.

On the heels of his MVP performance in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League, Belangel said his first two seasons with the Blue Eagles have prepared him to become a more vocal leader on the team.

“Everyone has a voice on the team, but I also got a lot of mentoring from my seniors, Matt and Mike [Nieto] and Thirdy [Ravena],” Belangel said. “I was also able to learn more about leadership from coach Jimmy [Alapag]. The importance of leading by example. Leading the team by working the hardest.”

Ateneo will be gunning for a fourth straight title in Season 83, which is still up in the air as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought sports into a standstill.

Nonoy said his immediate goal is also to deliver a championship to UST.

Those goals put their paths on a collision course.

“I respect his game. He’s always calm. I don’t see him panicking,” said Nonoy, who jokingly added: “But he has to watch out next season.”

“Defending [Nonoy] is always tough. I am sure we will be playing a lot of big games against each other in our UAAP careers,” Belangel said.

UST’s Mark Nonoy dribbles past UP’s JB Mantilla —Sherwin Vardeleon

National team

Nonoy hopes that with continued improvement, he’ll get considered for selection to the national team—a goal he shared with Belangel.

“I’m taking it year by year,” said Nonoy, who hails from La Carlota City. “It’s been a dream of mine to represent the country which I didn’t experience at the youth level because I was still playing in the province.”

Nonoy’s game has drawn comparisons with Gilas Pilipinas legend Jayson Castro because of his speed.

“The goal is to be on his level,” Nonoy said.

“I’m trying to learn more about his game and how he controls his speed. I know I have the advantage speed, but I also know once it is taken away from me, I have a tough time so I’m trying to see parts of [Jayson’s] game that I can add to mine.”

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