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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My All-Underrated UAAP Juniors Five

My All-Underrated UAAP Juniors Five
by rick olivares

News has broken out about UST’s CJ Cansino bagging the UAAP Juniors Most Valuable Player Award while the King Tiger Cub joins Ateneo’s Kai Sotto, SJ Belangel, and Dave Ildefonso, as well as FEU’s LJ Gonzales in the Mythical Five Selection.

While all are deserving, here are my players who should make the All-Underrated Five team in the UAAP’s high school division.

Just a word in before we get to the list. Adamson’s Joem Sabandal isn’t in the Mythical Selection talk in a star-studded division, but this kid from Cagayan De Oro has a high impact and is acknowledged as one of the Juniors Division’s top players. But we cannot place him on this list precisely because of that. Now these five? They are truly underrated.

Center: Bismarck Lina, UST
Lost in the shuffle of the Tiger Cubs’ offensive weaponry in Cansino and Kobe Palencia as well as the late season outburst of Rayjhun Baquial and Liam Manabat is their hardworking center, Bismarck Lina. How does a Batang Gilas player get overlooked? He rebounds, plays defense, passes the ball, and provides strong leadership for his team. Furthermore, he doesn’t complain, just plays hard, and is very coachable. He hardly even gets touches!

With few touches, Lina averages 8.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. And he is hitting 49% of his field goals; the highest among those in the regular rotation. Plus., he is the league’s top offensive rebounder. Opined some observers, if his teammates feed him the ball the way LJ Gonzales or even RJ Abarrientos feed Daniel Celzo, he’d ease the pressure on the perimeter players.

Forward: Michael Malonzo, NU
On a deep and loaded Bullpups team, Malonzo is like a super sub. In 15.9 minutes of game action, he averages 7.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. That’s close to adding something every minute. Plus, he is clutch having scored numerous game winning plays as he remains overlooked on a team that has Rhayyan Amsali, Terrence Fortea, and Miguel Oczon to name but a few. Plus, he scored on 57% of his field goal attempts.

Talk about an impact player. That three-point play after tipping the ball over seven-foot Kai Sotto should be one of the season’s top plays.

Forward: Jason Credo, Ateneo
If this were a rock band, Jason Credo would be the Fifth Beatle. Does anyone else have a bigger impact on both ends of the court? This former Batang Gilas player brings up the ball, serves the best passes for Kai Sotto, can score if he really wanted (but that is not his role in this team), can rebound (but his role keeps him away from the shaded lane), and plays top defense on the opposing team’s top scorer. If they kept stats on his stops you’d find out that the other team’s top gunners shoot very poorly against Credo who is a pest on defense.

Credo averages 9.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He shoots 49.1% from the field. Is the team’s best free throw shooter at 80%! If he got more touches and played in a more offensive manner, his stats would shoot up.

Guard: Rafael Labao, UPIS
The Labao brothers – Ralph and Rafael are like double trouble for foes. But I’d like to include Ralph in this list in a photo finish over his brother for his playmaking and ability to attack that rim despite being vertically challenged. Fearless inside.

Rafael averages 11.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for UPIS.

Guard: Agem Miranda, UE
They may be at the bottom of the standings but this is a young UE team. And Agem Miranda stands out. He led the Junior Red Warriors with 17.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. 

He is second in the league in scoring, third in the league in both assists and steals, and 10th in rebounding! Talk about a two-way player.

We certainly look forward to see where these boys’ respective careers go. Good luck to them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The last hurrah of this former King Tiger

The last hurrah of this former King Tiger
by rick olivares

Chris Cantonjos threw up his arms in that strong man pose. His UST Tiger Cubs just vanquished, escaped even, with a 73-72 overtime win over a hard luck Adamson Baby Falcons squad in the playoffs of the UAAP Juniors Basketball Tournament.

He can be forgiven for momentarily forgetting to shake the hand of his Adamson counterpart Mike Fermin. Emotion, unbridled and unadulterated emotion can do that to a man. But Cantonjos did greet Fermin after eventually composing himself.

You can say Cantonjos is living on borrowed time. Wherever the Tiger Cubs end this season, it is his last. “Nagpaalam na nga rin ako,” he said with a clearly conflicted voice. After all his team just won. However, one loss, and just like that, perhaps, it is all over.

When news broke out that new management and a new basketball operations boss was in place, it was postulated that he would be out as head coach. Cantonjos who led UST to several seniors championships in the UAAP in the 1990s and also played in the PBA was befuddled. “Why in the middle of the season is there news like that,” he wondered. “Hindi ba on course kami para sa goal ng Final Four?”

When his alma mater was floundering in basketball, he answered the call to arms. And now….

Yet when the news broke out, the Tiger Cubs went on a tailspin. But the proud man that he is, Cantonjos asked his team to recall its old form; one flashed during the summer and the first round when they were clearly a force to reckon with.

Moments before the playoff with Adamson to determine the right to move on the step-ladder format of the tournament, Cantonjos sat by his lonesome from across the bench as his players warmed up on the Blue Eagle Gym court.

A moment of reflection? He simply nodded and smiled. His time may be done… at least for now. But he refused to think of himself or even what he cannot control. “May oras para diyan,” he promised. “Pero ngayon, para sa mga bata ito. Sa mga problema namin (losing Inand Fornilos to La Salle Greenhills in the summer), sa pinaghirapan namin (the late season struggles), kailangan mapakita namin ang puso ng Tomasino,” he said with a conviction he showed during his playing days when he battled the likes of NU’s Danny Ildefonso, FEU’s Ronald Magtulis, and La Salle’s Mark Telan inside the paint.

Casting a look at his players, his eyes settled on his center Bismarck Lina. The Batang Gilas player is a team player. Unselfish, willing to do the dirty work, and the unofficial leader of the team (look at how he greets his teammates coming out of the game offering encouragement, handing them water, and patting them on the back after they get chewed out by the coaching staff), Lina in Cantonjos’ mind, is a raw but talented kid. “Hindi mareklamo yung bata,” said Cantonjos. “Very coachable. Talented din. Kaya nasa national team yan.”

He called Lina aside and reiterated that for UST to advance, he needed not only for Cansino to score, his other teammates to do their part, but he needed Lina to be strong inside.

By first quarter’s end, Lina led the team in scoring with five points as Cansino struggled with the double teams thrown at him. Lina ended up with a double double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Of the six attempts over him, only one found the bottom of the net.

Lina was bullish inside and when he fouled out late in overtime (despite what Cantonjos feels was a phantom foul called on his center), the coaches patted him on the back. “Laban lang,” he said.

When he recruited Kobe Palencia during the Palarong Pambansa, he promised the kid’s parents that he’d care for him and help him develop his career. And Palencia, helped tow UST to the next round. And lying in wait are old foes, FEU.

As Cantonjos made his way to the locker room deep in the bowels of the cavernous Blue Eagle Gym, he went up the stands to shake some hands of some supporters who braved the Wednesday, Valentine’s Day traffic all the way to Loyola Heights.

He grinned but it was obviously he was bottling up all these emotions. He then waved and disappeared inside the tunnel leading to the dugout. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

SJ Belangel is the latest in a long line of Blue Eagles and Blue Eaglets who spat in the eye of defeat or a challenge to come away with a win, a championship, or a legend.

SJ Belangel is the latest in a long line of Blue Eagles and Blue Eaglets who spat in the eye of defeat or a challenge to come away with a win, a championship, or a legend.
by rick olivares

The British Special Air Service have this motto… “Who dares wins.”

And the National University Bullpups dared. It was an audacious gambit. End Ateneo’s 13-game win streak and bid for a sweep that meant an outright finals berth. And in doing so, trample them in front of their home crowd and on their home floor.

And they were coming close.

There was blood in the water. The Bullpups could smell it. They overhauled a first half 40-30 deficit by playing a tough man-zone and relentlessly attacking the interior. They didn’t care if seven-foot center Kai Sotto was there. They played him physical and the floor was littered with fallen Blue Eaglets who were on the receiving end of the physical play of the Bullpups.

But they forget… the eagle too is a predator.

SJ Belangel, frustrated with the roughhousing, contentious calls, and a poor offensive game, turned the jets on… and that was the end of it for the Bullpups’ dreams of an upset.

Belangel pilfered the ball from RJ Minerva and twice from Terrence Fortea (he scored two lay-ups off those steals). He fished a foul from Minerva that he converted into two points from the free throw line. And when he drilled a trey with 15 seconds left to give Ateneo a 76-68 lead, that was the coup de grace.

The graduating Blue Eaglet tallied 31 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 assist. His endgame heroics sent Ateneo to the finals for the first time in three years.

The effort reminded me of that game in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup during the summer of 2013. The five-peat was done and there were lots of changes. With a weaker and injury-plagued line-up, other teams too smelled blood in the water. Most especially La Salle.

This is what I wrote back then:

In last year’s Filoil meeting (2012) between the two rivals, Jed Manguera, ear-marked as La Salle’s defensive specialist, had a great game against Kiefer Ravena in a Green Archers win. And because of that, Manguera was matched up later on with the likes of NU’s Ray Parks or even FEU’s RR Garcia. However, in the two UAAP elimination round meetings between Ateneo and La Salle, Ravena made mincemeat out of Manguera. 

This year (2013), La Salle has rookie Robert Bolick who mans the point guard position. He somewhat reminds me of a smaller version of American professional basketball player Matt Barnes – an athletic long-armed specimen who plays the points and likes to take on the tough assignments. I was surprised to see him from the opening whistle talking trash and yapping at Ravena.

This reminded me of former Vancouver Grizzly Darrick Martin who woofed Michael Jordan during a match in 1996 (when the Chicago Bulls won 72 games) match. “You ain’t so hot,” crowed Martin to Jordan who was on the bench cooling his heels. “I told you we were going to beat your butts.”

Jordan, who had taken off his shoes, laced them up and proceeded to the scorer’s table. When he checked in, Jordan scored the next nine points to lift Chicago to a win.

Bolick was talking to Ravena right from the start. After Ravena lost the ball, the intense La Salle rookie clapped at the King Eagle’s direction. In return, the rook got posted up four times. Each time, Mamba nailed a rainbow shot that was all net.

Then it was Thomas Torres’ turn to guard Ravena. The result? Three more buckets.

After that it was Almond Vosotros’ turn. Bucket.

It was an incandescent performance by Ravena: 31 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal.

And the torch has been passed from Ravena to Belangel. And coincidentally, both finished with 31 points.

If you go all the way back, Ateneo’s basketball history is replete with King Eagles strapping teams onto their backs to tow them to impossible wins or even gallant last stands.

Here are a few.

During the 1974 NCAA Season, the San Sebastian Staglets had the ball with the shot clock winding down. If they scored during that possession, the championship was going to be theirs. However, then Eaglets point guard Chito Narvasa picked his opposing number’s pockets and high-tailed it down the opposite end for a championship winning lay-up… at the buzzer!

There was Richie Ticzon who drained eight triples against UE to try and keep Ateneo’s hopes up in making it to the Finals in 1991. Ticzon finished with 34 points but it wasn’t enough.

The following year, Vince Hizon dropped 44 points against La Salle in a herculean effort that had the Green Archers’ Jun Limpot uttering an expletive on live television to talk about the Blue Eagle’s scoring outburst.

And that brings us back to “Who dares wins”.

Now these Blue Eaglets… they dare to be great. Now all they need to do to cement that is to lift that trophy when the dust settles.