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, December 18, 2014

What’s next, Ginebra?


This appears on the PBA's official website.

What’s next, Ginebra?
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Philippine Cup campaign has once more come to a sickening halt. Eliminated at the hands of a resurgent Talk ‘N Text team, 87-69, in the quarterfinals, this title-starved ballclub has to ask, “What now? What next?”

Ginebra started out the season well racking up win after win before shedding the mantle of early season invincibility.

As for Talk ‘N Text, they didn’t look too impressive at the start of the Philippine Cup but they have steadily found their groove. Talk ‘N Text, after looking like their dynasty was over last season, look to be back. Ranidel De Ocampo is moving well. Jason Castro is getting to the hole with impunity. Matt Rosser is proving to be a huge pick up for this squad.

As for Ginebra, just when people thought they had put it all together with their addition of Joseph Yeo, they have once more fallen by the wayside.

During the 2013-14 season Philippine Cup, Ginebra also burst out of the gates and topped the elimination round, 11-3. They got rid of Alaska in the Quarterfinals only to lose in seven games against San Mig Coffee.

In the middle, Commissioner’s Cup conference, they dropped to the lower tier, finishing eighth with a 3-6 record. Despite their less than stellar record, they made the quarterfinals where Talk ‘N Text bounced them in one match.

In the season ending Governors’ Cup, they fought back to a 5-4 elimination round record; good for sixth.  Alaska sent them packing in the quarterfinals.

And in an ironic twist of fate, the man who guided them to their last title – in the 2007-08 Fiesta Conference – is Jong Uichico who was on the bench of the Tropang Texters that ousted them last Tuesday night. It has been six years – an eternity it seems – since this squad tasted championship bubbly.

It has been that long. And speaking of “long” this team needs some longevity and continuity in some places. Particularly speaking, the coaching position.

Since Al Chua vacated his seat in July of 2013 after six months on board, Ginebra has needed some coaching stability. Ato Agustin, who replaced Chua didn’t last long either as he stayed on the job for nine months. Now, Jeff Cariaso, eight months on the job, has the perennial crowd favorites playing well. They just need some consistency.

Only Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar average in double figures with the former only receiving the third most minutes. There are four players averaging at least nine points per game. That’s still good support but you’d like them to do better.

Consistency day-in and day-out production. And that goes as well in coaching. They have a good young coach in Cariaso and they should give him time to get the team used to the system. Watching them this conference, I see them running the Triangle Offense at times and junking it on others. Of course, not one team in the world runs it full time. Circumstances dictate that.

Speaking of longevity in player terms, most of the players, save for Yeo and rookie Rodney Brondial, have been together some time. They have the parts and the talent to win. They just need to bring it every single day. The lack of consistency forces the coaching staff to constantly change and tinker with its lineup.

Looking at their season stats, Ginebra can score. At least we know they can. Their Triangle Offense, or their version of it, seems to get more press. But maybe the team would like to – if I may be so bold – to re-dedicate themselves on defense first (they are a middle of the pack team in terms of team defense).

It should be noted that three of the four top-ranked defense teams are in the semifinals. Talk ‘N Text, as I said earlier, are finally putting it together.

Ginebra should pay attention. After all, they have the giants and the athletes to throttle opponents. Now we’ll see if they get to do that on the court sooner than later before management decides to throttle their underachieving club undermining the good pieces and vibes they have picked up in the past two years.





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If MJ’s all right with it: Give Kobe a chance.


This appears on nba.com

If MJ’s all right with it: Give Kobe a chance.

by rick olivares (I took the photo from my copy of the book)

When the book “For the Love of the Game: My Story” came out in 1998, there were two NBA players given a page and Michael Jordan’s thoughts – Scottie Pippen, who His Airness affectionately called a “predator,” and Kobe Bryant. At that time, supposedly Jordan’s last year in the NBA, Bryant was in his third season. But the GOAT obviously thought well enough of him to earn a page.

In that page, Jordan asked, “Can Kobe Bryant become a great player?”

I think that even back then, MJ saw something special in Bryant that warranted that special mention.

Sixteen years after that Jordan “endorsement,” the Black Mamba has surged past him on the all-time scoring list to squarely sit in third. It was obvious that Bryant was going to pass Jordan in the all-time scoring list just as he past MJ for the most number of points scored in his All-Star Game history.

With the Jordan loyalists out in force (as are the Kobe loyalists and haters), maybe this should put things in perspective.

In the last page of the book, Jordan says, “There is no such thing as a perfect basketball player, and I don’t believe that there is only one greatest player either.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

“Everyone plays in different eras. I built my talents on the shoulders of someone else’s talent. I believe that greatness is an evolutionary process that changes and evolves from era to era.”

“The evolution of greatness doesn’t stop with me just as it didn’t stop with (Elgin) Baylor, Dr. J (Julius Erving), Larry Bird, or Magic (Johnson). The nature of evolution is to continue.”

“Somewhere there is a little kid working to enhance what we have done. It may take a while, but someone will come along who approaches the game the way I did. He won’t skip steps.  He won’t be afraid. He will learn from my example just as I learned from others. Unless they change the height of the basket or otherwise alter the dimensions of the game, there will be a greater player than me.”

Sixteen years ago, Jordan wondered about how great Kobe Bryant is. Looking at how his career turned out, I sure as heck don’t think he took shortcuts. He certainly didn’t skip steps and wasn’t afraid. And without a doubt, Bryant will go down as one of the best. Possibly even cracking that list of Top 10 players to play the game.

Just as Reggie Miller (who played against Jordan and Bryant in their primes) said of the latter’s feat of moving past MJ in the all-time scoring list, “It’s a truly special career. That’s a heck of a lot of points and a heck of a lot of longevity.”

Miller forgot to mention that Bryant has been relatively injury-free for most of his career (save the past two seasons where he was knocked out for an extended time). His longevity (18 years and counting) and relative durability is a testament to his greatness as a player.

Just as Jordan was quoted as praising Bryant, we too want to see what Kobe will accomplish next. We should just all sit back and enjoy one of the NBA’s all-time greats pour it on in the twilight of his career.

With Jordan’s words, prophetic or not, about players surpassing him. Let’s take at look at where he has been surpassed.

At one time or another, Jordan owned some 200 records in NBA history (all of which he achieved during his time in Chicago). However, since his full time retirement from the game, there are quite a few that have been broken:

Games scoring 20 or more points: 926. Broken by Karl Malone.
Seasons scoring 2,000 or more points: 11. Broken by Karl Malone.
Free throws made in a quarter: 14. Broken by Vince Carter.
Free throw attempts in a quarter: 16. Broken by Ben Wallace.
Consecutive free throws made in a game: 19. Broken by Dominique Wilkins.
Seasons leading the league in steals: 3. Broken by Chris Paul.
Scoring 10 or more points in career playoffs: 179. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Consecutive points in a playoff game: 17. Broken by Ray Allen.
Playoff field goal attempts: 4,497 points. Broken by Kobe Bryant.
Three-point field goals made in a half of a playoff game: 6. Broken by Vince Carter.
Three-point field goals attempted in a half of a playoff game: 9. Broken by John Starks.
Free throws made in one post-season: 183 free throws. Broken by Dirk Nowitski.
Free throws made in one playoff game: 13. Tied by Dirk Nowitski.
Career post-season free throw attempts: 1,766. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Free throw attempts one post-season: 229. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Free throw attempts in a 4-game series, one post-season: 58. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Free throw attempts, regulation, one game, playoffs: 28. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Free throw attempts, half, post-season: 17. Broken by Magic Johnson.
Free throw attempts, quarter, post-season: 14. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Post-season steals, career: 376. Broken by Scottie Pippen.
Field goals made in a 5-game NBA Finals series: 63. Broken by Allen Iverson.
Three-point field goals made, career, post-season: 42. Broken by Robert Horry.
Three-point field goals made, one game, NBA Finals game: 6. Broken by Kenny Smith.
Three-point fields goals, made in half, one NBA Finals game: 6. Broken by Ray Allen.
Three-point field goal attempts, one NBA Finals game: 10. Broken by John Starks.
Three-point field goal attempts, one NBA Finals game: 10. Broken by John Starks.
Free throw attempts, one half, NBA Finals game: 15. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
Free throw attempts, one quarter, NBA Finals game: 12. Broken by Shaquille O’Neal.
All-Star Game points, career: 262. Broken by Kobe Bryant.
All-Star Game field goals, career: 110. Broken by Kobe Bryant.
All-star Game field goals made, game: 17. Broken by Blake Griffin.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Boyet Fernandez on NLEX’s first PBA conference


Boyet Fernandez on NLEX’s first PBA conference
by rick olivares

The NLEX Road Warriors bowed out of Philippine Cup contention with an 82-78 loss to Alaska at the Cuneta Astrodome. The expansion club, that carried over from the now defunct Air21 franchise, finished with a 4-7 record. Despite a three-match slide, the wards of head coach Boyet Fernandez ended their elimination round on a high note by defeating KIA, 88-80, before facing Alaska in the quarterfinals. The Aces owned a twice-to-beat advantage.

Despite getting KO’d not by Manny Pacquiao’s Sorentos but by the battle-hardened Aces, Fernandez remained optimistic about his Road Warriors.

The affable Fernandez manned up to the finish. “This one is on me. It was difficult to adjust because I was also working with San Beda before and at the same time. I was able to fully commit to NLEX after the season started. And in between meron pa yung PCCL. But no excuses. This is on me. Hopefully, next conference we can finish with a much better result.”

Fernandez admitted transitions can be both easy and difficult. Referring to his first head coaching stint with the former Sta. Lucia squad, Fernandez dispelled any difficulty with his former teammates accepting his promotion or ascension in the ranks. “Yung sa Sta. Lucia, I already knew them as a player as well as their attitudes. Vice versa rin yun. My relationship with them -- magkaibigan or magkapatid kami. Magsing-edad or mas matanda ako ng konti ako sa ibang players like Dennis Espino and Marlou Aquino. Tapos we had rookies like Ryan Reyes and Joseph Yeo. They saw me pay my dues as I came up from the ranks as a player then as an assistant and finally as head coach.”

Fernandez parlayed that into a All-Filipino championship over Purefoods during the 2007-08 season.

However, Fernandez said that with NLEX this time around, the transition was little more difficult. “Sa NLEX, we have a different system as opposed to Air21 and a different set of players. They came from different teams with different systems so there is always a period of adjustment. Sometimes things click right away; sometimes they don’t. Syempre, wish mo yung former but you have to put in your work first. Ayaw mo i-assume na mahuhulog lahat in place.”

“Yung defensive system ko is different from what they used to do. And the adjustment was different because I came in late as I was in the middle of San Beda’s campaign for five straight. I really concentrated on the NCAA campaign first.”

While there is a theory that pro players easily latch on to their coach’s instructions because theoretically, they are supposed to be finished products, Fernandez mildly disagreed. “Sabi nga nila finished product na yung mga players ko so konting instruction alam na nila. But it will not be consistent with our system. We will win sometimes and lose sometimes. There were some games where we nearly won it. We were not consistent in following what we needed to do. So there is still that learning period.”


“Hopefully we will learn from this. As of now, I am happy with my players. Probably we are not winning right now but I am satisfied with what we are doing except hindi pa kami nagkakaamuyan. However we ended this conference, I put this one me. We’ll take it. And hopefully, next conference, we will see a different NLEX.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Looking at the UST Lady Tigresses in UAAP Volleyball



This appears on abs-cbnnews.com

Looking at the UST Lady Tigresses in UAAP Volleyball
by rick olivares pic from mark cristino/abs-cbn

Before the start of the women’s volleyball season, it was obvious that Ateneo and La Salle would be right up there contending for the UAAP Season 77 championship.

I pegged UST to challenge for a Final Four slot yet after four matches played, they are at 1-3 losing to La Salle, UP, and Ateneo in that order. They have a fantastic rookie in EJ Laure who looks to be the second coming of Alyssa Valdez. Furthermore, head coach Odjie Mamon also had a talented core of Pam Lastimosa, Carmela Tunay, Alex Cabanos, Jessey De Leon, Marivic Meneses, and Chlodia Cortez.

They’ve got a tall frontline that does well in their net defense in Meneses, Lastimosa, and Laure. But when the spikes and drop shots evade the wall, it is my opinion that their floor defense has been wanting.

Here are just my thoughts on what UST needs to work on.

Service
For all their firepower, they can’t seen to jumpstart that offense because their service has been poor. In four games so far, they are the fourth worst in service faults with 29! And they have only served up 14 aces; sixth best in the league.

Setting
As it is, UST is in the middle of the pack when it comes to setting – fifth. And this underscores any team’s need for a top-notch setter.

This is the first year where Alex Cabanos has become the starter while Sarah Verutiao needs more big game experience (as she comes from a small school). They’ll both get better since there are gaining big game experience. It is also unfortunate it has to come when teams play for keeps.

But in my opinion, head coach Odjie Mamon should commit to one – and I’d say for now, it’s Cabanos to lead them. Having them come in and out hurts their confidence. And it was obvious last season that Alex would be their number one setter for Season 77. Maybe then she should have been used a little more instead of looking to garner that valuable bit of experience.

Defense
Receiving. This is where your defense starts and determines your attack. Right now, the Lady Tigresses are ranked sixth in the UAAP. And they are also fifth in digs.

The upside
But there’s the upside… outside Ateneo and La Salle, it’s a wide open race for the other two Final Four slots. And they have plenty of time to work and improve on their game.


As it is, they lost to the top three teams – La Salle, Ateneo, and UP. They have three more matches all against struggling FEU and NU and Adamson that is still looking to find its rhythm. When they work out the kinks, they’ll be dangerous – and watch out for Laure -- because they’ve got the firepower to match anyone.

The lessons for the Philippines in this 2014 Suzuki Cup



This appears on philstar.com

The lessons of the 2014 Suzuki Cup
by rick olivares pic from AFF Suzuki Cup site

Let’s get this out of the way first – I am immensely proud of the Philippine Men’s National Football Team. Save for the 3-nil thrashing at the hands of Thailand in the second leg of the semifinals and even for stretches of the 3-1 loss to Vietnam in the group stages, they played thrilling and good football. For the first time, there was a concrete semblance of what they wanted to accomplish and not run around like headless chickens. They no longer had to park the bus and try their luck on the occasional counter attack. And for that, I applaud their effort, sacrifices, as well as their blood, sweat, and tears.

I must also commend Thailand for a terrific two legs. I cannot feel too bad because they played beautiful football. They served up a good old fashioned butt kicking for which there are lessons that can be taken away from this. Painful lessons and we would do well to learn them and apply them in time for the Suzuki Cup’s next staging for we are hosting one of the group stages.

That was an awesome display of speed, explosiveness, and skill.
They started out the tournament rather slowly, but the Thais got better with every game. But that’s merely because there are so many new players to their current national team. Once they did… (insert expletive right here). I have never seen Daisuke Sato so thrown out of his game that he needed to be subbed out and so early in the match.

The Thais were not only quicker; they were explosively strong. Their 1v1 skills were excellent as they easily went through defenders like traffic cones. Our players had to tackle them from behind because that meant that hey had gotten ahead. And we amassed quite a number of fouls thereby giving away a number of free kicks one of which led to a goal.

I will not assume that Philippine clubs are doing his but I would venture to say that it would be good to include plyometrics in the players’ training.

Pass and go. Pass and go. Pass and go.
Overall, the Philippines’ passing game was so much better. But against Vietnam and Thailand who did their homework by pressing quite vigorously and consistently – a testament to their incredible fitness level – they needed to pass quicker and make better use of the spaces. The Filipinos were dribbling into crowds and at times forced the issue when it would have been prudent to pass or swing the ball to the other side.

Our passing game and attack works on the slower teams but now Vietnam and Thailand have repeatedly demonstrated how to beat the Philippines – you have to be quicker and stronger than they are.

Attack in numbers; defend in numbers.
Because of the immense pressure the Thais brought to the game, the Philippines -- save for certain stretches in the match such as the first few minutes of the second half and with time dwindling away – attacked with not much help.
If you look at the Thais, they moved up in numbers and defended in numbers.

We should have won that home match.
For the second consecutive Suzuki Cup semifinals home match, we didn’t score. You might even want to throw the Peace Cup Finals in there. We need to win these home matches. In a previous vivisection of a previous match, I pointed out that only once did we beat a team playing in front of their home fans this year and that against Maldives. I do not think they strike terrors into anyone’s football hearts unless you count their boat ride and the sea conspiring with their football team to make life queasy and uneasy on the Pinoys.

A scoreless draw is good but you’re marching into their dens to steal a win. It isn’t going to be easy.

We need to turn our pitches into places like Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera or even the Thais’ Rajamangala Stadium. We need to electrify the atmosphere to give the lads a boost.

The Thais were buoyed by the home crowd and they repaid it further charging what was already an electric atmosphere.

I summed it up in a Tweet and my Facebook status: speed + power and muscle + electric home crowd = death.

We need help up front and in the middle of the park.
It is quite obvious that Phil Younghusband needs help. He cannot do it alone. For years we have been looking for his twin strike partner – Ian Araneta, Dennis Wolf, Angel Guirado Javier PatiƱo, and a few others. Besides, it’s always good to have more options up front to ease the pressure on Phil.

Now we’ve got speed and options in the flanks. I like the industry and skill from Misagh Bahadoran and Martin Steuble. Patrick Reichelt has thrived whether starting or coming off the bench. In fact, he has been one of the best additions to the national side over the years.

Now we need also that option from the middle that was lost when Stephan Schrock opted not to play. Manny Ott was superb! He was a huge loss after the qualifiers of the 2010 Suzuki Cup as he was not cleared by his club for the group and semis stages. He’s a much much better football now but I’ll repeat this, it is good to have more options and weapons.

But that middle – aye, there’s the gap.

In the home match against Thailand, they found a hole in the right side of our defense. In the second leg, they attacked right up the middle. The way they set up that first goal was brilliant. Head towards an open and unmarked teammate – boom. Goal.

They slipped that throughball almost without any problem.

Defensively, we’ve got some terrific ones – Sato, Amani Aguinaldo, and Simone Rota. I have no idea if this will be the last rides for Juani Guirado and Rob Gier but they did a great job as well.

As we have seen from years past, the tinkering with the national side isn’t done. The team is finding new talent to shore up the holes and play prominent parts. Who would have thought that Aguinaldo would be the heir to Aly Borromeo in the back? Ditto with the diminutive Sato who plugged the hole vacated by Dennis Cagara and Ray Jonsson.

So we go home, beaten, bowed a bit, and with the loss, our top spot undoubtedly in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the nationals should be proud. It’s good to be seeded and hunted and that teams that once didn’t even prepare for us consider us a threat. The loss is a sobering reminder that more work needs to be done.

Having said all of that, I like what I see. I know the Philippine Football Federation, national team management and the coaching staff will not take this lightly. They will rebuild.

We will host one of the group stages of the next Suzuki Cup… a first. Who knows. Maybe two years from now, that could be to football what the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships were for the basketball counterparts.

Make us dream, lads. And thanks! My sincerest thanks to everyone.

Let’s go, Philippines. Let’s continue this surge, Philippine football.