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, September 12, 2019

Looking at the Ateneo-UST game

Looking at the Ateneo-UST game
by rick olivares

For me, the Ateneo-UST game was like Godzilla vs King Ghidorah; two basketball “monsters” waging an intense, punch-counter punch game. It was like a throwback to the battles between the Blue Eagles and the Growling Tigers from 2011-12. Ateneo was at the tail-end of a glorious five-peat run and UST fielded an overpowering five with some very good bench players that challenged the former's dominance.

This season is the first we are seeing where every single school now has a squad that is backed by a program and money. The competition is tough and intense and true enough, the Ateneo-UST game will crowd the Adamson-NU match as one of this young season’s best games.

Ateneo got off to a good start as they raced to a 10-point lead. UST came roaring back and at one point blitzed the Blue Eagles with a ton of points to take the half and the third period. Ateneo seized the fourth period with great defense and timely offense. But they didn’t help their cause by missing three crucial free throws that would have made the game less exciting towards the end. 

The Blue Eagles squeaked past UST, 71-70, to remain unscathed. Ateneo knows there is much work to be done, while UST will know they are very close to getting past the defending champions. It is a game that boldly announces that the Growling Tigers are for real and is you aren’t ready, they will put the hurt on you.

What I liked about Ateneo in this game:
Thirdy Ravena bounced back from a miserable outing against La Salle with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists. He was there in the fourth period during winning time along with Angelo Kouame and Gian Mamuyac.

And speaking of Mamuyac, Gian is going to be a prime time player. Aside from Kouame, Mamuyac is the only Blue Eagle to play the entire fourth quarter netting two points, two assists, and a rebound (he did miss to very late free throws that would have iced the game) in that final canto. Not everything that he did showed up on the stat board but he did make an impact. But I like his ability to create his own shot, to get to the rim, and to play great defense.

In the midst of another grind it out game, Ateneo got it done through its defense late in the game. The clutch gene that they developed over the past three years saw them hold off UST in the fourth period.

The Blue Eagles were 7/22 from the field while UST was 5/17. They outrebounded UST, 17-10, and as a result, scored 10-0 in fastbreak points, and 4-2 in second chance points. They also had two blocks and one steal to the Growling Tigers’ one steal in the final frame. However, they also missed three of four free throws late in the game that could have put the game away a bit earlier.

Ateneo did a good job on limiting Rhenz Abando and Mark Nonoy, but they couldn’t hold off Soulemane Chabi Yo until late in the game. But that is when Abando and Subido began to hit some shots. And that was a huge block by Kouame on Chabi Yo very late in the game. 

What I am concerned about with Ateneo:
Once more, the Blue Eagles showed a predilection for the outside shot. In my opinion, not everything is what the defense gives them. During one stretch in the fourth quarter, they attempted a trey in four straight possessions (they missed each time). 

While Ateneo had more inside points than UST, 34-28, I think they can attack the interior a bit more.

Sometimes, on an offensive rebound, they pass the ball out for the reset instead of going back in. If there is no opportunity to score, I can understand throwing the ball out. But sometimes, in my opinion, you should go inside because that is when the defense is most vulnerable because it isn’t set.

I have constantly harped about the inside game. Outside Thirdy and Angelo, there isn’t really another who is good at posting up. Yes, the Nieto brothers can. But it cannot be all posting up. I think it’s a mentality to attack inside. To pound it inside. 

Aside from being the hunted, Ateneo remains the gold standard. They may have struggled offensively, but they have stuck to that age-old team adage of “DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS.” So, I can live with that. 

They are 3-0 and people still haven’t seen their best. I can only imagine what it will be like when they start firing on all cylinders.

What I like about UST:
Despite the loss, the game only confirmed that UST isn’t only a Final Four threat but a dark horse contender to the title. 

And how about that audacity to thrice dunk on the defending champions? Watch out, Ateneo, there is someone tugging at your cape at its Aldin Ayo and the talented and exciting UST Growling Tigers.

The UST faithful can hope that this team is more than the second coming of those very good teams from 2011-14 except this time, they can bring back a title to España.
Karim Abdul – Soulemane Chabi Yo
Rhenz Abando – Kevin Ferrer
Renzo Subido - Jeric Fortuna 
Mark Nonoy – Ed Daquioag
CJ Cansino – Jeric Teng
Brent Paraiso – Aljon Mariano
Zach Huang – Paolo Pe

It is only the second year of Ayo in UST, but I will go on record to say that he is doing his best work. This time, he didn’t inherit anyone’s team. He put this one together in his image and likeness. And here’s the thing… we aren’t seeing the rough and dirty stuff we have seen from Ayo’s team in years past. It is just basketball. 

They are unflappable. Only Paraiso and Subido show a lot of emotion. Abando, Nonoy, Cansino, and Chabi Yo are all stoic. And I like that. They try not to lose focus and just play the game.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A different view on the Philippines this Fiba World Cup

A different view on the Philippines this Fiba World Cup
by rick olivares

The criticism vented towards the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas continues to rain down following the wake of their 86-67 loss to Tunisia.

I think people have to put in context the results before they lambast anyone.
Tunisia qualified and played for the 2012 London Olympics. Five on the roster that defeated the Philippines were in London. They added some weapons, but showed there is continuity in their program.

How did the other Asian powers fare? As of Sunday morning, it is like this…
Australia is the only one to advance to the second round is 4-0.

The others? 
China is 2-2
New Zealand 2-2
Iran 1-3
Korea 0-4
Japan 0-4

How did we fare against these other countries in the qualification phase for this World Cup?
We lost twice to both Australia and Iran. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Iran couldn’t get past the first round, then what are our chances?

Korea had the misfortune of being cast in the same group as Argentina and Russia and in all three games, they were badly mangled. 

China was bracketed along with Poland and Venezuela (hey basketball is their national sport there). That was winnable for China but the Poles slipped past them, 79-76, in overtime.

Iran was in a group where they had a chance as the only basketball power was Spain. Puerto Rico is always dangerous and they too squeaked past Iran, 83-81. Tunisia surprised them in the very next game, 79-67, and they stayed close to Spain before losing, 73-65.

Japan was crushed by Turkey and the USA and although the margin of defeat was closer to the Czech Republic, they still didn’t stack well against the Eastern European country.

New Zealand was unlucky as they lost close games to Brazil and Greece.

I think it is a problem when you think too highly of yourself. Did we really expect some close games like the ones we experienced in 2014? I think we ambushed them and the others did not take us seriously. The Argentina side we played was an ageing one while the Croats were younger! 

We got into the World Cup by the skin of our teeth and largely because of Andray Blatche. No, Blatche, we never would have gotten in. 

I have heard and read countless people point to problems with the program, the pro league and so on.

In my opinion, the national team has done better since the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was organized. We’ve won two silver medals in Fiba Asia and now twice made the Fiba World Cup. We’ve even participated in an Olympic Qualifier. The team has had its best finish in the Asian Games for a while now while successfully defending our gains in Southeast Asia. The youth teams are qualifying.

Granted the format has expanded, but that is not the point. Even the Fiba World Cup has expanded.

I think with all this talk about programs…  we also have to look at our culture as a whole. How we conduct ourselves on a national level is replicated on the traffic-congested streets, in the way we go about our daily lives, and in the way we play – fractured, shamelessly hot dogging and blowing our own horn.

I have heard some that other countries have played together for quite some team. That is true to an extent. It should be noted that in Europe, there is no such thing as college basketball. It is club ball and players turn pro at an early age. Not one player participating in the current Fiba World Cup does not play professional ball. So that means they are only recalled into national team service when their leagues end.

I think it is all about skill development. Did you look at how the Tunisians constantly knifed right through the Philippines’ lane?

You also have to look at the development of Tunisia. Their journey to the Olympics was masterminded by Adel Tlatli who was realistic in his approach – he didn’t think they’d blow anyone out, but he pushed his team to aspire for more.

After Tlatli, Mario Palma took over. His name should be familiar to Filipino basketball watchers as we matched wits with him when he coached Jordan from 2009-11. Palma is noted for successfully building programs and he has done so with his various basketball 

Sometimes, the simple truth of the matter is --- we ran into much better teams. However, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t improve and plug the holes. We should. 

These cycles happen. It even happens to the best of them all – the United States of America. Yes, these were bad beat downs, but if you have been really paying attention… our world just got a lot more difficult in the last several years. Time was it was just the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans that we had to worry about. Now you can throw in Iran and the other West Asian countries as well as the Oceania teams.

If that isn’t a sobering thought, then I don’t know what is.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Ateneo defeats DLSU 81-69: A win is a win but it has this but…

A win is a win but it has this but…
by rick olivares

It’s a big win no doubt. Any win you can get against La Salle is always good. However, there is a part of me that feels a wee bit unsatisfied with this 81-69 triumph.

I don’t think La Salle has what it takes to beat us this year and this was a great opportunity to bury them. And the Blue Eagles did, at least in the first half by 22 points. The inevitable La Salle run came and although the team handled it well at first, turnovers and I thought a missed moment that deserved a substitution, and ugly offense saw the Green Archers launch a stirring comeback.

I can overlook the subpar outing by Thirdy Ravena and Angelo Kouame (he played well defensively though), but there were things I didn’t like at all. We will get to that in a bit.

I thought that this was a great opportunity to really give them pause to think about their team and their strategy of acquiring transferees and one-and-dones. Instead, many opine that if it weren’t for the second quarter cushion that was built, the Green Archers could have caught up.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I thought that La Salle had an excellent game plan. They threw a zone that at times placed three men atop the key to stop any drives. And on offense, they attacked every chance they got. Jamie Malonzo (who will get even better as he soaks in more experience) even posterized Thirdy Ravena while Encho Serrano scored on an and-one on Matt Nieto. Basically, everyone was attacking the interior regardless of the presence of Angelo Kouame.

After that Malonzo dunk on Thirdy and he started jawing against #0, I thought back to a pair of incidents… Joshua Webb talking smack to the Blue Eagles and then Ryan Buenafe putting his arm around the Archer and pointing to the scoreboard, and when Robert Bolick Jr. was a rookie for DLSU. Bolick forced Ravena to a turnover and began clipping in his face. That lit up Blue Mamba and he scored 31 points on Bolick and everyone else who was put in front of Ravena.

Just to clarify, Thirdy scored on a twisting drive and hit a jumper after the Malonzo dunk, but after that, he didn’t do much. Luckily, his teammates made up for the lack of offense and helped to make this a W.

Speaking of offense, the previous year, I pointed out how Ateneo tends to shoot a lot from the outside. When it goes it, it looks pretty, but when it doesn’t such as the game against La Salle, it gets ugly. Granted those were the looks La Salle was giving the team. But still, why not attack the interior instead of settling for jump shots? For a bit there, I was afraid that Ateneo would break UST’s number of attempts from the three-point arc (49 in their first outing) at the rate they were jacking up shots.

I noticed how our bigs grab the offensive board and then pass the ball out instead of immediately attacking the interior. If that is what is asked of them to do, well….  

And there was that stretch early in the fourth period when the team’s offense stagnated and they clearly ran out of ideas. You have to credit La Salle as they were daring us to shoot from the outside. Tyler Tio, who was simply superb for much of the game, began to dribble too much and use up the shot clock and no one knew what to do. 

I like that Tab Baldwin shows faith in the boys to know what to do or to get out of a jam. On the flipside, I thought that he waited just a bit too long to bring back the starters.

I like that he had faith in Thirdy to get the job done even if he was painfully off. With William Navarro cramping up, it was up to Mike Nieto and Gian Mamuyac to save the day.

Mike hit some big shots including that turn around j while Mamu simply took it to La Salle. That’s the way… attack. The Blue Eagles’ defense and the individual brilliance of some players saved the day.

Gripes aside, this was still a very good win. It kept Ateneo abreast of dangerous UST as the only unbeaten sides in the league.

We all know that the new season is still young and that the team can only get better. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Ateneo Blue Eagles Game 1: A good start and an even better finishing kick vs Adamson

A good start and an even better finishing kick
by rick olivares

Championships certainly aren’t won on opening day. But it is always nice to start on the right foot.

You can bet that was imperative that there was to be no ambush on opening day (especially after Adamson took them down in the very first game of season 81). You know that Ateneo has the better team, but still, you cannot rely on reputation or even assumptions. You have to go out and win it.

And the Ateneo Blue Eagles sure did, crushing Adamson with a late 13-0 flurry to take their first win of the season, 70-52.

Ateneo put the clamps on Adamson’s veterans who did not make an impact on the game – Jerrick Ahanmisi, Simon Camacho, and Jerom Lastimosa. New center Lenda Douanga looked lost and befuddled (I will chalk that up to opening game jitters because he has played well for the past two years, but maybe on this day, they probably wished they had Papi Sarr in uniform instead as he can clog that lane and battle Kouame inside). With the veterans not doing well, it was up to the newbies to try and carry the fort for them. The moments were few and far in between.

Lucky for the Soaring Falcons, their one-and-done player Velandre Chuaca (who is older than most of the players he went up against) caught fire in the third period where he was hitting all sorts of crazy shots including one from way out there. While it gave Adamson a chance, one man cannot do it alone. When he was finally shackled, that was it for Adamson.

It is hard to say much after only one game because there are so many factors that can affect the game. After three games have been played then it is safer to spot trends or to even make inferences.

I’ll say this though about Ateneo.

There was the gigil factor for many players. At times they looked a bit undisciplined – rushing shots, making poor decisions. Sometimes, they got lost in their switching (not all of it due to Adamson’s offensive schemes).  

On the other hand, they played great defense. They didn’t allow the Soaring Falcons’ veterans to provide some stability. Even last year’s early tormentor Vince Magbuhos (who since his first four games last season has regressed) was a non-factor. You can bet Ateneo will try to not allow Chuaca to run roughshod like he did this game when they meet next time.

Ateneo ruled the boards (54-42, challenged many a shot, and closed down that lane by registering an 8-3 advantage in blocks). Control of the boards gave them a slight advantage in fastbreak points, 8-5, and in second chance points, 13-11.

Angelo Kouame was huge for Ateneo as he tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 3 steals. His defense along with the offense supplied by Will Navarro and Thirdy Ravena got Ateneo off to a fast start.

The bench didn’t get the job done the first time around. In their next opportunity, they helped the team attain its biggest lead of the game at 22 or 23 points. Then came Chauca’s explosion.

Gian Mamuyac showed that he can really make an impact with his game like Thirdy Ravena albeit minus the thundering dunks. He played great defense and displayed his willingness to attack and create for teammates. He did well when Ateneo closed out Adamson with a 13-0 run to finish off Adamson.

Just wondering why Kouame needs to run out to Douanga on the three-point arc when he isn’t a threat from that distance then he has to quickly rotate back inside to protect that rim. No doubt, the other teams are seeing that and they will need to move that ball quickly to get inside and find others from drop passes and kick outs. I am sure thought it is all part of the game plan, but it bears watching how the other teams want to find a way to exploit this.

Nervy moments but otherwise, a huge response and an even bigger win (considering UST and UP won their opening matches).

As for Adamson, I think they will really need their veterans to play well. There are few of them and technically, this is only Lastimosa’s second year. Now you see what Sean Manganti brought to the table with his all-around play from the forward position. Maybe Aaron flowers will grow into that role. However, any chance for a win will also depend on Douanga’s playing well. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

My response to post Gilas loss to Italy: We go. Again.

We go. Again.
by rick olivares

In the wake of the Philippines’ 108-62 loss to Italy in the Fiba World Cup, you have people saying that we should stop putting our focus on basketball but turn our attention and efforts to other sports.

While I do agree that other sports should be given attention, supporting, financing, and whatnot, that doesn’t mean we should abandon basketball. Does it follow that if we focus on tennis or football we will have a shot as some huge titles? Not necessarily. 

What other countries have basketball as their national sport – Lithuania, Israel, Mongolia, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, Georgia, Venezuela, and Slovenia. Many other countries have basketball as a second sport either to football or hockey. If you look at the aforementioned countries, not many of them have won international titles in the basketball. Even footballing nations like England – and for a time, Spain and France – Colombia, and Chile haven’t really won much in international football Must they abandon that sport in favor of rugby, cricket, or basketball which is growing there as well?

When football picked up in the Philippines in 2011, our national team has won some and lost a bunch of heartbreakers. But we still go at it. Yet even in the midst of these runs, you have some quarters calling the team out for a lack of homegrown flavor (with more Filipinos born overseas dominating the roster). Everyone has something to say.

Being immersed in the local music scene, I often hear local musicians say that we Filipinos are some of the best musicians in the world. Maybe. Maybe not? But why do we blow our own horn? Others should say that. And well, name me one international breakout star who commands huge audiences, headlines, album sales? Lea Salonga? Freddie Aguilar did – for one song. Anyone else?

The losses in the international arena are painful, galling, and sometimes embarrassing.

Remember when our first all-PBA team got smashed in the 1990 Asian Games? The crowds at the Big Dome were sparse after that. 

The funny thing is people love to point to the PBA all the time as to blame for these losses. Hasn’t it occurred to you that many other countries have pro leagues as well and that doesn’t stop them from being good at the sport. 

Can it not also be that other countries – especially our Asian neighbors have either caught up or leapfrogged past us in the sport? How about boxing? There was a time when we had a number of champions in different eight classes. Now? Hmm. Does that stop our boxers from going at it again and again heartbreak aside? No. 

Time was in basketball our toughest rivals were China, Japan, and South Korea. In the past 10-15 years, the West Asian or Middle eastern countries have become powers in their own right. Now the Oceania countries Australia and New Zealand have joined the bracket and have made everything triply harder. 

And mind you, not many of them use naturalized players? 

Take a look at Iran. Are their players of mixed races? Nope. Do they have naturalized players on their roster? The rise of Iran as a basketball power is simply incredible. 

They put in a program that they have nurtured through the years. 

Us? Well, one of the national sports is nitpicking. And once more, many are playing that game. 

The funny thing is after every Asian Games or Olympics, there is this litany of finger-pointing and anger towards this and that. How we should do this and that and not do this and not do that. 

Yes, it can be disappointing and exasperating. We just go again and try to solve the problems. That’s part of the game.

Friday, August 16, 2019

WWE’s Sheamus on performing in Manila, Liverpool & staying healthy

WWE’s Sheamus on performing in Manila, Liverpool & staying healthy
by rick olivares

Professional wrestler Sheamus (whose real name is Stephen Farrelly) flew into Manila on a whirlwind tour to promote the upcoming World Wrestling Entertainment show this coming September 20 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The 41-year old wrestler hasn’t been inside the ring since suffering a concussion in in a match against tag team, The New Day, last April. 

“I myself am itching to get back into the ring,” admitted the man known as the Celtic Warrior. “But it is all about getting healthy for myself and making sure that show in the Philippines are a success. It isn’t like we are often in this part of the world. And we have tremendous support in Asia. This is giving to the fans.”

Thus far, the WWE wrestlers who will take part in the Manila show include Asuka, Finn Balor, Bayley, Charlotte Flair, Kofi Kingston, Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, and Xavier Woods to name a few.

This will be the fifth time the WWE will perform in Manila and the big guns are coming out.

“It would be nice to wrestle in front of Filipino fans who are known for their passion,” added Sheamus, “but I am sure the guys in our locker room will do a great job and it will be a memorable night for all.”

Speaking of staying healthy and fit, when one is in an active WWE roster, that means “about 280 days of travel in one calendar year,” he added. “So you have to not only take care of your body, but also your mind.”

The 240-pound wrestler has put his “Brave Change” philosophy out for the fans to see on social media/ “It really is all about stepping out of your comfort zone. Trying different things to improve your training and routine. And eating healthy too.” 

Sheamus has also taken this downtime to follow his beloved Liverpool FC. Along with basketball star LeBron James, actor Daniel Craig, actress Millie Bobby Brown, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, former Spice Girl Melanie C among many others, Sheamus is acknowledged to be a big time supporter of the Merseyside club.

Flying into Manila, Sheamus missed the UEFA Super Cup match between Liverpool and Chelsea that was played in Istanbul. “Oh, man! I missed it,” said the disappointed Irishman who is known to be a die-hard supporter of the club. “I just checked the highlights, Liverpool won, 54, after a penalty shootout) but I will make it a point to watch their next match (at Southampton this coming Saturday).”

While recuperating, Sheamus also took advantage of watching the recent UEFA Champions League Finals between Liverpool and Tottenham at Madrid last June 1. “Me and (fellow WWE wrestler) Cesaro flew to Madrid to support Liverpool. We paid for flight, our hotel, our match tickets ticket, to watch the Reds clinch their sixth European trophy. What a night it was for me, the club, and the fans all over the world.”

Why root for Liverpool?

“As a lad growing up in Dublin, Ireland, I knew of the Irish heritage of the club. Anfield Road and Anfield Stadium are named for the old town in Ireland, Annefield in County Wexford. And there were a lot of Irish players on the team growing up – Ronnie Wheelan, Steve Heighway, Mark Lawrenson, Steve Finnan, and John Aldridge to name a few (a total of 18 players from the Republic of Ireland have suited up for the Reds) so it was an easy thing for me to cheer for the club. But the tough thing is after a loss is finding some cheer in the next day. It’s just difficult because the club means a lot to me and so many other people.”

“We’ve figured in several finals and cup battles since Jurgen Klopp took over and now we’ve won two pieces of silverware. Hopefully, the next one is the Premier League title.”

Monday, August 5, 2019

Cool sports documentaries on Netflix

Cool sports docus on Netflix
by rick olivares

Sports documentaries can be riveting. And guess what? Netflix has a bunch of them that will pique your interest whether you root for this team or not.

Here are six documentaries that I wholly recommend for binge watching And in no particular order. Burst out that six-pack and munchies.

Sunderland ‘Til I Die
This short series has eight episodes that recount the 2017-18 season of English club, Sunderland FC following their relegation from the Premier League tothe Championship League (second division). You don’t have to be a fan of any other team to appreciate this story. It shows the passion and the connection of the club to the city.

The Carter Effect
A 2017 documentary on the effect that Vince Carter had on Toronto and Canada in general. This goes nicely with the documentary by Filipina-Canadian filmmaker Kathleen Jayme, Finding Big country, which is about former Vancouver Grizzlies center, Bryant Reeves.

Basketball or Nothing
The latest entry to Netflix that is barely three days’ old. This is about the Chinle, Arizona basketball team’s quest to restore pride to their American Indian community and to find a way out of their predicament. Last year, Vice TV released a lateral documentary titled, Metal from the Dirt which is an inside look at the Navajo nation’s black metal music scene. Fascinating. And you feel for them.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball
A one-hour and 20-minute documentary about a group of furry, hairy bunch of guys who wanted to play baseball. This is a true story of the Class-A team, the Portland Mavericks that once featured actor Kurt Russell (the team was managed by his father) and ex-pro pitcher Jim Bouton who was blacklisted from baseball after his tell-all book, Ball Four detailed a lot of inside stories from his time in Major League Baseball. 

You want an underdog story then this is it.

A 2017 film that unfolds like a plot out of Designated Survivor (you have to watch both the American and Korean versions of Designated Survivor). A geo-political thrill that is actually a sports expose. Filmmaker Bryan Fogel’s gutsy tell-all about Russia’s doping program (that started with a cycling race) beginning with Grigory Rodchenkov’s revelations about a state-sponsored doping program.

How dangerous is this? Rodchenkov is in protective custody while two of his associates were murdered.
Remember that famous question about why one climbs a mountain? And its equally famous answer, “Because it is there?”

If your heart was broken by Into the Wild (also on Netflix now), watch Mountain. Directed by Jennifer Peedom and narrated by actor, Willem Dafoe, Mountain shows the beautiful cinematography of mountain ranges and the attempts to scale them. 

As Dafoe says in the intro, “To those who are enthralled by mountains, their wonder is beyond all dispute. To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness.”

If you aren’t intrigued by that, then go watch some cheesy drama.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Learning from Spanish Football

Learning from Spanish Football
by rick olivares

Spain extended their Under-19 reign in the UEFA Championships defeating Portugal, 2-nil last Saturday, July 27, with Fernan Torres (who plays for Valencia) scoring a brace.

La Roja have now won their eighth title in that age bracket. Now this team, led by Abel Ruiz, lifted the U-17 trophy two years ago. So this batch of footballers will be taking over from Spain’s Golden Generation that led them to glory in the previous years.

Said head coach Santi Denia: "It's not just today – this group have been a family, there's been a continuity with our work in the federation and this is the product of so much hard work, so many journeys, and some bad times but today it was their time to produce the performance they had to give in order to become champions of Europe."

Europe? They might not stop there. They could very well lead Spain to another World Cup triumph.

They key word mentioned by Denia is this – continuity. While their grassroots program is well-known including their tiki-taka style of play that is cascaded all the way down to the lowest and youngest levels of football, here is one other fact. 

There are 473 pitches registered with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Four hundred seventy-three. That excludes the impromptu fields and unregistered ones where people play. Now of that 473 pitches, less than 60 are considered dirt fields. 

Yes, fields with no grass. Your typical earth variety. But even that number is shrinking because of an edict to convert them into artificial turf. 

Imagine that. In the near future, all those fields will be covered with turf.

That will surely fast-track development more so now they are working on a women’s league.

In recent years, their “fidelity strategy” has seen 77% of all Spanish players playing in La Liga becoming eligible to suit up for La Roja. That is an incredible number. They can find other players to suit up if one isn’t available.

Furthermore, the fidelity strategy provides coaching and the opportunity to play for clubs. And it isn’t all football. There are specific teachers to guide the players into a life after football. This is seen as a welcome development especially by the parents of the kids who enter the program.

And one of the goals is to see more homegrown players suit up for the clubs. They federation is clearly bent on giving the Spanish player all the chances to succeed.

I believe this is something that the Philippine Football Federation should emulate. While of course, basketball is the top sport in the country and volleyball, second, the program that Spain runs can be emulated in some way. 

By next year, it will be the 10thanniversary of the Miracle of Hanoi where the Philippine Men’s National Football Team and local football took off. The level of play has certainly improved across the board. I’m just wondering if there is a coherent plan. Nothing wrong with looking Westward to Spain. We might not have the support it has but at this point, it is all about mindset and attitude. 

I say, it is certainly possible. It is time to make serious inroads in local football. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

CSB Blazers are 3-0 but can still do better

CSB Blazers are 3-0 but can still do better
by rick olivares

In our preview for the College of St. Benilde Blazers, we wrote: “This year, although there was excitement, they glided in under the radar what with the injuries to Haruna and Leutcheu. Justin Gutang was chill as was Dixon. There are still expectations. And in spite of that, it is entirely possible they will do better.”

We postulated that they didn’t do too well when there were expectations last season. This season, after struggling in the preseason, they didn’t rate too highly. However, the low profile approach could work as they are under the radar.

True enough, the Blazers are at 3-0; one of two undefeated teams in NCAA Season 95 thus far (the other being -- no surprise here – San Beda which sports the same record as CSB).

CSB defeated Emilio Aguinaldo College, 69-66, Perpetual Help, 75-63, and Mapua, 71-67. Granted the three teams are at the bottom half of the standings, this still is good because you still have to beat them no matter how close the match is. The wins and closing them out in the clutch will give the Blazers the confidence as they next face the top tier squads.

The Blazers are currently seventh on offense while ranked second on defense. 

Why is CSB struggling offensively? That is because they are missing Yanqui Haruna who hasn’t played yet as he missed the last few months due to an injury. According to CSB head coach, Haruna is listed as day-to-day.

Dixon hasn’t performed to the level he has. In his final season, Dixon is averaging a disappointing 6.7 points per game.

The only players averaging in double digits are Justin Gutang (12.7) and James Pasturan (11.7). 

If the Blazers want to defeat the top tier teams and compete for a Final Four slot, they will need Clement Leutcheu (8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds), Unique Naboa (5.7 points and 2.0 assists), and Dixon to step up.

Dixon is crucial because of his skill set. He can shoot, drive, rebound, and pass that ball. He needs to really gain that confidence that he showed during the preseason.

Ladis Lepalam is a rookie so we can cut him slack. But the veterans on this team have to step up. It is the last season for Leutcheu, Haruna, Domingo, and Dixon. If they don’t go far they’ll be in rebuilding mode again for next season. 

At 3-0, they need to continue to climb up that ladder.

Definitely the defections of Paolo Javillonar and Jay Pangalangan hurt. For sure they were blind-sided, but they cannot make excuses for that now. This is time for everyone to step up.

CSB can play so much better. They just have to want it.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mariano Rivera: Enter the HOF, Sandman.

Enter the HOF, Sandman.
by rick olivares

New York Yankees pitched Mariano Rivera was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; a unanimous selection, last Sunday, July 21, 2019.

The Panamanian pitcher truly deserves it. He notched 652 saves; 51 more than second placer Trevor Hoffman. It was in the post-season where he was the most valuable. In his 18 years pitching for the Yankees, he finished with an 8-1 record with a 0.70 earned run average and 42 saves in 96 appearances. He helped New York win five Major League Baseball World Series titles.

As a lifelong Yankees fan, it feels good that one of my favorite players is going to the Hall of Fame (along with Mike Mussina in this class of inductees). The other inductees included Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, and Lee Smith. I got to see all the other players – against the Yankees – and all at the old Yankee Stadium.

I only have four Yankees jerseys with names on them – Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Aaron Judge, and Rivera. Mariano is the only pitcher in that lot. 

I must have watched about a hundred live games of the Yankees and I still have every ticket that I purchased to Yankee Stadium. I consider myself lucky that I got to see all my favorites – O’Neill, Bernie Williams, DJ, A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, and Mo. 

Watching him pitch in really tense situations, displaying that unnatural calm, and his expression hardly betraying any emotion is incredible. Win or lose, he was a stoic on that mound. The one time I saw him show any emotion was when he was “taken out” of the game by his teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte in his final game. That was emotional and Mo cried on Pettitte’s shoulders. Hell, I am a grown man and I cried too.

For many Yankees fan, watching him trot out of the Bullpen to Metallica’s classic song, “Enter Sandman,” is one of the game’s best sights.

Once, I got to shake Mo’s hand near the player’s entrance. I waited by that entrance quite a few times and there was no guarantee any player would come over to shake your hand. Mo did that one time and he didn’t just shake my hand, he even chatted for about a minute. I was in shock and really didn’t know what to say. I was so stunned that I forgot to even ask for a picture or autograph! What a dunce!

Him spending close to a minute is an awful long time. Other fans immediately came over. While Mo gave them time, he didn’t just move on and forget me. He made sure to politely say that he was going to say hi to the others as well. I have not met another sportsman/celebrity who has done or said anything within that zip code. That definitely left a good impression on me.

I guess, it was the way that team of Yankees under Joe Torre carried themselves that left a good impression on many. While all the players were fiercely competitive, they all conducted themselves in a professional manner.

One time, while working at Burger Heaven on East 96thand Lexington, I got to see lunch for Jason Giambi and then pitcher Tanyon Sturtze. There was a no autograph policy at the restaurant, but the two graciously signed autographs for me and another waiter from Bangladesh named Imon, who was a die-hard Yankees fan. 

There’s a risk they can be testy as they are on an off-day. I myself witness a famous actor blow off a young fan who asked for his autograph while he was eating. I was nervous that should Giambi and Sturtze be upset, Imon and I could get fired. But no. They were cool and they even chatted for a few seconds.

Sitting up in the upper tier boxes of Yankees Stadium, it is so easy to get caught up in all the emotions of a baseball game. The fans are vociferous in their support or loud in their opinions. Watching Mo, I kept to myself. In fact, I still remain calm ever during games today no matter how intense.

One time during the Philippines-Korea match of the 2013 Fiba Asia Championships, as the crowd at the MOA Arena was going wild, a colleague of mine asked me how on Earth could I remain so calm, not cheering, and well, looking very much composed.

I said, one, were journalists. We have to stay neutral. And then I said, “because of Mariano Rivera.” 

My colleague got it. He might be a massive basketball fan who doesn’t really watch baseball. But even he knew who Mariano Rivera was and what he stood for.

Congratulations on entering baseball’s Hall of Fame, Mariano. You deserve it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Who Dares Wins: The Petro Gazz Angels

Who Dares Wins: The Petro Gazz Angels
by rick olivares

The British Special Air Service, that elite commando team tasked with taking on tough and impossible military missions, has a creed… “Who dares wins.”

The same can be applied and appropriated by the newly-crowned Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference champions, Petro Gazz Angels.

A few days before the start of the season, team management looked at the sked and the Angels were tasked to take on another team in the season opener. They asked, “Can we instead play the Creamline Coolsmashers?’

If the team was to contend, they wanted to immediately test themselves against the best… the Coolsmashers who were the defending champions.

Petro Gazz knew they handed landed two gems of imports in Cuban national teamer, Wilma Salas, and the high-leaping and scoring Janisa Johnson who local fans first saw with the BaliPure Water Defenders from the previous season.

The angels threw down the gauntlet and they ambushed the Coolsmashers with a three-set win (25-22, 26-24, 25-22) behind Salas’ 20 points and Johnson’s 16. Also playing stellar roles in that opening day win were Jeanette Panaga (nine points) and Cherry Nunag (eight points).

When the Angels closed out the finals series a month and 20 days after that scintillating opening day win, all four Angels including newly activated super sub Jonah Sabete masterfully finished off Creamline in a four-set thriller (25-15, 30-28, 25-23, 25-019).

Five days earlier, things looked a bit bleak as Creamline took Game One when they not only ratcheted up the intensity but they held Salas in check. 

The day after that loss, team management sat down with Petro Gazz head coach Arnolfd Laniog to see how they could turn the series around. They talked about raising the level of intensity to not only match Creamline but to even surpass. Said Laniog, “We will just make a few adjustments because I think we are all right.”

And he wasn’t grasping for straws.

They didn’t play so bad in Game One despite the result. Outside their Big Three of Salas-Johnson-Panaga, the locals outscored their Coolsmashers counterparts, 16-13. More of the locals were getting into the act; something they worked on following the second round loss to Creamline. They were aggressive in Game One, it was just that they committed a whopping 31 errors to Creamline’s 16.

In Game 2, Petro Gazz reversed the tide by blanking Creamline’s imports Kuttika Kaewpin and Aleoscar Blanco leaving only Alyssa Valdez to do the heavy lifting on both offense and defense.

With less than 24 hours after the series-turning Game Two, the momentum rode with Petro Gazz while Creamline had less than 24 hours to shake off the debilitating effects of Game Two.

The Angles continued to roll in set one of game three and only lost set two by two points. They put Creamline on the defensive with their booming serves and tough net and floor defense as led by libero Cienne Cruz. With Kaewpin’s points scattered and Blanco a non-factor, Valdez was left to carry the load. Against a team on fire, flush with confidence and smelling blood, even the Phenom’s prowess wasn’t enough to deny Petro Gazz.

And for championship point, a little misdirection by Laniog forced Creamline to watch Salas but it was Johnson who finished them off. 

In only the second year of the Angles, they have bagged themselves a trophy and con be considered as a top team now. And they do not look to rest there as they are constantly looking for ways to shore up their team. True to their form, they are staying aggressive.

After all, they dared to win.