The Filipino Dream: Breaking down Thirdy’s first B.League Games

It’s safe to say that Thirdy Ravena is living The Filipino Dream.

According to the ASEAN Post, in an August 2019 survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), “52.9 percent of Philippine youth aged 15 to 35-years-old would like to work overseas.”  There are various reasons for this, but the ones that stand out are the opportunities for a higher salary, better quality of life, and of course, getting to pursue one’s career in a different culture.

It’s already enough that Thirdy gets to live in Japan while working for the San-en Neophoenix. Making things even sweeter is how Thirdy’s means of earning is playing a sport many young Filipinos claim as their passion.

It’s not surprising then that Filipinos across the globe have been waiting in excitement for Thirdy’s debut with his brand-new basketball team. It felt like an entire nation was living vicariously through the three-time UAAP Finals MVP. His dream was also theirs. They only wanted nothing but success for their fellow kababayan.

Photo from the Japan B.League

Thankfully, his debut lived up to the hype. Despite an eight-month layoff, Thirdy got to help the Neophoenix beat the Shimane Susanoo Magic, 83-82. His stat line was solid; 13 points, two rebounds, and two assists in 22 minutes of play. However, his raw numbers don’t do justice to just how good Thirdy was for his debut.

Outside of a dunk off a pump fake, Thirdy’s first few minutes in the B.League weren’t too memorable. He was still trying to find his role within Coach Branislav Vicentic’s system. He didn’t want to come off as too aggressive; this was his first game for a team that had already established some form of chemistry before he got there. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to come off as too passive; he was hired as an import for a reason, he needed to produce. It was a tough balancing act for someone who was also trying to get his legs under him. For the first three quarters, he only scored five total points.

Come the fourth quarter, he did what a Ravena has always been expected to do when it matters the most: dominate. He finally found his place within the flow of the team’s offense, scoring eight of the 20 total points of San-en in the fourth quarter. He didn’t demand the ball and iso as if to satisfy his Messianic Complex. Instead, he amped up his aggressiveness and continued to focus on what he did best for his team.

His job was to attack the basket and create, whether he had the ball or not. He’s an athletic marvel that’s tough to stop. Even the imports of Shimane had difficulty staying in front of him. The result was a dream debut for the Blue Eagle legend. There was no way to go but up from here.

Or so we thought. Thirdy’s second game was better on paper – 12 points and eight rebounds. It looked like he had found his footing as his aggressiveness was more consistent throughout the game. You could feel his impact and his production followed suit. But the entire game did not feel like a fulfillment of a dream. Instead, it felt like a slap in the face of the reality Thirdy, and the Filipino crowd will be facing as we move forward in this journey.

It’s obvious that this is a completely different team Thirdy’s playing for, but it was especially felt in San-en’s loss versus Shimane.

It starts with the composition and the system the Neophoenix is running. For most of his career, Thirdy’s played in a spread floor. Coaches Joe Silva, Bo Perasol, and Tab Baldwin mostly ran four-out, one-in lineups that gave Thirdy space to attack the rim.

It hasn’t been the same in San-en. Playing with two big imports, Kyle Hunt and Stevan Jelovac, has forced Thirdy to adjust to a tighter floor. It’s a big reason why he looked so hesitant during his first few minutes last Saturday. There were two big men parked in the paint he’s supposed to be driving at. Both bigs also preferred attacking from the low block instead of playing the pick and roll. How does he adjust then?

Then there’s the unique context of the team Thirdy is playing for. The San-en Neophoenix currently stands at 2-10, the worst record so far in the entire B.League. This is the first time in Thirdy’s storied career when he’s had to play for an organization that isn’t a winner. He always found success with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, winning MVP once and making it to the Finals during his senior year. In the UAAP Seniors Division, he has three championships. Playing with a team that’s struggling to even make it to the playoffs is a completely new experience for him.

It isn’t surprising then that after the game versus Shimane yesterday, Thirdy looked incredibly frustrated. His face was anguished and he looked like he was saying to himself, “I know I could have done so much more.” But what exactly he can do is something he’s still trying to figure out.

Photo from the Japan B.League

There are going to be stretches where he’s exposed to situations he’s uncomfortable with. Playing with two bigs in the low post is one. Being forced to sit on the bench after a promising first half is another. All of this is new for Thirdy, for better or for worse.

More than five hours of travel back home. Three different train stations. All after a back to back weekend. Thirdy’s Instagram story said it all. This weekend took its toll on him.

Thirdy’s still living The Filipino Dream, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s not all filled bank accounts and warm Ramen nights in beautiful Japan. There’s going to be struggle; it will always be part of the deal, no matter how amazing the complete package is.

Hold on tight, the journey’s just begun for Thirdy.  All of this so he can pursue a career and a passion in a stage that will inevitably force him to grow.