Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Ateneo Blue Eagles: The game is done.

The game is done.

I must say, however, that this is the first finals loss where I do not feel bad.

In 2001, I felt bad. That was prolonged agony. In 2006, I really felt crushed because we shouldn’t have lost that series and it was in such heartbreaking fashion.

This 2016? My heart is swelling with pride. Against a juggernaut team that is La Salle? This must be how all the other schools felt when we were killing them during the five-peat – that a loss was all but inevitable and a sure thing aside death and taxes. Remember when Larry Bird boldly strode into the locker room prior to the 1988 Three-Point Shootout on All-Star Weekend and asked who was playing for second? It was this sort of season for La Salle.

It’s fine. Besides, we blemished what should have been a perfect season for them and put the scare of God into them in Game One. Game Two was where their experience, depth, and talent came into play.

The game is done.

There are two numbers – not exactly statistics if you will -- that we should be mindful and consider for the future.

The first is the Ateneo Blue Eagles finished in second place. I believe I do not have to explain what happened before and during the season overcoming all that adversity and what. Repeating it is like reciting a litany of sorrowful mysteries. Second place is as good as first considering other teams were figured to be here.

And second, is three and two.

Yes, three and two. Matt and Mike Nieto, Adrian Wong, Aaron Black, Thirdy Ravena, and Isaac Go have three more playing years to go. Jolo Mendoza and Raffy Verano will have four more.

Now that is a solid eight-man rotation that will flat out kill foes for years to come. The pieces have fallen into place and we just need to add a few more here and there.

Last year, they got a taste of Final Four action. This year, it was the Finals. That young and yet, so competitive and filled to bursting with potential. Experience is the best teacher. And speaking of teachers, we’ve got a terrific coach in Tab Baldwin.

After Isaac Go committed that unwarranted foul in the endgame to send La Salle to the line, he went up to coach. They talked. He placed his head on his coach who reciprocated by giving him a playful tap on the cheek.

That moment for me was the season in a capsule – the raw talent, the lack of experience, the great teacher, and the right kind of compassion.

And that leads me to the last thing I’d like to say.

If you went up from the Ateneo Grade school to High School, and to College, there is this prayer – that was written by American poet Berton Braley and popularized by the Nebraska Cornhusker’s Football Team -- that we were taught to recite.

Dear Lord, the battle we go through in life,
We ask for a chance that’s fair,
A chance to equal our strides,
A chance to do or dare,
If we should win,
Let it be by the code,
With faith and honor held high,
If we should lose,
We’ll stand by the road,
and cheer as the winners go by.

The game is done. And right up to the very end, the Ateneo Blue Eagles gave it that One Big Fight. They played the game the right way and with the right conduct. Now that is all we ever ask... win or lose.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Talking basketball & life with the Ateneo Blue Eagle dads

L-R clockwise: Jet Nieto, me, George Go, Noli Tolentino, and Nio Asistio.

Talking basketball & life with the Ateneo Blue Eagle dads
by rick olivares

This one was a long time in the making. After three sessions with the Blue Eagle moms, we just had to do this. More so, it was on the eve of the UAAP Finals. It didn’t make sense to hold it after the finals. It was gonna be anti-climactic. We had four dads on hand out of the original eight who confirmed. But it was fun and insightful. The actual audio recording runs up to two hours over dinner at Backyard at the UP Town Center. There are portions that I edited out because well, they aren’t for a larger audience. But make no mistake, it was all hilarious.

And so is what is here.

George: I am George Go, the father of Isaac. I played at the college level when I studied at UST. Never at the UAAP. My son went to Ateneo because he went to Xavier. The Jesuits, you know. That’s the connection. But I said you have to go to the best school for the career and life you want and that is why my son went to Ateneo.

Noli: I am Noli Tolentino, and I am the dad of Vince. I am ahead of George also at UST. And I also played intrams and for my college in UST but never serious amateur ball. My son had two choices – Ateneo and La Salle. He went to La Salle to tryout and wasn’t comfortable. In Ateneo, the players kept giving him the ball so he would find his rhythm. He liked the atmosphere a lot and the rest is history.

Nio: I am Nio Asistio, the father of Anton. I played during my Ateneo High School days but at the PAYA Aspirants level. I am a batch mate of Olsen Racela and we are good friends. I never got to play on the UAAP team though. Anton was in Ateneo since his grade school days. It was a no-brainer to go there for college.

Jet: And I am Jet Nieto the father of Matt and Mike Nieto. During my high school and college days, I was fortunate enough to help the Blue Eaglets and Blue Eagles win some championships. I didn’t play my last season for Ateneo because I went into medical school. With regards to my sons going to Ateneo… well, they were here since grade school. Loyalty counts. But I had to tell Epok (Quimpo, team manager), you have to tell me if you’re getting them kasi if not, I will look around na. Kung ako masusunod Ateneo talaga. All the way. Loyalty counts.

Rick: Since you have a familiarity and affinity for the game, did you push your son to play basketball?

George: With Isaac, it was his brother, Gian, who got into basketball and inspired Isaac to also take it up. For Isaac, it started when he was in Grade 3 and Gian would train his brother. As Isaac started to grow bigger, he got into the game even more.

Rick: Was there ever a problem with his height in terms of feeling awkward or being forced to play the game?

George: It was a disadvantage for him. Parang he was pressured to play because he was tall. I remember during his second year in high school, he was thinking of quitting. We asked him if he was enjoying himself and if he even wanted to play the game. He was telling himself, ang dami ko binigay na oras dito. He was given a choice by Carol (the wife) to either stick with basketball or choose another sport. So he said, balik na lang ako, I will give basketball a try.

Noli: With us, we wanted to steer Vince away from computer games like Playstation. We said we will drive you around and will support you in a sport of your own choosing.

Rick: was it difficult to get him away from Playstation?

Noli: No naman. We never bought him the Playstation. But when he was 15 years old, we took him to Manila to watch an Ateneo-UST game. Then he said, “Dad, how do I get to play here?” I said, “Vince, the players here aren’t short. They are tall. You will have to adjust your game and they are very physical.”

But he wanted to come here. Coach (Norman) Black gave him a chance. During his first tryout, he played terrible and he said, “Dad, I’ll just go home. I don’t want to play basketball anymore.”

Coach Black said, "cancel your flight, I will give you two more days to practice with the team." Luckily, he made it. But Vince didn’t know we were going to change coaches.

(laughter by all)

Nio: Kasi I used to play pick-up games after college even when I started a family. One time, Anton asked, “Dad, can I go?” Of course, I was happy. And yun na. He fell in love with the game.

My experience with my dad was he didn’t support what I want. But with Anton, I said, "I will support you." I taught him things from dribbling, passing, and shooting. Everything.

The rest is history.

Jet: When Girlie (his wife) was in the States and she gave birth there, she said, “Twins yung magiging anak natin." I said the only thing you do is to watch the NBA.

(laughter from everyone)

Jet: Watch Michael Jordan. Yung kasabihan na, if you want your child to be a musician you listen to a lot of music. If you want your child to be smart, you read lots of books during your pregnancy. Ako, I told my wife to watch the NBA.

(laughter once more)

Jet: She had some complications during the pregnancy and nag-bleed siya. She nearly had an abortion but ang biro diyan, hindi natuloy kasi si Mike yung bumara. (laughter)

George: Is that true about the wife doing certain things like reading books...

Rick: That’s the theory.

Jet: That’s what they say but nagbakasakali na.

Malaki yung influence ni Michael Jordan that is why “Michael Joseph” si Mike and yung isa, kabaliktaran, Joseph Matthew. Kaya “MJ” and for Matt, "JM" in reverse.

I didn’t influence them anymore. Yung mga bata pa sila, nandun na sila sa court. Grade school pa lang sila mga kalaban nila mga college.

Rick: Dads, when you watch your kid play, do you ever have the urge to say something during the game or tell off the coach na mali diskarte?

George: If you’re just watching it is so easy to say something. But you have to say things at the right time. But early on, I had to tell Isaac what I thought and how he could adjust. One time, Isaac said, “Dad, hindi madali.” Maybe it was easy for me to do it when I was playing but for my son it wasn’t. From there on, I didn’t say much. Only when it needed. I gave him the space to grow and learn.

Rick: Have you ever felt the urge to tell the coach mali yung diskarte?

George: No. Wala. Hindi sa mali yung coach. Kanya kanyang style yan. Since high school there were times, I felt my son wasn’t guided properly. But we just look at it and decide how to adjust. That’s life.

Nilo: With Vince, I always tried to help him but Vince doesn’t like to be told things.

George: It’s natural.


Nilo: So the same thing – I distanced myself. Sabi ko, "Vince hindi ko sasabihin kung hindi for your own good. After all, I also played and watched the game."

But Vince came back and said, “I know what I am doing, dad. Leave me alone.”


Now I am in Canada and when Ateneo’s games are shown it is about one in the morning. I would stay up and offer my thoughts after. He never liked that. So I gave him the space.

But a friend told me, “Kaya mo dinala anak mo rito to play in the Philippines is to fulfill your dream of playing in the UAAP.”


Rick: Sa subconscious level totoo yan.


Nio: Between me and Anton, we communicate during the game by hand signals. Pero during the early part of this season, when I called his attention, parang nalito. Na-distract. So after that, I pulled back. After the game na lang. Sa bahay na lang.

Jet: Ako. I do not interfere with the coach. Desisyon niya yun. If you bench him, I don’t care. Yun nga lang, sa house, I love to watch tapes of their opponents. Watching their moves. Sa gabi, I tell them, “ganito ang gagawin nito sa yo. Expect this to happen etc.”

I just give them pointers on what they should expect and what they need to do. Sa coach? Wala ka maririnig sa akin.

Rick: I guess, academics is important. How do you tell your boys not to make pabaya sa academics?

George: I told Isaac before that it is important have something between your ears. Kasi gaanong kalayo ka dadalhin ng basketball? Use basketball as a stepping stone to the next stage of your life. I told him, “Isaac, ang importante ay how is basketball disciplines you.”

Everyone has 24 hours. The key is budgeting your time. There is a time for basketball, a time for studying, and a time for family, or hobbies. However, it is important to have something to look forward to when basketball is all done.

Among my kids, Isaac is the one who is more inclined to science. Mahirap ang chemistry sa Ateneo. So he really has to study and study hard.

Nilo: Vince he likes basketball. But then studies at first were a little secondary. The good part is he ended up in Ateneo and Fr. Nemy (Que, the team chaplain) told him that if he doesn’t do well in his studies then he cannot play. So for him to play the game he loves he has to study. That made Vince understand the importance. Imagine if he gets kicked out. I made him consider that. But he is making the grades.

Nio: Siguro training yan for Anton since his grade school days. Alam niya that if you don’t get good grades, you cannot play. Since he grew up in a system that taught that when he was young alam niya na yun. And he does well so reminders na lang every now and then. But not just for school, but reminders for life.

Alam niya pag sumabit siya there’ll be no basketball.

Jet: For me and for my boys, basketball is very important. Why? Because without basketball hindi mag-aaral yung dalawa. Kasi kung hindi sila mag-aaral, they cannot play. Alam ni Nio yan, muntik pa sila hindi makasama sa nationals yan.

They learned how to survive. Hindi lang sa talino but sa abilidad. Hanggang college bitbit nila yun. I am not very strict but the bottom line is – they better pass their subjects and they graduate from Ateneo.

Nio: Basketball was a form of discipline for them. Alam nila na hindi sila gigimick kasi meron practice or meron game bukas.

(all voice ‘Yeah”)

Alam nila na meron exam bukas so kahit pagod, kailangan mag-aral.

Nilo: That’s good that they learn to discipline themselves.

George: In my family legal uminom pero bawal ang sigarilyo. So si Isaac and Carlo, I told them, you know in our family everyone drinks. (laughter) But si Isaac, he knows meron practice bukas, meron game, meron exam, so he doesn’t drink.

Rick: So he doesn’t drink at all?

George: No.

(even more laughter)

George: I said, "Sa laki mo yan, hindi ka umiinom? Insulto sa tatay yan." (everyone breaks out in raucous laughter). But that’s good. My sons have very good discipline.

Rick: So have you experienced an incident where your son experienced extreme disappointment or unhappiness surrounding the game? How did you help him and react to this?

George: Si Carlo, my eldest son, was cut in high school. But what was important is to teach him that it is not the end of the world and he has to keep on going. Character defining moment.

With Isaac it is this exposure he is getting. All this exposure? We are new to this. Si Isaac, he is not used to this. He’s very shy. So we are learning as we go on. We all learn together and to make sure Isaac knows how to deal with this.

Nilo: During Vince’s first three years in Ateneo, he sat a lot. He would get a chance to play but not too much. When he did play, he struggled and he lost his confidence. And we didn’t know what to tell him. We would encourage him, offer guidance on what to do. We’d do that, say that for one game but in the next game, we don’t know what to say anymore. It was hard for both parties. Especially because we were in Canada. We asked him, “Do you want to go back to Canada?” Irene one time said, “Pauwiin mo na siya rito.” You know we’re only concerned for his well-being. But when you think about everything -- that is giving up. So all you can do is to tell them you love and support them and to keep trying hard because that is life.

Nio: Alam mo na yata yung story ni Anton, Rick. Nandun ka nung birthday niya. You know it very well and maybe you can tell the others.

Rick: Yeah, Ateneo had a game during his birthday – this past summer sa Filoil tournament -- and Anton never got off the bench.

George: Oh?

Rick: After the game, he sat next to me near the exit and opened up. I let him talk to get it all out. He said he wondered if the coaches hated him. If all these years of playing were a wasted effort. He wondered if he should just quit and concentrate on his studies. Once he was done, I said, “Anton, look at it this way – if you are playing at this level (using my hands to illustrate it) why don’t you raise it? Not just raise it a notch higher but several notches higher. Maybe the coaches want more out of you. In the next game, he was player of the game. And he never looked back after that.

Nilo: Wow. That’s good.

Nio: Yeah, thanks for helping out my son. When Anton got home, he told me what you said. And he was inspired. And I asked him, ano yung problema…  And he said, sa defense kulang, manipis ako, and hindi consistent yung shooting. So I told him the following options. What do you need to fix that? To get better. I also told him, “anak, hindi pa puwede balat sibuyas. The world is tough. You have to work hard for things. Maybe sa iba madali, sa iyo mahirap. But the bottom line is you have to work harder, sometimes harder for things. Nandyan ka pa naman. Paglaban mo.” Ayun na. Thankfully.

Sabi ko, “remember when you got cut? You worked hard to get back to Team A. Why give up now?”

Jet: Same thing sa kambal. Si Matt never had problem with making the line-up or getting playing time. Si Mike meron problema. Palagi pa. I told them that if you want to be on the team, aside from getting good grades, you must fill your roles or tasks well. You want to run the offense – take good care of the ball, make good passes. If you want a chance to score? Rebound. Get the ball. Make something happen. If you lose the ball, work hard to get it back. You work on your dribbling. Defense. Attitude towards the game. Everything.

In my talks with Mike, I would ask him – are you enjoying what you are doing? Kasi if you are not happy with basketball then step away.

Your time will come. Wag ka lang maiinip. Working hard means not only for today but every day.

Rick: The last seconds of Game 2 – when Ron Dennison’s basket was a second too late. What were your thoughts during those crazy last seconds?

George: I looked at Carol and she was crying. She thought we had lost. I said, “No, we won.” And she continued to cry but she had a smile on her face. Panalo tayo! Panalo tayo!

Nilo: Me? Oh, I thought we had lost. I thought, “Oh, my God. It is going to be the same thing just like last year. Thankfully, hindi.

Nio: Ako hinintay ko yung confirmation. Baka baliktarin yung resulta. Nung nakita ko si Jolas approaching Coach Tab to shake hands, sabi ko, Panalo na!”

Jet: I was looking at the red light. Alam ko wala na. Panalo na ‘to. So I started jumping. Buti wala akong katabi kung hindi baka natamaan ko.


Rick: Ako, yung shot clock din tinitignan ko. Alam ko wala na. Too late. Then I looked for Adrian Wong.

George: Why Adrian Wong?

Rick: Kasi last year when he missed the lay-up and Mac Belo scored, he went to the bench and banged his fists and cried. Mike Tolomia came over to console him. That was classy. This time, Adrian had this big smile on his face and joined his teammates on the pile at center court.

Now, hopefully we will have something to cheer for in this finals.

Jet: Bonus na lahat to. And it’s good to be the underdog. Fight lang tayo.

Nio: Kaya yan. Believe lang.

END: We stayed for another hour. This time, the moms joined us. And we just gabbed about basketball.