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, March 5, 2015

CKSC’s Gallego looks forward to emulate his basketball idol, Kiefer Ravena

CKSC’s Gallego looks forward to emulate his basketball idol, Kiefer Ravena
by rick olivares

If you ask the current crop of high school basketball players, from San Beda’s Nikko Abatayo, Andrei Caracut, and Marc Diputado to Far Eastern University’s Marvin Lee to Letran’s Noah Lugo to Hope Christian High School’s Jollo Go among many others, the basketball star they look up to or idolize is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

Curry is know as a deadeye long range shooter and has an excellent feel for the game that allows him to make superb and timely assists to teammates.

On the other hand, John Vincent Gallego, the Chiang Kai Shek College Blue Dragons’ marvelous shooting guard who has led his school to a multitude of titles in the past two seasons looks up to a player who is closer to home – Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena.

Gallego admits that his pull up jumper is all Ravena. “Ang hirap bantayan ni Kiefer kasi marami siyang klaseng tira. Yung pull up jumper niya ang taas ng elevation niya at hindi basta basta mababantayan. Tapos ang galing pa niya pumasa ng bola.”

More than ever this year, with a more talented cast behind him in point guard Fran Yu and front court monsters Shannon Gagate and Jonas Tibayan, the 5’10” Gallego has diversified his game by learning to make a pass at the right time and the right place.

“And si Kiefer, off the court, ibang klase rin,” gushed Gallego. “Yung mga ginagawa niya to help yung mga nangangailangan nakaka-inspire. Team leader din siya; lead by example talaga.”

With Ravena in attendance for the NBTC High School All-Star Game this coming Sunday, March 8, at 11am at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City, Gallego looks forward to earning his idol’s nod even if he is headed for Ateneo’s new basketball rival, National University.

“I will just give it my best,” promised Gallego whose CKSC Blue Dragons will also be defending their National Basketball Training Center championship in the Seaoil NBTC Championships.

Weighing in on the travails of Alaska & SMB

Weighing in on the travails of Alaska & SMB
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio

San Miguel and Alaska have struggling mightily this conference and one wonders what has happened to these two clubs.

Already some point to the short rest between conferences as the culprit as they had few days rest between the Philippine and the Commissioner’s Cup. SMB reportedly partied for quite a while as this was their first All-Filipino title in quite some time. Plus, they had to attend to other functions as well further cutting into their preparation for the ongoing Commissioner’s Cup. It didn’t help that when the conference got underway, they also had to deal with some players going down in sick bay.

However, that argument is debunked by San Mig Coffee’s Grand Slam feat last year where the Super Coffee Mixers too had to deal with the short rest.

Talking to SMB’s Doug Kramer, he doesn’t make any excuses. The hard working power forward believes the short rest is partially to blame because they just finished an intense and draining series against Alaska. They were in celebratory mood and within a few days, it was time to compete again. “I think the short rest hurt us but we cannot claim that anymore. We should have found our rhythm after a few of those games.”

Seeking further clarification, I spoke with two coaches who in recent memory are the only ones to win in consecutive conferences with one winning the coveted Grand Slam: Tim Cone and Chot Reyes.

When I spoke to Cone before the start of this 40th PBA season, I asked him how they dealt with the short rest and slow starts. And this is what he had to say (passages in italics are all mine):
“The Grand Slam achieved with Alaska in 1996 is was very different from the one won with San Mig Super Coffee. The mechanics of the first grand slam were very different. Primarily because of the scheduling was very different. Remember, it was a very conventional time. We had a conference then a first break. The second conference and then a break and so on. We were coming off a championship and some very successful years that were leading to 1996. We had normal rest. We beat Purefoods then Shell in a very tough series for the second title. In the third we won 13 games in a row and went on to win 4-1 over Ginebra. There was a sense of inevitability. We were so dominant. The only thing we had to overcome was the specter of expectations. The previous season before that we lost the third conference so when we had the opportunity to do it again we knew that we weren’t going to step off that gas pedal.”

“Eighteen years later, the difference is we were preparing for the Gilas tournament. We had the draft, the practice and then we were already playing. There was no chance to sit down and immerse everyone in the system and the culture. We were the underdogs in every conference. In the first conference, Rain or Shine has won 13 games going into the finals and we were struggling and barely got through. But we beat them in six games. Then we played TNT that swept the eliminations. In the last conference, we ended up being the sixth seed even if RoS was the second seed. By that time, people were thinking we could do it again. My thinking was that throughout the whole year we were not the dominant team. We just happened to win what he had at the right time. The only similarity perhaps is that once we got in the Finals of that third conference, there was that feeling that we could do it.”

However, the “GS” word was taboo in Cone’s camp.

“No one was ever allowed to talk or mention the term “Grand Slam in all our meetings, practices, film sessions etc. I said, ‘Don’t talk about it. Let others do it for us but let us not encourage it because it adds to the pressure. We don’t even want to think about it so we can concentrate on the here and now.’ The one time we began to talk about it was after it was all done.”

With the 40th Season of the PBA a day away from tip off, Cone is pretty much done talking about the year before. “Can’t rest on our laurels,” he reasoned. “Whether the club wins or loses, we have this saying, ‘Yesterday ended last night.’”

I also spoke with former Talk ‘N Text and national team coach Chot Reyes whose teams for a period of three years were in and out of the fight and nearly won a grand slam as well.

Reyes concurs with Cone and cites three possible reasons for the slow starts:
Conditioning. Maybe the teams were conditioned to go for one or two conferences. Remember Alaska did very well in the Governors’ Cup of the previous season leading up to the Philippine Cup. It is also possible that it’s the same for San Miguel as very few have championship experience prior to their winning it all in the Philippine Cup.

Mental Toughness. This is something that is learned from experience going after titles conference after conference. It is also setting the tone for your goals. After winning the Philippine Cup, we had our celebratory dinner and when we were done toasting, (team owner) Manuel V. Pangilinan said it very loud and clear for all to understand that tomorrow, we go back to work and try and do it all over again. The season is a long grind so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done off the court to make sure everyone remains focused.

Experience. What San Mig achieved was something special. To pull it off in this day and age is even more difficult. We weren’t able to do it. When you say experience, it refers to winning consecutive conferences as well as having strong leaders on the team who will serve as your extension – like Jimmy Alapag.

Thinking about what Reyes said and Cone’s team saying of “yesterday ended last night” you see a pattern emerging. And it all goes hand-in-hand. It isn’t simply having the right players and the right import and to be relatively healthy for the long haul, it’s also the conditioning, mental fortitude, and the experience to pull it off.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

UST Women's Volleyball Team: Looking back at a roller coaster ride of a season

Sad about the past season? Pam Lastimosa and EJ Laure will be back to lead a rejuvenated UST team next season.
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UST Lady Tigresses: Looking back at a roller coaster ride of a season
story and pics by rick olivares

The locker room inside the MOA Arena offered no solace or comfort for the UST Tigresses. Fighting to keep their season alive and for a Final Four berth, UST showed the inconsistency that plagued them all season long. They struggled in the first two sets as the FEU Lady Tamaraws looked to make short work of their University belt foe but a Pam Lastimosa-inspired comeback saw UST send it to a fifth and deciding set. Instead of a fiery comeback for the ages, they flopped rather badly scoring only six points as FEU celebrated their slot in the Final Four.

The tears flowed freely inside the locker room. Rookie sensation EJ Laure couldn’t hold back her own. She experienced the highs and the lows that wasn’t anything like she went through in high school at UST. “Doon walang nanonood tapos sa college halos hindi na magkasya yung arena sa dami ng tao,” she thought. While she mostly looked like the phenom that she is touted to be, there were days when she was every bit a rookie. Like the match against FEU where she finished with a shockingly poor five points.

“Sobrang sama ng linalaro ko hindi ko akalain na ibabalik pa ako nung fifth set,” Laure recalled. Her poor game continued. “Marami pa akong matututunan.”

“Ako naman, sobrang sama ng laro ko nung first two sets,” admitted Lastimosa who is this year’s team captain. “Sabi ko hindi ako papayag na ganito na lang. Kailangan lumaban.”

She led the way and topscored with 19 points. She got some help from Cherry Ann Rondina and Marivic Meneses who both added 11. In contrast, FEU saw four players score in double figures with Bernadeth Pons, Heather Anne Guino-o, and Geneveve Casugud each tallying 17 points with Mary Palma adding 11 of her own.

Inside the locker room, head coach Odjie Mamon poured his heart out. “Sinabi niya na lahat ng gusto niyang sabihin,” recalled Lastimosa. “It was like it was our last as a team with coach because he might not be back. It was difficult for all of us because we made mistakes. Parang we only got our act together late na and at the start of the new year – 2015 – instead of the beginning of the UAAP.”

“We think our problem is more of mental toughness,” postulated Lastimosa. “The skills and training, patterns and details, coach polishes us for that. When we’re inside the court, we don’t communicate. Then in the endgame, we sort of give up. Dumarating yung errors.”

“I made it a point before every game na nakausap ko sila (her teammates) lalo na pag sobrang crucial yung game. I’d tell then, ‘Uy kailangan natin manalo and to reach our goals. Sinasabi ko na kailangan manalo and to do this on and off the court. Feeling ko nung second round, may effect kasi umangat laro namin.” UTS rattled off three impressive wins in succession – a four-set win against Adamson followed by a pair of three-set sweeps over NU and FEU.”

The good vibes didn’t last too long as they were brought down to earth by La Salle and Ateneo. Then came the crucial match against UP.

The Tigresses looked imposing in the first set but mysteriously lost their focus in the second. They looked to have arrested their skid when they took the third set but their defense crumbled in the last two sets in what ended up as a galling five-set loss to the Lady Maroons.

“The (second round) loss to UP really hurt,” continued the team captain. “Alam naman namin na mahihirapan kami against Ateneo and La Salle. UP is better this year but we didn’t close it out well. Pero meron pa kaming chance umabot sa Final Four against FEU. Kaso hindi kami nanalo.”

“Parang kulang sa commitment at focus kami as a team,” conceded Laure.

“If you look at Ateneo, nag-super work hard sila to be where they are right now,” glowed Lastimosa of their UAAP foe. “We saw also how NU saved their season. They were not playing well then tumaas yung level nila. Kung kaya nila siguro kaya rin naman namin.”

However, there’s a chance the team that just competed might not be intact.

Mamon isn’t the only one who is doubtful to comeback. Carmela Tunay, like Lastimosa, has one more year to play, but she hasn’t said anything about playing out her final year of eligibility.

Right now the team isn’t sure where they are headed for the second semester. There’s a team meeting today where there will be discussions and possibly some announcements.

“The season is over,” proclaimed Lastimosa who also chatted with Laure about the championship series in both men’s and women’s divisions that have yet to be settled. “Maybe the meeting today will put closure to it but we are moving forward. So interesting din kung ano yung mga mapaguusapan din.”

“Next season starts now,” smiled Laure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Four Noble Truths about Ateneo Women’s Volleyball

With Coaches Anusorn Bundit (left) and Parley Tupaz (right) talking volleyball and football! Hahaha
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The Four Noble Truths about Ateneo Women’s Volleyball
by rick olivares

If you watch the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ games on television, maybe you’d be perplexed that during timeouts, the head coach, Anusorn Bundit, issues few instructions or reminders and yet, he mostly tells his girls to be “happy happy.”

If you are looking for secrets here, you will find none. There is no secret training method. No “secret stuff” like Bugs Bunny showed the Toon Stars in the animated film, Space Jam.

What it is really --- is a paradigm shift. A unique meld from head coach Anusorn Bundit’s adherence to Buddhist principles as well as techniques learned in his time as a volleyball player and coach as well as ideas adapted from another sport.

The First Noble Truth: Heartstrong
In one incredible season, the term “Heartsrong” has forever joined Ateneo lexicon alongside “One Big Fight.”

When Anusorn Bundit was asked if he could coach the Ateneo Women’s Volleyball Team, he was told that the team lacked heart. The Thai coach did his due diligence and researched about the team that had lost two years running to the rampaging La Salle Lady Spikers.

“I think of how I can introduce some psychology into their thinking,” wonders the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Coach Tai.’ “To make their heart strong.”

Hence, “Heartstrong.”

Bundit rebuilt their fitness program because they were going to need to be healthy and superbly conditioned to undergo his rigorous training regimen. No doubt, word has leaked that he conducts killer practices with players sometimes getting injured. “Practice hard so the game becomes easy,” he quips. “Teach and do everything in practice. In game only reminders.”

Then referring to himself, he adds with a smile, “Tiger in training; father in game.”

After a recent practice match against Philippine Army with its truckload of national players, the Lady Eagles was joking around with their coach and were surprised to see Lady Eagles captain Alyssa Valdez playfully telling off Bundit: “Coach ha! Bad boy!”

Tiger in training. Father in game.

While their bodies were conditioned, he also worked on their strengthening their mental toughness. Or clearing the mind of the non-essentials.

“When you meditate, you learn to focus on what is essential,” he says like a Thai version of Mr. Miyagi minus the wax in; wax out techniques.

Incredibly, it also reminds one of the techniques that Phil Jackson had his Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams doing.

In his book, “For the Love of the Game,” the man called ‘His Airness’ states: “When we first started meditating during stretching before practice, I thought it was crazy. I’m closing one eye and keeping the other eye open to see what other fool is doing this besides me. Eventually, I became more accepting because I could see everyone making an effort. My mind travels a bit but Phil taught us to concentrate on breathing to bring the mind back to the center.”

When Lady Eagles setter Jia Morado talks about the same method Bundit has his girls enacting, she eerily mirrors Jordan’s thoughts: “We all laughed and thought he was joking when he asked us to meditate. We tried it and when we saw it helping us we took it more seriously.”

Added assistant coach Parley Tupaz who has imbibed his head coach’s ways, “Marami na rin ako natutunan kay Coach Tai. Malaking tulong talaga sa pag-grow ko bilang volleyball coach.”

The Second Noble Truth: Unity
Before his arrival, one of the other things that Bundit read about the Filipino is their love for dance. “So I dance to make people happy and to take away attention from the players so they can concentrate. Just like (Jose) Mourinho.”

If you think that name-dropping the Portuguese coach’s name means he is a football and Chelsea fan then your half right. Bundit loves the game of football but cheers his heart out for that team from the Merseyside -- Liverpool. The English club’s slogan of “You Never Walk Alone” that relates to solidarity through life jives well with another of his watchwords: “unity.”

“We are one family,” says the Thai national with his hands gesturing to form a circle. “We have one goal and that is to win. If all have purpose of winning championship, we are one.”

Aside from Liverpool, Coach Tai also borrows elements from Dutch football.

“You know ‘total football,’” he asks. Tai is referring to the style of football espoused by legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michaels that was refined by its foremost disciple in the equally legendary footballer Johan Cruyff. In total football, every player is taught to play different positions and to excel in them. More than that, they are also taught to be equally adept on offense as well as defense.

While playing for the Thai national team in the 1990s, Bundit and his teammates won almost every regional title they could get their hands on (he even played against Parley Tupaz and De La Salle coach Ramil De Jesus). As for Tai? He played every position – setter, libero, middle blocker, open spiker.

“If one goes down, another can take his place,” he explained. “And how can you teach to set when you do not know how to set? How can you teach to receive when you do not receive well?”

While some of his players are multi-talented – Alyssa Valdez in particular – it is a teaching that will take time because this has to be taught at a young age where kids can imbibe them much better.

If everyone can perform that way then they will all have roles to play. And in doing so, they get their chances to showcase what they’ve got.

The Third Noble Truth: Happy Happy
Morado has talked about even during difficult parts of the season, the Lady Eagles are never at each other’s throats with recriminations. “We all encourage one another,” she adds.

“Dancing makes people happy,” elucidates the coach. “Being happy means you do good things. If you are happy in your body then you are happy in your work. If Buddha happy then Buddha blesses everybody.”

The good vibes are infectious. The team has never one to engage in trash talking. They celebrate won points moderately and without any trace of obnoxiousness or disrespect.

“If I get mad at player for a mistake, player will be nervous about making mistakes,” further adds Bundit. “But if you encourage them and be happy then their confidence goes higher.”

Respect is important to Coach Tai. In fact, after every training, every game, he makes it a point to thank his players.

“I don’t know of any other coach who does that,” marvels team supporter Arthur Lim. “By being respectful of others and the game, it brings good karma.”

“Respect the game,” Bundit sums up. “It respects you back.”

The Fourth Noble Truth: Believe. Can do.
In Buddha’s teachings, suffering is a part of life and it is something everyone has to go through before they succeed.

The little known new nugget that Coach Tai is sharing with his Lady Eagles this year is, “Believe. Can do.”

“Must be in the mind to do,” he decrees.

Despite the elimination round sweep, Bundit says that the season is not easy and it is just as difficult as their previous season when they achieved the impossible. “Same. Same,” he says. “Never easy. Always hard. Accept it is hard so you work hard.”

“But if you believe in your mind that you can win then you will do it.”