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 19, 2018

The challenges of Vergel Meneses and JRU

The challenges of Vergel Meneses and JRU
by rick olivares

At the end of a 57-55 nail-biting win over Emilio Aguinaldo College, Jose Rizal University head coach Vergel Meneses heaved a sigh of relief while one of his veteran players, Jed Mendoza, let loose his tears.

EAC was favored to win, but an early lead allowed JRU a small level of comfort if not a buffer as the Generals made one last late charge that fell short when their center Laminou Hamadou botched a poor entry pass and was blocked by the Heavy Bombers Jun Silvarez.

Heading into the Friday, August 17 match, JRU was winless in seven starts. The win over EAC coupled with a bonus as an earlier loss was reverted when San Sebastian College forfeited a win due to a violation in player eligibility gave JRU two wins in one day prompting Meneses to jokingly wonder if Christmas had come in August.

After the Heavy Bombers floundered in the pre-season (they went 0-9 in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup), Meneses tempered management’s expectations. “Ma-suwerte kung manalo tayo ng dalawa,” he remembered telling JRU’s ManCom representative, Paul Supan right before NCAA Season 94 tipped off. “Hindi naman ako naniniwala na bobolahin ko ang management to say good things,” bared Meneses. “Rebuilding year ito after losing many veterans. We have to accept that there will be seasons like this and hope we can do better next year.”

Sometimes, it is hard to believe that Vergel Meneses is on his ninth year as head coach of the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers.

“Kahit ako nagugulat,” laughed the man who was called the Aerial Voyager for his ability to float in the air with the greatest of ease for a scintillating drive or a death-defying slam dunk his PBA career that when it was over, he was named as one of the game’s greatest.

“One more year, isang dekada na ako sa alma mater ko.”

There have been incredible highs and low moments. His Heavy Bombers have one more match left in the first round – against two-time defending champions, San Beda. “Let us enjoy this moment; this win,” he said. “Bukas ko na iisipin yung San Beda. Malay mo – maka-tsamba. Bilog ang bola.”

It has been trying. He took the coaching job with a lot of boyish charm and with a dash of hope. He at times looked lost and would turn around to look at his mentor, Derrick Pumaren, then the team consultant, for answers and solutions. Meneses is no longer that kind of coach. He has grown and better understood the game. Not to mention his players.

The game was easy for him. He parlayed stardom with the then Jose Rizal College Heavy Bombers into a storied PBA career. It was an adjustment from player to coach. He found it difficult to rein in his temper when players couldn’t execute what came naturally for him. “Nung una, madaling maubos yung pasensiya ko,” he admitted. Three years ago, naisip ko na, ‘tama na ‘to’ and maybe coaching is not for me. But I am not one to back out from challenges. Alma mater ko to. Dito ako nakilala bilang player. Gusto ko naman ma-turn around yung programa namin.”

In fact, when Meneses played for JRC, he was a one-man team. The powers then were Letran (which had Dong Libed, Art Ayson, Tino Pinat, and Jing Ruiz), and San Sebastian (that had a line-up which all went to the PBA). “Ang difference then was players did not play for allowances, or what benefits others give today. They played because they loved the game and they played for school pride.”

JRU has plenty of challenges. They aren’t a top destination for most blue chippers. They don’t even have the machinery to compete for top recruits. In fact, they even have trouble holding on to their high school stars such as Keith Agovida (Arellano University), Joshua Saret (UP), and Jeepy Faundo (UST) to name a few who left the Mandaluyong-based school.

“May suwerte rin naman kami,” he said whiling naming players like Jeckster Apinan, Byron Villarias, Teytey Teodoro, and Paolo Pontejos who starred for JRU and are currently making names for themselves in the PBA, D-League, and the MPBL.

“I accept the challenge of building my school into a winner,” said Meneses. “But we also have to accept yung difficulties ng challenges and admit to ourselves that work needs to be done. We don’t have money so we work with what we have. Basta naman lumalaban, happy kami. Siyempre we want to win, but we also have to be realistic. We are in a rebuilding phase. We’re developing the skills of the players, working on team chemistry, and looking for players who will help us compete for the coming years.”

As of today with a 2-6 record, anything else after this is gravy. “You know I like challenges,” summed up Meneses. “We will try to player better and finish stronger this second round.”

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.”