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, August 5, 2018

It’s a marvelous life for Robby Celiz

It’s a marvelous life for Robby Celiz
by rick olivares

The Bataan Risers’ Robby Celiz is used to marveling the world around him. During a bowling and billiards team fellowship event last Thursday, August 2, the six-foot-three forward with a sniper rifle for an arm, stood behind his teammates who all kidded around during an impromptu bowling tournament.

“Ganyan talaga ako,” he murmured of his taking in everything including the good fortune he believes to be with the Bataan squad that is currently playing in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League.

Celiz hails from Cadiz, Negros Occidental. It’s a mostly agrarian and fishing city some 40 miles north of Bacolod. There are the nearby Cadiz Viejo, a white sand beach, a popular tourist spot.

It was only as he got older when he began to appreciate the world around him. After all, what do you know when you’re a kid.

“Ang habol ko lang ay makapagaral ng college,” Robby admitted of his modest dreams. Celiz found himself playing for Rizal Technological University in Mandaluyong. “Akala ko, hanggang dito na lang ang basketball career ko tapos kukuha na ako ng trabaho na pang-corporate.”

Fate intervened in the form of Eric Altamirano who recruited him for his National University squad. And arguably he was a part of one of the best UAAP teams not to win a championship (where he suited up alongside two-time league most Valuable Player Ray Parks, Mythical Five member Jean Mbe, Dennice Villamor, Jeff Javillionar, and Robin Roño to name a few). “Nagulat ako nung na-recruit ako ni Coach E. Nag-iba yung buhay ko. From NAASCU to UAAP. Sabi ng mga kapamilya at kaibigan ko from Negros Occidental na bigla na nila ako napapanood sa TV,” he laughs.

And then he was drafted 17th overall in 2013 by Talk ‘N Text. “Grabe, dream come true,” he said of that moment in time. Yet, Celiz found it difficult to get minutes with a team that at that time was the class of the pro league. They had Jason Castro who was at that time, newly conferred as the best point guard in Asia. Jimmy Alapag was still blowing great guns. They also had do-it-all player Ryan Reyes, and well, Celiz’ Risers’ teammate, Pamboy Raymundo.

Medyo mahirap kumuha ng minuto sa team na yun,” admitted Celiz. “Pero yung natutunan ko – hindi ko makukuha kahit saan. Naka ilang championship na sila at yung preparation at approach sa laro, kahit yung samahan at professionalism – ang dami mo mapupulot.”

“At dahil kinuha ako ng Bataan Risers (after a stint with BlackWater and with Alab Pilipinas where he was a Asean Basketball Championship), gusto ko dalhin at i-share yung natutunan ko sa kanila.”

Celiz is well aware that he is playing for a supportive organization led by head coach Jojo Lastimosa who is one of the 40 Greatest PBA Players of all-time, and a staff of former pros and winners like Vic Pablo and Ervin Sotto. He even has a former national team player for a teammate in Gary David as well as two current Gilas Cadets in JJ Alejandro and Vince Tolentino.

“Nung nanalo kami sa Alab, ang sarap ng feeling,” he gushed. “Ganun pala yun to win (a major championship)!”

With the Risers, he believes he has been given a platform to showcase his talents. In Bataan’s last win, a 95-85 triumph over the Imus Bandera, Celiz scored 15 points while hauling down seven rebounds and dishing three assists. “Hindi madali yung buhay professional. Ilang teams lang nasa PBA. Pero dahil dito sa MPBL at sa Bataan, may chance na makalaro. Happy ako na nakakatulong ako sa team ko manalo.”

Robby realizes that not many people are given the opportunities he has been given. He understands it is a difficult and highly-competitive profession, but at this point, it’s all gravy (aside from the need to earn a living). “Dream ko lang nun makakuha ng scholarship para makapag-college ako. Biro mo naglaro ako sa UAAP, sa PBA, sa ABL, at ngayon sa Risers sa MPBL. Not bad di ba?”

Now to help write a happy chapter for the Risers (who currently tote a 4-1 record in the MPBL Datu’s Cup) with a championship.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Byron Villarias is dead-set on helping Bataan rise to the top

Byron Villarias is dead-set on helping Bataan rise to the top
Byron Villarias’ basketball career has had many challenges. With the Bataan Risers, he is determined to make it to the top.
By Rick Olivares

During the Bataan Risers’ 95-85 win over the Imus Bandera last July 28, John Byron Villarias top scored for the match with 25 points. In Bataan’s five matches in the ongoing Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Datu’s Cup, the 30-year old Villarias has scored double digits thrice.

He has always been a high scoring guard. With Jose Rizal University as well as with NLEX and Cignal in the D-League.

Yet, despite his ability to light up the scoreboard, Villarias has always had to fight for his slot. “Sanay na,” he succinctly puts about always having to prove himself. “Nakakainis kasi minsan hindi nabibigyan ng chance pero kailangan talaga, positive thinking.”

For much of his young life, Villarias has had to prove himself. Two cousins – Vernie and Vilmer Villarias -- played for the University of the East back in the 1980s where they were a big part of the school’s last UAAP champion teams.

When Byron left Silay, Negros Occidental after high school to try his luck in Manila, his first destination was – UE. “Nag try out ako sa kanila for two weeks and akala ko meron akong chance. Kaso two weeks later, umalis sila Coach Dindo Pumaren and Bong Ravena (as Lawrence Chongson replaced the former as head coach), hindi na ako nakuha. “

Disappointed, but undaunted, Villarias tried out for other teams – Arellano University, FEU, UST, and CEU to name just a few. “Hindi ko naisip na umuwi sa Negros kasi gusto ko ipatunayan na kaya ko makapaglaro ng college sa Manila.”

It was with Jose Rizal University where he managed to land a roster spot under Vergel Meneses. At that time, the team was coming off perhaps its most successful spell since the days when Meneses himself was the team’s star.

Yet, Villarias found his place and scoring touch that included top pistolero Nate Matute and stud forward, John Lopez.

After two seasons with the Heavy Bombers, Villarias’ modest goals of simply playing in college had to be adjusted. “Two years lang ako nakalaro sa Team A ng JRU and one year sa Team B nila. Bitin. Pero nung naglaro yung team sa D-League as ‘JRU’ nagustuhan ako ng NLEX pagkatapos naming sila pahirapan sa semi-finals. So lumipat ako after yung conference na yun.”

When the NLEX Road Warriors moved up to the PBA, Villarias thought that he was going to finally live his PBA dream. Except that he played for a grand total of two games before he was sent down to Cignal in the D-League. It was there where he joined a team that had his current Risers teammates Pamboy Raymundo and Alfred Batino.

“Alam mo, disappointing at frustrating din kasi nandun ka na sa PBA. Pero naisip ko rin lagi na lang nangyayari ‘to. So pero hindi mo puwedeng isipin lagi yan. Positive thoughts lang. Motivation lahat ito para sa akin,” admitted Villarias. “Pero kapag tinignan mo si Pamboy na malaking part sa lahat ng team na napuntahan niya --- at champion pa sila -- tapos ganyan… lalakas din loob mo. Laban lang.”

And so the three former D-League teammates have found themselves with the Bataan Risers and Villarias could not be happier. “Lalo ka gaganahan kung alam mo meron plano yung team. Meron silang vision at siyempre, gusto ko sila matulungan at mapasama diyan.”

In a little over 19 minutes per game, Villarias is averaging 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. Good numbers that have helped the Bataan Risers to a 4-1 record.

“Dito sa Bataan, meron kaming chance na gumawa ng isang special na ending. Sa ngayon medyo kulang pa sa chemistry pero makakarating din diyan. Lagi naman nagiisip yung management at coaches ng ways na makapag-bond kami para mas-solid pa yung laro sa court. At sana masuklian namin at bigyan ng championship yung management at yung mga taga-Bataan. Lahat kami rito meron motivation. Kanya-kanyang motivation pero isa lang goal.”

“Ganyan lang. Laban ka lang at aangat ka.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

Bad officiating in Philippine basketball. So what's the call?

What’s the call?
by rick olivares

You must have heard countless times that officiating a sporting match is a thankless job. Whatever call you make, someone will have something to say about it.

Sure, it is thankless. And it is definitely difficult. But I am sorry, that is not an excuse. You can never call a perfect game. There will always be varying opinions or one’s take on the rules, but what an officiating crew – including their supervisor – is to cut down on calls that – well – make a difference and change the outcome of a match. The recent brawl between Australia and the Philippines was also because of the failure of game officials to not only control the players, but to also make the appropriate calls or issue warnings of the stern kind.

There are hundreds of basketball leagues all over the Philippines and I imagine there must also be quite a number of referees groups. Each one under different personalities. You see certain officials criss cross. They transfer for a variety of reasons – usually for competence and sometimes because they engage is shenanigans.

Why aren’t these officials under one umbrella? Why is their interpretation of the rules different from one another? Why are some officials who are banned or fired still officiating in the first place?

Are the PBA referees the only ones who review matches using video?

Plenty of questions – and there’s more I can assure you.

And that brings me to the current NCAA Season 94.

Most of the referees are new. A coach of one team personally told me that he asked one ref about his experience and he replied, barangay level. The coach was aghast. From the barangay to the NCAA?

Watching a recent match played by Jose Rizal University, a Heavy Bomber grabbed the defensive rebound and was called for stepping on the line when his foot was a good two feet away from the baseline. I sat by the baseline and was aghast at the call.

Last Friday, July 27, the Arellano University Chiefs went up against the San Sebastian Golden Stags. Two really bad calls went against Arellano – all in overtime.

The first was at the 2:10 mark when one official called Arellano’s Maui Sera Josef for a foul! What happened was SSCR’s Michael Calisaan was trapped in the right corner forcing him to throw the ball out to teammate Alvin Capobres. The shot clock was winding down and he immediately threw the ball to teammate Michael Are who drove to the basket and missed an attempt with three seconds left in the shot clock. Three players contested the rebound – SSCR’s Capobres and JM Calma and Arellano’s Sera Josef. Capobres was backing up and pushed Calma into the way of Sera Josef who hardly grazed Calma. Yet the Chief was called for the foul. The score was tied at 76-all at that point and Calma tacked on one free throw.

A minute and 55 seconds later with Arellano trailing San Sebastian 80-79 and 15 ticks left, that same official called the Chiefs Michael Canete for a pushing foul. What happened was the Stags’ Arjan Dela Cruz called for a screen from Calma. Calma was Cañete’s man and he followed knowing the two Stags were going to run a pick and roll with all its options. And now, he never shoved Calma – as the referee’s motion suggested. He could have called a hand check on the Chief’s Levi Dela Cruz but it would have been a soft call as he hardly held Dela Cruz. The call was against Cañete. I was also able to take video of that call and I also recall the Arellano coaching staff really shocked at the audacity of the call. I showed it to Jerry Codinera afterwards and he held back his anger.

Calma split his free throws, 81-79, SSCR.

With time running out, Sera Josef found Dela Cruz above the arc and with three seconds left hit a deadeye trey over Are and Arjan Dela Cruz for the game winner.

You can say that it is poetic justice for Arellano, but these are crucial calls that could have really changed the outcome of the game.

That match should have been won by San Sebastian but they shot atrociously from the free throw line and that clearly did them in – 12-28 for 42% shooting. Eight of those 12 missed free throws were from the hands of Calisaan. If he made two free throws at the end of regulation then there would have been no overtime.

But this isn’t about missed opportunities but bad calls. And there were some really questionable ones during the Lyceum-Mapua match that closed out seniors’ ball last Friday.

I know teams work really hard, schools and fans spend their hard-earned money, and at the very least they should get a well-played match with pretty good officiating.

If teams watch game film afterwards what I want to know if the officiating crews and supervising officials do the same? Or do they run off to their next gig like the MPBL?

As a people, we have made great strides in the way the game is taught and played. But sorry, in my opinion, officiating, hasn’t improved. Yes, again I know it is a difficult job and the referees should get really good training and be protected from obnoxious fans or even those who deign to affect the game with their betting and whatnot.

The question remains, what is being done to improve the quality of officiating?