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.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Bataan atop both league and team statistical rankings

Bataan atop both league and team statistical rankings
by rick olivares

The Bataan Risers might not have any of their players in the top individual statistical categories, but in the team rankings, they are right up there in the tables.

At 14-1, the Risers are not only atop the North Rankings of the ongoing Datu’s Cup of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, but they have the league’s best record.

They are the second-ranked offensive team with an average of 82.1 points per game (atop the standings are the Manila Stars with an 89.4 average). Defensively, head coach Jojo Lastimosa’s boys are third as they hold opponents to 71.0 points.

What makes these two top rankings all the more special for Bataan is they are the only team to be listed in either category.

Now, three players are averaging double digits in scoring – Byron Villarias (12.7), Gary David (11.7), and Pamboy Raymundo (11.5). After the trio, the next best scorers are Robbie Celiz and Alfred Batino who both chip in 8.0 points each.

Further to their team play, the Risers’ unselfishness finds them ranked seventh in assists in the 26-team league with 20.1 per game.

Bataan is top rebounding team in the league with its all-hands on deck approach and a 51.6 average per game. On the offensive glass, Bataan averages 14.5 grabs that they are able to translate into 12.7 second chance points.

And lastly, Bataan is ninth in the MPBL in blocks with 4.0 per game.

With an all-important game against the 14-3 San Juan Knights at the Bataan Peoples Center this coming Monday, December 10 at 9pm, the Bataan Risers will be put into perhaps their sternest test of the season; one that will validate their title aspirations.

Knowing the Risers… they will compete with all hands on deck.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Reflections on a 10th UAAP title and being atop and down the Hill

Reflections on a 10th UAAP title and being atop and down the Hill
by rick olivares

After Matt and Mike Nieto won the UAAP Juniors title five years ago, on the ride home, their father, Jet, ever competitive, told his boys they still have some catching up to do. After all, he was an integral part of Ateneo’s first title teams from 1987 and 1988 – back-to-back champions.

Minutes after the Blue Eagles pummeled the UP Fighting Maroons, 99-81, in Game Two for their 10th UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship, I bumped into Jet, my Ateneo batchmate and kumpare (he is the godfather to my eldest son and our wives were classmates at the University of the East).

We hugged and I said, “So, what are you going to tell your kids now that you’re all even – one UAAP Juniors and two Seniors crowns?”

Jet smiled and didn’t miss a beat. “Then they can do their dad one better (by going for a third straight title).”

Incidentally, the elder Nieto skipped his final year of eligibility to go to medical school. His two sons will play out their final year of eligibility.

Does history repeat itself?

Thirty years ago, Ateneo annexed their second straight UAAP title by defeating La Salle. There are a couple of familiar faces then and today doing some celebrating. There is Jet Nieto and his then teammate Gene Afable who is now an assistant coach with the Blue Eagles.

And there is Bong Ravena who is celebrating too on behalf of his son Thirdy Ravena, the finals’ Most Valuable Player, who dropped 38 points, six rebounds, six assists, and three steals on UP.

Thirdy’s father, Bong, now the head coach of the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, and always present during his sons’ games, was unleashed on the UAAP in 1988 while playing for the UE Warriors (who were sans the “red” as an adjective). And unleashed is the word. He was a frightening offensive machine who was game to posterize anyone foolish to stand in his way.

Like father, like son, they have wreaked havoc on the league.

And there is Jolo Mendoza's father, Jiggs, who was a part of that UP champion team of 1986. Now, the son is a UAAP champion twice over.

But there are new images such as when Raffy Verano sought out his mom, Therese in the stands. Raffy’s dad, Mike, captained the UP Men’s Volleyball Team to several UAAP crowns. While I am sure Mike feels bad about the loss of the Fighting Maroons, he’s just as proud that his son is making a name for himself here in the Philippines.

And there’s the image of a jubilant and all-smiling Tyler Tio who has regained not only his verve but his confidence. And ironically, he’s a Fighting Maroon-killer. Now, he’s a two-time champion.

There was Anton Asistio -- like Emman Monfort before him -- who should be the poster boy for perseverance and dogged determination.

How about Angelo Kouame? When was the last time we had a freshman center deliver us to the Promised Land? Since 1987 when we had Danny Francisco.

And there are guys like Aaron Black and Adrian Wong. When Perasol was their coach in Ateneo, they were scoring machines. Under Baldwin’s system, they are parts of the machine. Sure, Aaron is battling confidence and playing time problems while Wong isn’t the same player he was – prior to his ACL tear. But Aaron celebrated his birthday with a championship and Wong shared a tight bear hug with Baldwin after the game.  

Yet as the final buzzer sounded to proclaim Ateneo as champions, I sought out Bo Perasol and gave him a hug (I wanted to do the same to Ricky Dandan but I couldn’t get to him, but I have nothing but respect for this man who even if his alma mater fired him as head coach before came back – that is how much this man loves his job and alma mater that he is willing to put the hurt aside). I was unsure his appointment to handle the Blue Eagles when Norman Black stepped away. It wasn’t anything personal, but when the announcement was made, I threw my support his way. On the day, he was announced as the Blue Eagles’ 39th head coach (Tab Baldwin is the 40th), we meet up at the MVP Center at the college for a lengthy talk.

When he charged the stands against that lout from Taft, I was right there behind him. I reiterated to myself then, that this man, willing to fight for our school, I will support.

I feel bad that in a low moment, I let him down. About 15-minutes after his team of Blue Eagles went down to FEU in the Final Four, Von Pessumal was the last Atenean on the floor thanking the crowd. Perasol patiently waited for his player to go to the locker room. I wanted to bring Bo in front of the Ateneo crowd, but I wasn’t sure it was my place to do that. I regret that moment of inaction.

This time, I made sure that he was the first person I wanted to talk to after the buzzer sounded. And that was some moment when the UP community saluted and applauded their team. Bo finally got his props. And what a moment is was.

After all, these are the ties that bind us to our neighbor along Katipunan Road. Both schools relocated from Manila at the same time in 1949. With the move, both schools carved their own niche not only into our countries consciousness, but also history. Students have crossed over to one school to the other. Student-athletes too.

When the NCAA was formed, UP was the early basketball power until Ateneo seized it from them with a player who would later play for the State University – Ambrosio Padilla. Eventually, UP left along with FEU to form the UAAP.

In 1986, Ateneo felt it had a good team to finally win a UAAP title. The homegrown team of my batch was in their sophomore season and had gained valuable experience. Some key veterans were returning – Rey Rances and center Mike Facundo. Plus, there was rookie, Eric Reyes. That team was shot down in flames by UP. The Fighting Maroons went on to take the UAAP title over UE (this was two years before Bong Ravena would suit up for the Warriors).

Honestly, after that season… we never thought we’d win it. That is until Blue Eaglet center Danny Francisco showed what he can do when he led the juniors squad to a 14-0 sweep alongside Olsen Racela who was due to move up to the seniors team too.

The next season 1987, Jay Gayoso returned to Ateneo, and everyone in Katipunan liked their chances to win it. UP slammed the door shut when they defeated Ateneo in the opening game of that season. The Blue Eagles then went on a 14-0 tear to win the school’s first UAAP title that led to back-to-back finishes.

I remember after the 2002 championship, the joke among the other schools was Ateneo will have to wait another 14 years to win another title. Yet reality is much better.

Since 2000, Ateneo has won eight of 11 finals finishes, for a total of 10 UAAP crowns that go along nicely with the 14 won in the NCAA. The Blue Eagles have now played and defeated five of the seven other UAAP schools in the finals –La Salle, UE, FEU, UST, and UP.

And speaking of UP… it is Fighting Maroons now tugging at their cape. Next season, they will be stacked and loaded. But that is a year away.

For now… the 10th UAAP title caps a magnificent season. There were the three pre-season titles – City Hoops, Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup, and the Breakdown Basketball Invitationals. And there was their mind-boggling stint in the William Jones Cup.

On the basis of those finishes, it was the UAAP title or nothing at all. At first they seemed mortal, going 5-2 in the first round. Since the loss to FEU to close the first round, they went 10-0. They were at their murderous and rampaging best in that time. They have closed out arguably the greatest season in Blue Eagle history – four titles. Sure, during the Norman Black years, we had the Treble – the Filoil, UAAP, and Champions League. But the latter tourney is now a joke as it allows for the inclusion of players who didn’t suit up in the regular tournaments. And now, every single school has its own program making the league even more competitive.

Honestly, after the five-peat, I didn’t know when we’d win it again. I certainly thought that we should have won something during the Bo Perasol years but it just didn’t happen. We were lay-ups away from making it. It just didn’t happen.

It’s funny how even in triumph, I think back of the losing years; humbling ones. In fact, I have been watching UAAP seniors basketball since 1983 when I was in high school – that is a bloody long time with a lot of highs and lows in between. I find it even more ironic that a few days ago, I shared an article about how parents should allow their kids to face adversity and not to coddle them. After all, this is how you learn and become better. We did.

As I reflect on the losing years, I know why… that even during the tough days, we should persevere. During the summer of 2017 (before I saw Ateneo change their style of play in the weeks after the summer tourneys), who didn’t think that La Salle would win it all again with Ben Mbala back in tow? But we knocked them down. Now, we have our back-to-back titles.

So, in these best of times… give thanks, remember those who paved the way, and stay classy. And we should enjoy it while it lasts and get ready… because everyone is coming for us.

As for the Nietos and I? We’re having that dinner soon. Boy, that should be some interesting conversation.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Looking at Ateneo’s Game One win over UP

Looking at Ateneo’s Game One win over UP
by rick olivares pic by joseph nocos

You have to give credit to the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons who picked up from where they left off (the Final Four triumph over Adamson) with their frenetic pace and scorching shooting that had the Ateneo Blue Eagles reeling.

Some of the Blue Eagles’ starters and bench players didn’t get the job done as opposed to their UP counterparts that it took the individual brilliance of Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto to win Game One of the Season 81 Finals, 88-79.

In fairness to the Blue Eagles’ bench and even the UP players, in my opinion it was the moment. That was some shooting display from the outside – their best of the season. When you have Diego Dario nailing shots from a few steps past the three-point arc like that --and he has been much of an afterthought since Bo Perasol came on board – there isn’t much you can do... at least for a half.

And this was the first game the Blue Eagles won despite being torched from the outside.

3pts 1st Qtr`
3pts 2nd Qtr
3pts 3rd Qtr
3pth 4th Qtr
3-6 (50%)
4-9 (46%)
4-7 (57%)
2-6 (33%)
4-6 (66%)
4-7 (57%)
3-6 (50%)

How did they win that despite the barrage from UP?

The Blue Eagles hit their triples when they needed it the most with huge shots coming from Matt Nieto, Tyler Tio, and Gian Mamuyac.

Ratcheting up the D especially in the fourth period.

Let’s take a look at the defensive stats of that quarter.
Defensive Rebounds
Pts off TOs

And let’s compare the Big Threes of each team
Fourth Quarter
Ateneo (Kouame/Nieto/Ravena)
18 points
UP (Akhuetie/Desiderio/JuGomezDeLiano)
12 points

I earlier mentioned that Nieto and Ravena carried the team. Others did their part – Anton Asistio, Raffy Verano, Tyler Tio, Mike Nieto… but Angelo Kouame, in addition to not playing well, was bothered by his “foul” on Akhuetie as the UP crowd booed him. For the third time this season (the other two were the first round losses to Adamson and FEU), he flailed around, was a step slow, and really shrunk in the face of the challenge. I will give this to him. It can be unnerving when you are booed by half the people in the arena. While I believe that experience counts, it is not the determining factor. In the moment, Kouame shrunk. But he will be better for it now that he has experienced it. For sure, he wanted to contribute and he did just enough in the fourth.

Speaking earlier of benches, UP’s sparkled earlier in the game, but come crunch time, two of the Blue Eagles bench mob remained in the game and gave a very good account of themselves. There was Tyler Tio who continued to be a UP killer (that was a huge triple he fired in the fourth) and he was steady – no turnovers in 13 minutes of action. And there was Gian Mamuyac who was matched up against Juan Gomez De LiaƱo. Mamu hit a key triple from the left corner pocket in the fourth and he issued a key assist that Tio converted into a triple for a 66-61 lead at the 9:21 mark. He finished with five points, four rebounds, and four assists.

I also mentioned that I believe that championship experience is a factor but NOT the overriding one. Cases in point, Ateneo defeated DLSU in the 2008 finals despite the latter being the defending champs and the former not having that finals experience save for Chris (the others didn’t play much in their previous 2006 finals stint). And there was of course, NU knocking down FEU in 2014 even if the Tamaraws had a lot of players with finals experience.

Summing it up, it came down to Ateneo’s top guns finishing off UP on both offense and defense (the free throws are a by-product of that too).

For Game Two, I wonder if UP can continue to wax hot from the outside and how both teams will adjust now to each other and I figure Kouame will play better. Can Ateneo close out the series? One thing is for sure, it will be another electric atmosphere.