Friday, January 21, 2011

Will the Prodigal Eaglet Come Home?

Ael Banal, with the Blue Eaglets. Photo from here, by Jamie Lihan

Despite the lack of Kiefer Ravena news in recent weeks, Ateneo continues to make recruiting headlines, as posters on the Blue Eagles Nest of the GameFace Forums breathlessly broke the news that "The Prodigal Eaglet", Ael Banal, had returned to the nest and participated in a practice Thursday night with ADMU Team A.

Banal, a Blue Eaglet in the Juniors Division, was once considered a lock to move up to the Seniors team. After winning back to back titles with the Eaglets, Banal graduated and passed the ACET, with Management Economics as his course. Though he would have had to sit out a year due to commitments with the RP Youth Team, many Eagles fans dreamed of a young perimeter core comprised of Kiefer Ravena, Ael Banal and Gwynne Capacio.

Instead, rumors arose that Banal would be taking his talents to other schools. Some sources claimed that Banal was "turning to the dark side" in the minds of Ateneo fans by opting to become a Green Archer, joining his older brother Gab. Later on, it was said that his RP Youth Team coach Eric Altamirano had swayed the young sniper into signing with the NU Bulldogs.

After the U-18 tournament, Ael opted not to enroll for the second semester in a college and basically disappeared from the radar, save for a few appearances. As late as last October, sources told me that Banal was practicing at the NU gymnasium along with other NU players. Then last December, word arrived that he was practicing in the U.S. along with Gab, and Green Archer Joshua Webb, and that Ael was reportedly trying out for several Division I US NCAA schools.

According to the scouting report by GameFace poster "yungha", Ael is:
"still a dead-eye shooter. pero mabagal pa rin release. the younger von pessumal seems to have caught up with him physically as from my vantage point von looked bigger and a bit taller than ael. si ael payat pa rin. physically von would be more ready for the college game but of course we've always known that ael has greater range"
The situation for Banal is now one of uncertainty. Clearly, the time away from the sport and a strict practice regimen has hurt his game and affected his growth. He is now in a situation where he will have to compete with younger, perhaps, more talented players, vying for slots in Season 74.

A reunion with Ateneo is not out of the picture, but one must first consider several things. First, Ateneo has an open try-outs philosophy, meaning any prospective player can join Team A practices. That means it's not uncommon for players to test their mettle against the Eagles, and then commit to other schools (one good example was DLSZ's Nico Elorde, from last season, who partook in a lot of practices, enough to make some think that he was considering turning in his green jersey for a blue one). Second, unless the situation has changed, Banal's father, Joel, supposedly has some conflict with the Blue Eagles coaching staff, strong enough that he considered taking Ael's talents to NU before.

Said conflict is rumored to be rooted in the possibility that Banal might require a stint on Team B. Unfortunately for Banal, if the above report is correct, a year in Team B might be the best thing for him, as he needs to improve on multiple fronts. Given the scarcity of slots on Team A of Ateneo next season, it seems highly unlikely that there will be room for him in Season 74.

That leaves the door open for La Salle (unlikely, given the glut of guards), NU, and UP (desperately needs a star), as possible destinations for him should Ateneo decide to stick to their guns.

It would be unfortunate if Ael cannot find a good landing spot for himself. He's made a few mistakes before his collegiate career has even begun, but hopefully, he can right himself and contribute to a winning program.

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