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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Iceland on the verge of another Cinderella European finish?

This appears on

Iceland on the verge of another Cinderella European finish?
by rick olivares

Iceland…. tiny tiny Iceland with its two coaches in the retiring Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson who is a part-time dentist knocked Roy Hodgson’s England’s teeth with a shocking 2-1 win in the Round of 16 of the 2016 European Championships at the Stade De Nice, Nice, France. 

Strakarnir okkar, as Iceland’s national team is nicknamed (in English “Our boys”), pulled off the upset of the tournament piping the Republic of Ireland’s 1-nil win over Italy that closed out the group stages.

Did we see Iceland’s stirring triumph coming?

Not at all although they looked good really  after a pair of 1-1 draws with Portugal and Hungary before ending group play with a 2-1 win over Austria. Now, they are in the quarterfinals. 

But that win over England? England twice played Iceland in friendlies. The Three Lions won one and drew the other. They scored seven goals and conceded two. It stood to reason that England would defeat Iceland. 

Except they didn’t.

If you look at Iceland’s masterpiece against England, it was their work rate and defense that made the difference. They swarmed all over the ball carriers and attacking threats.

England might have more possession, more attacks, and corners but this is what made the difference — work rate on defense.

Balls Recovered
England 40
Iceland 49

England 1
Iceland 4

England 0
Iceland 3

England 9
Iceland 20

Plus, Iceland gave up more fouls 15-6, meaning they were more physical and that they also took England out of its comfort zone.

Iceland played a more conventional 4-4-2 that somewhat bothered England’s 4-2-3-1. 

Consider this… 
Iceland’s population of 330, 000 would make it the 207th biggest city…. in China! Comparing it to an English town, they have slightly a bigger population than Coventry.
Iceland has 73 football clubs playing in five levels of football. Yet interestingly, none of their 23-man roster for Euro 2016 plays in Iceland. England has over 7,000 teams stemming from from nearly 5,300 clubs. 
Iceland began participating in European competition in 1976. Forty-years later, they finally qualified (Euro 2016). In their first ever tournament in main European competition, they are now in the quarterfinals with a 2-2 record. England in contrast has been to the semi-finals once, 1996, and they have a record of 10-11-10 since 1968.
In European competition, five Iceland club teams have played in UEFA competition, losing all five by an aggregate score of 17-2.

And next up in the quarterfinals is the host nation, France. 

Iceland can take hope that in the history of the European Championships, there have been two fairy tale endings — Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004.

Denmark 1992
The Danes weren’t even supposed to be in Sweden, site of the 1992 European Championships. Yugoslavia, one of the eight countries to qualify for the tournament was disqualified as the Balkan nation disintegrated into a bloody civil war. 

Denmark, second to Yugoslavia in their group qualification was instead given the nod. Incredibly, with only a week’s notice that they were in the competition, Denmark with zero expectations and no pressure to win, placed second in their group and advanced after defeating France, 2-1. 

In the semi-finals, they squeaked past the reigning European champions, the Netherlands when goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, father of current Leicester City FC keeper Kasper Schmeichel, stopped a Marco Van Basten penalty to send the Danes to a 5-4 shootout win and to the finals where they faced the first ever unified German team. They continued to shock the world when they stunned the powerful Germans, 2-nil, to win their first ever major trophy.

Greece 2004
The stubborn and defensive-minded Greeks pulled a stunner of major proportions when they came out of nowhere to defeated host nation Portugal, 1-nil, the finals! 

Greece opened the tournament with a shocking 2-1 win over Portugal in Group A action. And this despite the Portuguese team boasting of all-world players in Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, and Rui Costa. They drew, 1-1, with Spain in their next game then fell to a Russian squad that already eliminated, 2-1, so people still didn’t give them much of a chance.

In the knockout stages, Greece continued its brand of choking defensive football and late goals to defeat France, 1-nil, and the Czech Republic, 1-nil, this time in extra time.

In the finals, Angelos Charisteas scored in the 57th minute Greece held back one Portuguese attack after another to win the trophy. And they did it with defense finishing with clean sheets from the quarterfinals all the way to the finals!

So what do Denmark, Greece, and Iceland all have in common? 

They went into the tournament with no pressure to win. The lack of pressure allowed them to play the game and execute their defensive brand of football to perfection.

And when the Icelanders face the French in the Stade de France in Saint Denis, it will be the homeside playing with pressure.


If you ask an Icelander what pressure is they will associate that with the 30 active volcanoes running through their island nation.

Sadio Mane moves to Liverpool!

Welcome to Anfield, Sadio Mane! 

Mane is the fifth player from Southampton FC to join Liverpool since 2014! So far, Adam Lallana, Dejav Lovren, and Nathaniel Clyne have found their place on the team. Only Rickie Lambert isn't with the Reds anymore. But good luck to Rickie!

Here are Mane's highlights from the past season.

Filipino swimmer to cross English Channel

Filipino swimmer to cross English Channel
by rick olivares

Since 1875, there have been 2005 successful swims (1,340 solo swimmers and 665 relay teams) cross the English Channel that connects the United Kingdom and France.

This coming August, Ingemar Macarine, under the banner of the First Filipino English Channel Swim Team (FFECST) will be the first Filipino to attempt to cross the 21-mile long channel from Dover, England and northern France and to join the hallowed ranks of those who successfully attempted the feat.

The swim is considered the “Mount Everest” of open water swims and will be a test of physical and mental strength and courage. There have been thousands of failures and eight listed deaths.

The First Filipino English Channel Swim Team (FFECST) is captained by Macarine, who is known as the  “Pinoy Aquaman” and is scheduled to attempt the crossing—a distance of 35 kilometers in the icy waters of the North Atlantic—in mid-August. Official open water rules require swimmers to attempt the challenge clad in nothing more than ordinary swimming trunks, swim cap, and goggles. Georgian Honorary Consul Thelmo Cunanan Jr., who founded the First Filipino International Movement in 2014, said the objective of the swim is to celebrate international friendship and to raise awareness of climate change and global warming— core advocacies of the First Filipino International Movement.

The 40-year old Macarine who hails from Bohol, who is a practicing lawyer, has made a name for himself from his swims across the Surigao Strait and from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco to name a very few. The Surigao del Norte native says he “swims through difficult waters not to call attention to himself but to raise awareness for clean seas, environmental toursim, and great climate change awareness."

The objective of the First Filipino International Movement (FFIM) is to organize and support historic achievements and landmark accomplishments by Filipinos all over the world. The organization’s kick-off event took place in South Africa in February 2014, when two of its swimmers, braving the threat of great white sharks and the cold waters of the South Atlantic, became the first Filipinos to cross the Robben Island channel to Cape Town. The swim, a distance of five miles and accomplished in under three hours, was done in honor of the late Nelson Mandela and to thank South Africans for their help in Leyte in the aftermath of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

Since then, the FFIM has carried out other projects, particularly in the area of heritage and culture, the most recent of which was a three-city European art roadshow (November and December 2015) to promote climate change awareness.

For Macarine’s channel swim, Cunanan expects the Macarine to achieve the feat in approximately 13 - 15 hours, given fair weather conditions and currents.

FFECST and Macarine has already been training for this challenge, with plenty of regular open water swims for Macarine all over the country and multiple sessions in the cold water pool of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City. From late June, the team will be based in the seaside city of Folkestone, in the southern United Kingdom, where Macarine will continue cross-training and begin open water trials and temperature acclimatization.

An Italian Job: Ending an era in Spanish football

Did Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini do a Luis Suarez (kissing his wrist) after scoring against Spain?
This appears in the Wednesday, June 29, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

An Italian Job: Ending an era in Spanish football
by rick olivares

Following Spain’s 2-0 loss to Italy in the Round of 16, La Roja coach Vicente Del Bosque resigned. And with his departure ends perhaps Spain’s best era ever in football becoming the second team after France to win the World Cup (2010) and the European championship (2012) one after the other (although Spain bests the French, 1998 World Cup and 2000 European champions, by also winning the 2008 Euros).

Italy’s victory somewhat avenges their 4-0 loss to Spain in the finals of Euro 2012.

The question now is, "Are the Italians for real? Do they have a legitimate shot at winning the European championship; something they have not achieved since 1968?"

I will say this for the Azzurri — when they are favored to win it all, they come crashing down; when they aren’t seeded, they play well. So this team plays better without expectations. And perhaps a refreshing chance, playing better without sandal preceding them.

During the 1982 World Cup campaign, star forward Paolo Rossi and several other players were prosecuted for illegal betting and match fixing. Yet the Azzurri defeated West Germany in the finals for their third World Cup.

Before the 2006 World Cup, Italy was hounded by match fixing allegations that saw Juventus dropped to Serie B and the taking back of their trophies. Despite all the distractions, the Italians defeated France in a penalty shootout for their fourth World Cup.

So the answer is yes, the Italians are considered favorites to win it all.

How have they achieved their place in the Round of Eight?

As they always have — with defense and a quick counter where they load up the penalty area with bodies.

Spain have been the masters of possession and use of space passing back and forth then surging forward for a quick strike. 

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid showed the world how to beat Barcelona, the typified Spain’s play, by closing down those spaces by playing their ball carriers in smothering triangles. The Netherlands perfected that during the 2014 World Cup with a 3-5-2 formation that shut down Del Bosque’s cherished 4-3-3 with an emphatic 5-1 victory. 

Italy’s coach, Antonio Conte (who took over Cesare Prandelli following the 2014 World Cup), was apparently watching because since the start of Euro 2016, he has run that formation for every single game.

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Defenders: Andrea Barzagli  Leonardo Bonucci  Giorgio Chiellini
Midfielders: Antonio Candreva  Marco Parolo  Daniele De Rossi  Emanuele Giaccherini  Matteo Darmian
Forwards: Graziano Pelle  Eder  

Let’s look how they fared against teams thus far:
vs. Belgium that runs a 4-2-3-1 formation. The result — 2-0.
vs. Sweden that runs a 4-4-2 formation. The result — 1-0.
vs. The Republic of Ireland that runs a 4-4-2 formation. The result -- 1-0.
vs. Spain that runs a 4-3-3 formation. The result — 2-0.

The Azzurri had a tough time against teams like Sweden and the Republic of Ireland that play with compact formations; much like theirs. The disparity in the scoring is evident too and the Italians lost to the Irish.

If you look at how the Netherlands dismantled Spain, then head coach Louis Van Gaal took the ball away from their midfield maestros Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets and gave Spain’s defense problems with players with motors for legs like Arjen Robben.

One thing working for the Italians is that their entire back three play for Italian champions, Juventus, five-time consecutive Serie A champions (2011-16). The fact that all three know how to work together along with national goalkeeper Gianlugi Buffon (who is also their teammate with the Turin-based nine) is a massive plus on the defensive end. 

And if Spain did their homework against Antonio Conte, they will know that he made his reputation for his work rate while manning the central midfield for Juventus en route to five Serie A titles. And this Italian team has box-to-box midfielders in Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini; the same type of player in the mold of Arjen Robben. Furthermore, the way to expose the three-back line of a 3-5-2 is to use the width of the field and place wingbacks with motors. Spain didn’t. And they paid for it.

The Italians may be missing creative sparks in the midfield in Marco Verratti (who plays for French champions Paris Saint Germain) and Claudio Marchisio (another of those Juventus players) due to injuries but they still have the magnificent Daniele De Rossi who is rated by the French sports magazine L’Equipe as one of the 10 best midfielders in the world today.

And who scored — defender Chiellini and Graziano Pelle. No one has even mentioned this tournament that it was Chiellini who was bit by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez during the last World Cup! 

And now, the Italians are marching on to face a German team that makes use of the pitch’s width in Bordeaux.

PATAFA aiming for Rio gold with Eric Cray’s sensational silver medal finish

PATAFA aiming for Rio gold with Eric Cray’s sensational silver medal finish
by rick olivares

After Eric Cray’s performance in the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Challenge Cup in Madrid where he nearly bagged the gold in the 400-metre hurdles, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) expressed high hopes of a medal finish in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In a neck-and-neck finish at the Moratalaz Sports Complex in Madrid, American hurdles specialist Jeshua Anderson needed a strong finish to hold off Cray for the gold. Anderson clocked in a 48.96 while Cray smashed the Philippine national record at 48.98. Spain’s Sergio Fernandez claimed the bronze at 49.02. The Spaniard’s time was a mere 0.02 second shy of their own national mark.

PATAFA President Philip Juico expressed joy and hope at Cray’s performance. “That was a huge triumph for the country. That was a breakthrough time of under 49 seconds,” beamed Juico. “It shows that Eric is heading into Rio with his morale and confidence at an all time high. Eric’s coach, Davian Clarke, believes that he can realistically aim for a 48.50 time for a possible gold. Should this target be hit, we could be in line for the country’s first ever gold medal in the Olympics and in athletics." 

The Texas-born Cray’s latest finish is ranked by the IAAF as the 11th best finish for 2016.

“We’re not yet done,” added Juico. “We still have Marestella Torres-Sunang still in the running for a spot in the Philippine contingent for Rio. She wasn’t able to qualify for Rio when she was measured at 6.52 metres in an athletics meet in Kyrgyzstan. The qualifying mark is set at 6.7 metres. There is one more chance for her to qualify and that is a tournament in Kazakhstan in the next few days.”

Juico added that qualifying for Rio would be a nice parting shot for Torres-Sunang who is now at 35 years old. The bemedalled long jump specialist from Negros Oriental has won five golds, one silver, and two bronze medals representing the country since the 2002 Asian Championships in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

At the German Club Manila for Germany-Slovakia Euro 2016

Watched the Germany-Slovakia match at the German Club in Legaspi Village, Makati, with my cousin and some of his friends. The World Cup champions defeated Slovakia, 3-nil. Could have been more had Mesut Ozil not been wasteful with his chances.

A jersey from the 2014 World Cup signed by all the players who participated in that massive tournament. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bouncing around with UFC MMA fighter John Dodson

This appears on

Bouncing around with John Dodson
by rick olivares

If you say the word “Albuquerque,” Family Feud says the top five answers on the board include Bugs Bunny “”I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque), actress Vivian Vance (who played Ethel Mertz in the popular sitcom from the 1950s “I Love Lucy”), the Rio Grande, the University of New Mexico (the school and its basketball and American Football teams), and…”

"John Dodson!”

John Thomas Dodson III, the Filipino-American mixed martial arts fighter from Albuquerque, New Mexico stands five feet and three inches tall but he’s never going to get lost in a crowd with that megawatt smile of his and boundless energy. But that isn’t why he’s going to be on Family Feud. Dodson has been kicking butt and taking names in his MMA and Ultimate Fighting Championship career. He was the winner of the Ultimate Fighter: Team Bisping vs. Team Miller. He knocked out TJ Dillashaw and many of his fights have earned the honor of “Fight of the Night” or “Knockout of the Night.”

"Me? I hope to be one of the best MMA fighters ever. I chose a different path other than the people from Albuquerque who mostly travel the road to basketball or football stardom,” he shares of his life’s goal.

At 18-7 and following a sensational first round knockout of Manvel Gamburyan, Dodson is waiting for a shot either at the undefeated Dominick Cruz, Dillashaw, or his two-time conqueror Demetrious Johnson. “After that win over Manvel (in 37 seconds of the first round), I thought I’d get a shot at someone, anyone. If they need me to fight a few more guys to get a title shot (at the UFC Bantamweight title held by the 22-1 Cruz), I’ll do it. Just get me fighting."

Dodson, the pint-sized dynamo with a strong wrestling base and a sledgehammer for a left, arrived in Manila for a few days to promote the upcoming UFC event in Manila this coming October 15 as well as for Manila fight fans to get to know the fighter they call, “the Magician”. 

Despite a hectic schedule and multiple interviews where he was oft asked the same questions (mostly about his Filipino roots) and the life of a UFC fighter, Dodson’s light and exuberant demeanour never changed no matter how long the hours, despite battling jetlag, and no matter how exhaustive the media junket was. “This is me,” he explains. “I’m like this all the time because you have to be thankful for what life has given you. Yeah, there are tough times and you feel down as well, but it’s important to bounce back and face the challenges. The sunny disposition helps you look at things from a different perspective; not necessarily a negative one. I’m just like this.”

And this is his first time in his life that he’s stepped foot on Philippine soil. In his last day in Manila, Sunday (June 26) he’ll do a few more interviews then he wants to see the city outside the malls before he heads for the airport for his flight back to the United States. “I want to see Manila. A mall isn’t a city or reflective of what the people are like or what a city truly is,” he says.

"I have always been in touched with my Filipino roots. My mother made sure of that. If I had questions about my heritage, she would always answer me. She raised me up to be a Filipino and an American. It’s not one but both. I had chills on my way here. I’m going around with my eyes open. I feel like a child in a toy store. I’m in the land of great fighters from Manny Pacquiao to Nonito Donaire to Mark Muñoz to Brandon Vera…”

And to the man they call “the Magician”.

“That’s actually crazy how that nickname came about,” Dodson explains. "There was this guy in the stands going crazy and saying, 'Oh, my God this is so crazy. How are you doing all this stuff in the cage? You’re just like a magician. You are a magician! We should call you that’ I said, ‘Okay, Imma google that and see if any fighter is nicknamed that.”

There isn’t unless you count cue artist supreme Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes…

“Another Filipino warrior,” exclaims Dodson. “Except he battle it out in billiards halls." 

When Dodson fights, he’s a smiling assassin. He laughs at the description. “Yeah, a smiling assassin.”

He though refutes that he is a man without fear. “I have fear. I just embrace it. A man who knows fear means he won’t be reckless. And in MMA, a moment of recklessness can be your undoing."

“So I smile. I smile because I’m just so excited,” he adds. "Every moment I live is right there. Fighting is imprinted in our DNA. The chaos. The action. I live for it. I feel in love with MMA because I hate losing. MMA has taught me discipline and about bouncing back. Because that is what life is." 

“Fighting in the UFC is like being in the Olympics of the sport. It’s the mecca for MMA. It’s the top. People might not know about MMA but they know the UFC,” he says of fighting in the world’s top MMA promotion. “I fight for my town, my heritage. I want to show people that even small people like me can achieve things. I want them to say, ‘Oh, he just knocked out a giant.’”

John Dodson hopes that his next fight opportunity will come at the hands of a giant in UFC MMA. His eyes light up again. The megawatt smile infectious.

“I think I deserve to get a top fight. I want to continue to show everyone what I can do.”

"Besides, it gives me an excuse to bounce around and do some backflips."

Could Melo Anthony be the next hometown hero to win a title?

This appears on

Could Melo Anthony be the next hometown hero to win a title?
by rick olivares

With the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first NBA title, LeBron James joins a small list of hometown stars who played huge roles in their team’s quest for a championship.

Byron Scott - Although he was born in Ogden, Utah, Scott grew up in Inglewood, California and played at Morningside High School that was just near the Los Angeles Laker’s home court, The Forum. Scott used to sneak inside just to get to watch the Lakers play never knowing that one day he’d wear the purple and gold and be a part of three champion teams. He would also go on to coach them.

Clyde Drexler - Like Scott, Drexler was born in another state, Louisiana. But his family later moved to the South Park area of Houston, Texas. Drexler attended Ross Sterling HS in Houston then played college ball at the University of Houston. Although he was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers where he spent the best of his professional basketball years, Clyde was traded to the Rockets for Otis Thorpe who played a key role in Houston’s title run of 1994. Drexler reunited with University of Houston teammate, Hakeem Olajuwon and they conspired for the Rockets’ second consecutive NBA title in 1995.

Udonis Haslem - Miami born and bred. Played for the University of Florida along with later Heat teammate Mike Miller. Played in France after college then was signed by the Miami Heat as an undrafted rookie in 2003. Was a key part of three Heat champion teams playing the power forward-center slot.

LeBron James - The Akron, Ohio native who made a name for himself while in high school at St.Vincent-St. Mary. We all know the rest of his resume. 

There were hopes in Chicago when they drafted hometown kid Derrick Rose that he would lead the Bulls to a NBA title, it’s first since the Michael Jordan years. They came close on two occasions but a series of injuries not only grounded Rose but also hurt the team. With Rose’s trade to the New York Knicks, that effectively ends this Bulls’ team’s championship window. With Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol leaving (and Tom Thibodeau gone for a couple of years now), it’s time to rebuild. 

It’s painful for Bulls fans because since the new millennium, the front office put together two solid teams that contended — the Ben Gordon-Luol Deng teams that included Andres Nocioni, Chris Duhon, Tyson Chandler, Tyrus Thomas, PJ Brown, and Kirk Hinrich and the Rose, Butler, Noah, Gasol, Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson line-up. They both came up short and now Chicago is rebuilding again. Furthermore, none of those who left enjoyed the same level of success or stardom.

With Rose in New York, he arrives to pick up a team that doesn’t have much of a roster yet having cleaned house for the nth time since the end of the Patrick Ewing era. Rose will try to help the last of the hometown players in Carmelo Anthony, the Brooklyn-born player who led New York-based college Syracuse to the 2003 National Championship win a NBA title. And if the reports are true that the Knicks are also pursuing Rose’s running mate in Chicago, Joakim Noah, that will bring to two the number of New York-born players.

Noah was born in New York City then moved to Paris for 10 years. He returned to NYC at age 13 to play high school ball in both New Jersey and New York then at Florida where he won two NCAA titles under Billy Donovan (another New Yorker) who is now with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

But for Anthony, this is a step in that direction of winning a NBA title. He’s been in the league for 13 years and time is running out. This is the third year of the Knicks under president Phil Jackson. It’s winning time. If he can add Kevin Durant to the puzzle that would be massive for New York. But as of yesterday, Sunday, Durant’s agent announced talks regarding KD have been arranged with teams like the Warriors, Celtics, Clippers, Heat, Spurs, and his own team, the Thunder.

The Knicks are hoping to be added to the list but the odds are stacked against them because of those teams, only Boston seems to be the rising one while all the other teams have a shot at winning it.

Right now, the anxiety for Melo Anthony continues as he wonders if he made the right decision to re-sign with New York. 

The days when the NBA had the territorial draft are so far gone. It’s a nice story if a hometown kid can win a championship for his city. But as the New York Post described the Knicks’ ambition of landing Durant to form an instant contender with Kristap Porzingis, Rose, Anthony, (former Bulls and NY guard Jamal Crawford is said to be reacquired), “it’s a pipe dream”.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

June Mar Fajardo being courted by CBA team?

This appears in

June Mar Fajardo being courted by CBA team?
by rick olivares

Rappler heard from a source affiliated with the Philippine national team the other day that San Miguel Beerman and two-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo is being eyed by a Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) team as one of its Asian imports. The source refused to divulge more details.

The five worst teams in the CBA’s previous campaign are allowed to field an Asian import aside from two non-Asian players.

Rappler called SMB head coach Leo Austria to verify the news but he denied any knowledge of the rumour. “This is the first time I am hearing this,” said Austria. “If it’s true then it is nice to hear that our Asian neighbours and especially the CBA think highly of Filipino players. But if it comes to that, we will have to discuss a lot of things.”

If true, then Fajardo will be the second active PBA player to gain interest from a Chinese basketball club. 

Fajardo is currently with Greece training with the national team as part of its preparations for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament next month in Manila.

During the 2011 PBA season, then Talk ’N Text (TNT) point guard Jim Alapag was approached by scouts from Qingdao Double Star Eagles, the same club that former NBA star Tracy McGrady would play for one year later in the twilight of his career.

TNT was in the midst of pursuing a Grand Slam (they lost to Petron in a seven-game finals series) when the offer was made. “I was flattered,” recalled Alapag of the offer. 

“I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to play with Gilas (as then head coach Rajko Toroman’s squad was aiming for qualification to the 2012 London Olympics) along with Kelly (Williams), Ranidel (De Ocampo), and Asi (Taulava). I was also in the middle of renegotiating a contract with Talk ’N Text.”

Alapag said that he gave the offer some thought. “Absolutely! I spoke to team management and the coaching staff at that time and they were supportive. They too were excited for the opportunity. At the end of the day,
it was nice to be recognized but we had something special going on with Talk ’N Text at that time (the nucleus of that team went on to win three more PBA championships) and there was the national team aspect that I didn’t want to let go. But it would have been a great opportunity to play in a league like the CBA.”

“If that is true for June Mar that’s good. But it remains to be seen if that will happen because he has a live contract."

Those cool and funny Irish fans at Euro 2016

Fighting between English and Russian fans. The hooliganism stained the early days of Euro 2016. But thank God for the great matches and the Irish fans who have been a refreshing change from the louts who think they are bigger than the game. Makes me proud to be a football fan.

Drafted #19 overall Kieffer Bellows goes to the New York Islanders!

Kieffer Bellows is one of 12 Americans drafted in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft; a record! 

Welcome to the Islanders, Bellows. 

The Meralco Bolts’ Allen Durham: From Michigan to the world

The Meralco Bolts’ Allen Durham: From Michigan to the world
by rick olivares

There’s a mini-shooting competition among the big men of the Meralco Bolts during practice. They take shots from different angles, cheering makes, hooting when there are bricks. 

Allen Durham, one of the Bolts’ two imports, arrived the other week and it seems like he’s been here for months. He high fives Rabeh Al-Hussaini after a shot hit nothing but net. After a miss, reserve forward Mark Bringas pats Durham on the head. 

A light moment during practice with Ken Bono & Kelly Nabong.
Assistant coach Luigi Trillo marvels at the scene. “Allen,” he says. “is blending well with the team. The guys love him. He’s very coachable. No ego. Doesn’t demand anything. he just plays hard and leads by example.”

It has been five years since Durham graduated from little known Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. He went undrafted in the NBA but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his pro basketball dreams. 

In these past five years, he’s brought his brand of total basketball to Finland (Salon Vilpas), Romania (CS Dinamo Bucuresti), Philippines (Barako Bull Energy and now with the Meralco Bolts), and France (Hermine Nantes Atlantique). And of course, there’s the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League where he split time before returning to Hermine Nantes for his third season.

Total basketball meaning he scores, rebounds, assists, plays defense, and is a coach’s dream.

“Playing abroad broadened my horizons,” reflects Durham. “Playing for a small school in college, I guess, prepared me for life’s realities — that it isn’t going to be easy and that if I want to pursue my dream, nothing will be handed on a silver platter. I have to work for it.”

Not going to the NBA didn’t put a damper on Durham’s spirit. “The game has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone,” he shares. “Playing many many miles away from home has made me stronger as a person. I’m alone and I have to learn how to quickly adjust. It isn’t the other way around. That makes you flexible. Besides, I am earning a good living. I am grateful. I shouldn’t complain."

“Playing abroad, you experience different cultures, customs. Like living in France, you know that soccer is their main sport. Although basketball is popular and growing, soccer is still king. You look at what they have and develop an appreciation for that. You learn how to deal and relate to people. If you can’t relate, it affects your performance and they aren’t going to want you back. For people like me who do not play in the NBA, a contract and a good reputation is important. Through all this, you become appreciative of what you have even back home.”

More so when there’s trouble. 

On the 13th of November, Durham, who at that time was playing for the Texas Legends were a little over four hours away from their season opener on the road against the Austin Spurs. Word filtered that terrorists struck at three different locations in Paris. Durham, who had made many friends in his two years in France (he would return to Nantes after the D-League season), reached out to his teammates at Nantes. 

“Many of my teammates in Nantes had family and friends who worked in the areas that were hit in Paris. I also have been to some of the areas so I was like, ‘I know that place.’ So the attacks hit home as well. It is just sad there these things happen. Sometimes it takes tragedies like that to remind you of what is important in your life — your family, your life, health, your job. I definitely would not be able to do this — play abroad — without my family’s support. But the Paris shootings hit home as well.” 

“France is beautiful,” Allen enthuses of his three years there. “Lots of nice places. Paris is nice. But Monaco… what a place! Oh, my... I’d love to live there. But it’s very expensive."

From France, Durham was signed by the Bolts who impressed him in his previous stint in the PBA.

“It is nice to hear that people appreciate my game,” says Durham. “I only played a handful of games the last time I was here so that is nice to know that a team wants me back."

Of Meralco, Allen is happy and excited with his new team, “I like my team and teammates. We’ve got veterans and talented rookies. Hopefully, we can help them realize the team’s championship dreams." 

He sits close to the returning Kelly Nabong whose injury midway through the recent Commissioner’s Cup depleted the Bolts’ frontline ranks. Both Durham and Nabong crack jones and one-liners.  

“I’ve played with a lot of imports,” adds Bolts gunner Ronjay Buenafe. “And Allen is one of the nicest imports of them all. He makes playing fun too.”

“We know he’s good and that gives us hope,” throws in guard Anjo Caram. 

“My world used to be in Michigan,” shares Durham. “Lived in Michigan. Played high school and college in Michigan. My dreams used to be simple. Just play and get a scholarship. Play and earn a living. Who would have thought I’d see the world because of the game? Experience all these new things that many don’t get to experience? Make friends everywhere? I’m just grateful."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Meet a rising coaching star; one you may never heard of... Jino Manansala

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Meet a rising coaching star; one you may never heard of.
by rick olivares

He was the captain of the UST Growling Tigers at one time while also playing the point guard position. He never played pro basketball but because of his surname, his name might ring a bell.

Unless you’re from that España campus in the late 90s and early years of the new millennium. Unless you’re a UST basketball die-hard, you might probably recall the name, Jino Manansala.

Don’t say it….. he’s the son of former PBA star Jimmy Manansala who was the 1978 Rookie of the Year while playing for the Tanduay Rhum Makers. Jimmy, a former University of the East Warriors star, also donned the PBA jerseys of Great Taste where he was a part of some great champion teams, and Shell. 

Jino… took a different path. Balling in New Jersey for high school before coming home to play for UST alongside Alwyn Espiritu, Christian Luanzon, Niño Gelig, and Cyrus Baguio. Then came the urge to coach. “I never had any pressure from my father to play professional basketball although I know he would have been pleased if I did,” shared Manansala during a late lunch at the Sitio Verde in the Tomas Morato area following his St. Clare College Saints’ victory of De La Salle in the Milcu Got Skills Championship. 

The older Manansala who has returned from life in the United States was in the stands cheering on his son’s team during that rough and tough game against La Salle. 

It seems that every where Jino has coached, he has won. “My first ever coaching stint was with the College of Commerce in UST in 2000,” he ventured. “I was asked to coach the team and I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea. I eventually gave in and we won in the university-wide intramurals.”

His next stint was with AMA Computer College where they won the 2006-07 NAASCU championship. He transferred to the University of Manila in 2010 and led the Hawks to a NAASCU crown during the 2010-11 campaign. 

The younger Manansala moved to another NAASCU school, St. Clare College the next season, where he won another championship. His Saints lost the next two title matches against the Edgar Macaraya-coached CEU Scorpions the next two years. And with CEU in limbo following Macaraya’s de-camping to his college alma mater, San Sebastian in the NCAA, Manansala’s team, has a chance to re-take the NAASCU crown.

“We’re never given any spotlight since we’re not the UAAP or NCAA. And I understand that having played in the UAAP,” said the youthful coach. “In 2014, both CEU and St. Clare were invited to participate in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup and we showed everyone that we can compete.”

The Saints, led by Jason Ibay, Jan Jamito, and Marte Gil finished their stint in the country’s top pre-season tournament with a 2-4 record. Three of their four losses were decided in the final minute of play; the only blowout loss coming at the hands of the Ola Adeogun-led San Beda Red Lions. 

“I think that showed that we just need exposure to go up against the big teams,” recalled Manansala of that tournament. And now the huge win against La Salle even if it missed their starting five. “Yeah, that team might not have had Ben Mbala and Jeron Teng but they still had the Rivero brothers, Jason Perkins, Aljun Melecio. Essentially, blue chip recruits with a very good program. Probably the best in the country. Eh, ano naman meron kami?”

Manansala’s Saints have also recently took home a couple of trophies from three other tournaments underscoring the successful program they have. In fact, two of his players from last season were “acquired” by National University where they are serving out their residency.

The St. Clare College Saints don’t run the dribble drive offense. They don’t play the triangle or any of those in vogue offensive systems. “We play basic stuff, pick and roll, screen here, post up then kick out. Nothing fancy. Basic basketball. Not to offend my players but we like to keep it simple. But we teach them to read the situation and make decisions based on what the defense gives them. The only thing I ask them is to make the best shot possible. On defense, we play the usual zone, match-up, man-to-man, what we can do based on the players’ skill set. I am not going to teach them something where we do not have the personnel for that. But as you can see, we’ve been somewhat successful."

Most recently, Manansala coached Racal Motors (they won in the Danny Espiritu Cup) in the D-League (after which he was replaced by Caloy Garcia) and applied for the coaching position of UST. But the former Tiger lost out to Boy Sablan. “That’s fine. Maybe it’s not yet my time,” he reasoned. “I’d love to help out my alma mater but right now, I guess I have to prove myself more.”

The 2016 NAASCU campaign tips off this August.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Questions about NCAA Season 92 Part 3: Mapua, San Sebastian & Lyceum

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Questions about NCAA Season 92 Part 3
by rick olivares

Can the Mapua Cardinals fly high? 
The Mapua Cardinals were one of the better teams last year as they finished 12-6. But they lost a 91-90 heartbreaker to Letran in the semifinals that ended the collegiate careers of do-it-all forward Josan Nimes, Mark Braña who only showed up late in the season, and guards Stephen Que and John Nieles on a sour note.

This year, I’d go as far as to say that they could be the NCAA’s version of La Salle. Not program-wise but in the composition of the team — stud center surrounded by a cadre of high-scoring guards and solid forwards who can do their thing without worrying about rebounds and protecting the rim.

That center is Allwell Oraeme who won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards. While he is darn good, he isn’t like his La Salle counterpart — who he outplayed when they matched up during the summer — in the sense of playing with a chip on his shoulder. Oraeme is a cool cat who plays under control. 

They’ve got a deadeye shooter in Exie Biteng. A clutch shooting guard in CJ Isit. A tough-as-nails player who can do it on both ends of the court in Andrew Estrella. Darell Menina will backstop the guards but isn’t as consistent offensively. Almel Orquina is another who can light it up (it’s just not yet his time because of the presence of the more senior players).

Oraeme who really needs to stay away from fouls if Mapua wants a chance to better their Final Four finish of last year. If Justin Serrano, JR Raflores, and Denniel Aguirre can do their part, not just hitting the outside shot but also playing inside the paint, they’ll take a load off the overworked Oraeme. 

I don’t think that the Cardinals lost anything offensively as they have the guards to scorch the nets. 

The concern here is to get contributions from different people from different positions on the court, not to meltdown in the stretch (their Achilles heel the past two seasons), and not to get into foul trouble.

With a de-powered Letran (that doesn’t make them less dangerous), Mapua has a good chance of seizing a slot in the Final Four. But it is up to them to realize that and take it. And to coach this team well.

Who are the dark horse contenders?
The San Sebastian Stags showed newfound defensive intensity during the pre-season even when they lost Michael Calisaan to a freak motorcycle injury that sidelined him for the rest of the summer. According to new Stags head coach (and former star) Edgar Macaraya, Calissan will be back in time for the NCAA tip-off.

This team isn’t yet anything like the squads Macaraya put together in Centro Escolar University that he turned into a NAASCU power. For one, he doesn’t have that center to make them play the uptempo and defensive game he wants. 

The Stags will depend on their stretch players — who will play the two, three, four, and sometimes, five as they are under-sized — Calisaan, Jerick Fabian, Jayson David, and Alfren Gayosa. They also saw the late summer explosion from swingman Alvin Capobres. 

What this team needs is to be steady in the back court. Point guard Ryan Costelo is all right; he just needs to get away from ticky tacky fouls and complaining all the time because he is an important player for the Stags. They are good but they lack height and depth.

Lyceum of the Philippines University is intriguing. If they still had Victor Nguidjol in uniform (he is now in the NBA D-League), I’d say the time is ripe for the Pirates to really compete for a Final Four slot.

They have a better lineup than San Sebastian because they have a center in Joseph Gabayni who seems to have mellowed down and stayed away from the rough stuff that merited technical fouls and ejections during the summer. If Mike Nzeusseu can develop a little more quickly, he’ll be of massive help to the Pirates. He showed flashes of talent during the summer although he was playing injured so the jury is still out on him.

They have forwards in Jebb Bulawan and Wilson Baltazar and guards Jesper Ayaay, and Shaq Alanes. 

LPU has the athletes and talent, the question surrounding their chances is, how good are they defensively and will they play as a team? If they do well in both regards and if Gabayni behaves and produces, and if Nzeusseu produces, they’ll challenge for a Final Four slot.