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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A quiet revolution with the UE Red Warriors

A quiet revolution with the UE Red Warriors
by rick olivares

There’s a quiet revolution going on at the University of the East.

The sick man of the UAAP, the deposed and exiled kings of the hardcourt, are making another go at it. This time with a new coaching staff with zero University of the East blood are giving the once fabled program a transfusion of blue, green, and red – well, of the San Beda variety – blood.

That news is hardly going to stop the presses. They’ve heard this song and dance number before. A new coach – a returning King Warrior – looking to reclaim lost glory. In fact, one coach of from a NCAA league squad decried their poor culture.

You will get no argument from any of the UE coaching staff. They know the Herculean challenges which is an understatement.

On this day, Monday, July 16, the excitement is brewing. At least from within.

Leon Lorenzana has decamped from UST and is looking to make his move to UE.  There’s a Fil-American from Minneapolis trying out. A couple of former Ateneo Blue Eagles in John Apacible and Brix Ramos are there. The coaching staff is happy with the recruits they picked up but who will have to serve a year’s residency before suiting up. And just a few weeks ago, several players from a nearby UAAP rival have inquired about transferring.

So it can’t be all that bad, right?

During drills, inconceivably, the fundamentals of many players are bad. Terrible even. So you wonder what kind of skills training they got. In fact, last year’s UAAP Juniors champion, the Ateneo Blue Eaglets is more skilled. And that isn’t an exaggeration.

The problem of a team in disarray and with players departing for other schools (after a row with their former coach who accused them of all sorts of things) is their court of last resort is to play hero ball. Sure you get great individual performances. The question is… do they translate into wins?

However, during the recent Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup, other players stepped up. Center-forward Rey Acuño is one. Chris Connor, Jason Varilla, and rookie Jojo Antiporda gave a good account of themselves.

UE finished 3-6 in their Filoil play. They were ranked 15th among the 19 squads that participated. On the average, they gave up more points than they scored. So they have their work cut out for themselves.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” notes assistant coach Ton Brodett. “We will surely see the results not this coming season but in the next. Of course, we hope to perform better in the upcoming UAAP tournament.”

“It’s okay,” assures new head coach Joe Silva. “We don’t mind flying under the radar.”

The team huddles at center court of the UE Gym. Silva and his coaches discuss the preparations for an upcoming trip to Taiwan this August where the Red Warriors are participating in the BK Squad International Invitational Tournament.

The last time the Red Warriors took a trip abroad to train was some nine years ago and Paul Lee was still in uniform. The funny thing is… half that team went while the other half stayed. Talk about dysfunction.

Paolo Romero, who played under Silva in Ateneo (after which he went to UP for college), is quite happy to hear how the players have responded to his training program especially since he played against many of them in both high school and college. “I think if you show them something and they understand how it benefits them, they take to it quickly,” bares Romero.

Like a sponge.

For veteran point guard Philip Manalang, he admits he was quickly over the coaching change. For six months, there was no announcement about who was to be their new coach. There was speculation that he’d leave and instead play commercial along with incumbent star, Alvin Pasaol. But with the new staff, Manalang quickly embraced the new coach and the new system. “Madali ko nakuha,” he says. He also assures he fill exhaust his playing years with UE.

Ric Gallardo who had a promising career with Perpetual Help before the internal craziness forced him to leave was worried that he jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. But now, he’s happy. He just hopes to get an opportunity to show what he can do.

For John Apacible, after Ateneo, he was supposed to go to Lyceum but UE – Silva – called. And now, he hopes to resurrect what was once a promising career. “New challenge,” he simply puts it.

Second chance. Apacible nods.

And for UE, that’s all there is. Another chance to get it right and to return to their rightful place in college basketball’s hierarchy. Hopefully, this time around.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Some thoughts about the Ateneo-Canada game in the Jones Cup

Some thoughts about the Ateneo-Canada game
by rick olivares

There’s a lot to say about that game that ended in an 86-78 win for Canada.

The first thing is you have to marvel at the fightback of the Ateneo Blue Eagles. They were down by what – 24 points? Canada, the defending William Jones Cup champion could do no wrong. It isn’t always where you see a bunch of guys all in a zone at the same time. It was ugly for us but also incredible for them. It was half-amazing, I must admit, to watch.

Then the Blue Eagles came roaring back with execution and defense in the second half. Matt Nieto showed why he is the best point guard in college right now. Thirdy Ravena is an incredible force and the sky is the limit for Angelo Kouame. Yes, Canada’s lucky shooting in the second half deserted them and they were sure lucky they posted a huge lead or it could have possibly been a different ending. A made shot here and there, it could have really gone down to the last shot. But it is what it is – a win for Canada and yet, still a magnificent game by Ateneo. It is a loss, but somehow, it feels like a win for the Blue Eagles. And you can see the excellent attitude – helping up the fallen Canadian players. Giving a friendly tap here and there. What sportsmanship! I came away feeling really proud.

As we like to say, it’s not the result but how you challenge. It’s the effort. So bravo!

You know, Ateneo Blue Eagle fans used to love the halftime break because Norman Black was very good at adjustments. And Tab is not just good at the half but in a lot of situations. Now Tab might not have five UAAP championships under his belt, but in my opinion, the work that he has done is amazing. And they feel like championships.

Consider this. In his first year, the team lost seven stalwarts. Seven How in Sam Hill do you rebound from that? Losing a game changer and talent like CJ Perez, a former Rookie of the Year in Arvin Tolentino, and another outstanding point guard in Jerie Pingoy?

Why, he worked with what he had and even if they didn’t fully grasp what he wanted, they made it to the UAAP Finals. For that alone, he should have been coach of the year.

Then came last season where the team won the UAAP title. Since then, they have won three other pre-season tournaments – the City Hoops and Filoil Flying V Preseason Cups, and the Breakdown Basketball Invitationals. Not since Norman Black has a team won these many consecutive tournaments.

Bet you don’t remember that? In succession, Ateneo won the 2009 UAAP championship, the 2009 University Games, and the 2009 Philippine Collegiate Championships. They could have won five straight that year. They won the Fr. Martin’s Cup but lost in the Filoil tourney. All in all during the Norman Black era, Ateneo won 16 various championships!

Tab now has four!

Okay, winning the William Jones Cup can be a stretch and I am sure a lot of people are skeptical and no doubt there are still lots including some who will pooh pooh this game. However, the Blue Eagles have shown how – despite their being very young compared to maybe the Canadians and some of the Koreans (not sure about Taiwan’s Team B) – how they can compete under Tab’s system.

Sure, the Canadians only suited up eight players. That is their lookout. No one said they couldn’t field more than that. Besides, Ateneo also rested some of their players like Raffy Verano and Jolo Mendoza.

Sure, they aren’t Canada’s Team A, but that is beside the point. They are already professionals. None of the Blue Eagles are pros. While the William Jones Cup isn’t on Fiba’s top calendar, the competition is still very good. As for the Canadians, they are much taller and talented too. And yet, Ateneo played as a team to make a game of it.

As for the halftime adjustment – voila! It worked and it gave the Canadians fits. The Blue Eagles came away with a lot more respect and props.

In the aftermath, you have people remarking how Tab should be back in the national side. It’s a nice thought but that isn’t going to happen (based on what I know).

Why didn’t Tab work out well with the national team?
That’s not exactly a correct statement. He followed up the 2013 silver medal finish in the Fiba Asia Championships with another one of his own in 2015. And remember, the Philippines had to go through that lutong macau match versus China. So his stint was damn good. Sure, he won with someone else’s team, but since then, we’ve not placed.

But his superiors deemed that Gilas not advancing past the group stage of the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament was unacceptable so he was replaced. And we know that some players complained about playing under him.

First of all, I didn’t think we’d go past France and New Zealand. Sorry, but I am being honest here and this isn't a lack of patriotism or support, dumbass. Ah, the Kiwis didn’t play too well in the lead up to the OQT. Well, Jack, the Germans bulldozed everyone en route to the just-concluded 2018 FIFA World Cup. But come the Big Dance, they – like Italy and Spain before them – did not advance past the group stage. The Kiwis actually have an outstanding team and program. Haven’t they produced NBA players? So playing well before a big tourney doesn’t always translate into more success. It does, but not always. Gotta be realistic, Jack.

It is going to be very difficult for a foreign coach to impose discipline or work out a system when one, the PBA doesn’t lend all its best players, and two, many of them already have been around the block and have egos the size of the Eiffel Tower. Not that I have gotten my France/World Cup reference out of the way, back to basketball….

For the sake of argument, how should this work?

Baldwin needs to handle a team of young players (like what Rajko Toroman was given at the start of Smart Gilas), not pro players with egos and poor habits. Players who are willing to submit, listen, learn, and serve. A coach should be able to pick the assistants that he wants and not have appointees. I recall during the practice session for the NBTC All-Star Game two years ago, how some players asked Jong Uichico what must they do or possess to succeed and make it to the PBA or the national team. Coach Jong said that he must possess a good attitude. The players were shocked. They thought it was all skill based. You know, spot on shooting, great handles and excellent court vision or top notch basketball IQ.

A good attitude allows you to learn, to submit, and well, to listen and adapt. And that is what Tab wants. Take a gander at Isaac Go. As I have previously written, I covered a lot of his high school games at Xavier and he was routinely clobbered by Arvin Tolentino (then with San Beda) and John Apacible and Clint Doliguez (both then with Hope Christian High School). But look at him now. A champ. A finals MVP. And a member of the Gilas Cadets.

I do not see this happening -- any return to the Philippine national team. In my opinion, the next time you see Baldwin as head coach of a national team, it will be with another country. That Gilas chapter is closed.

Unless something changes. But the cost will be high and will trample on some egos. So that isn’t happening.

Now back to the Canada game.

Only two Canadians were back from last year’s title squad – Connor Wood and Michale Kyser. Wood graduated last year and is in his first year as a pro.  Keanau Post is 25 years old and plays professionally in Saudi Arabia. Forward Gilbert Gyamfi is in his third year as a pro. Alex Campbell is in his second year playing pro ball in Spain. Shaquille Keith is in his third year as a pro playing in Canada. Terry Thomas was the Canadian NBL’s Player of the Year in the 2016-17 season. Mamadou Gueye just graduated from the University of Alberta. Logan Stutz, the oldest player on Team Canada at 30 years of age is actually American! He plays professionally in Canada though!

You can see the difference between a pro and amateur squad. The amateur players really dive for the ball and play much harder. The pros can be lazy and rely on their natural talent. Whether they took the Philippines lightly or they fell in love with the outside shot or were woofing it – possibly a combination of all three – they nearly paid for it.

Which is why Baldwin’s system works with the younger players.

Canada was impressive in the first half. The Philippines via the Ateneo Blue Eagles were impressive in the second half. And the latter showing is what people will remember.

Voted for Toni Kroos' goal as the Goal of the 2018 World Cup

I liked the third goal of CR7 vs Spain, Pavard vs Argentina, Di Maria vs France, Coutinho vs Switzerland, Chadli vs Japan, and Modric vs Argentina as my fave goals of the FIFA World Cup But I thought in terms of magnitude & timing, Toni Kroos' goal vs Sweden was the best.