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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My All-Time European XI

The last of the Supersonics

CJ Perez debuts for Ateneo vs Letran; Ateneo-DLSU on May 29

CJ Perez debuts for Ateneo vs Letran; Ateneo-DLSU on May 29
by rick olivares pic by JJ Javelosa

The Ateneo Blue Eagles face one stern test after another this weekend when they battle the reigning NCAA champions, Letran, in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup on Thursday, May 26, and undefeated La Salle on Sunday, May 29, at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan. 

First off for the Blue Eagles (1-1) is Letran (2-2) who will face a familiar foe in CJ Perez who will be making his tournament debut for Ateneo. Perez played for the San Sebastian Stags for two seasons before taking his talents to Loyola Heights. 

The high-leaping Perez was a part of former San Sebastian’s coach Topex Robinson’s first recruited batch of Stags following the graduation of their sainted trio of Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual, and Ian Sangalang. Perez along with Jamil Ortuoste, Bradwyn Guinto, and Leo De Vera led San Sebastian to consecutive Final Four finishes in NCAA Seasons 88 and 89. Now the 22-year old 6’1” swingman from Pangasinan is expected to give the Blue Eagles a massive lift with his all-around game and its go-to player following the graduation of Kiefer Ravena. 

As a glimpse of Perez’ impact, he led Ateneo’s Team B to a Fr. Martin’s Cup and Milcu Got Skills championships. 

Also making his return to the Ateneo line-up is second year point guard Hubert Cani. Along with Perez, the two had to take care of their academics before being cleared to play.

Tip off between Ateneo and Letran is at 5pm.

Next on deck for Ateneo are the red-hot La Salle Green Archers who boast on an unblemished 4-0 record behind their solid one-two punch of Ben Mbala and Jeron Teng.

Sunday’s schedule has been adjusted with the explosive Letran-San Beda game at 2pm and Ateneo-La Salle at 4pm. The Mapua-UE match is at 6pm while the CSB-FEU match is still at 11:15am.

In other seniors matches for Premier Cup Thursday, May 26, Emilio Aguinaldo College looks to build on their huge win over UP last when when they take on winless College of Saint Benilde at 1:30pm. 

A pair of teams coming off losses, Mapua and San Beda square off at 3:15pm. Mapua, lost to Adamson, 85-81, will finally have a full crew as do-it-all center Allwell Oraeme returns to action after serving a one-match suspension for an altercation with La Salle’s Kib Montalbo. The Red Lions succumbed to their first loss in three outings against a red-hot La Salle squad, 94-85.

Tickets to the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup matches can be purchased at the gate of the Filoil Flying V Centre or through Ticketnet.

Alexa Micek and the journey across the sands

Alexa Micek and a journey across the sands
by rick olivares

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ‘till we get there.”
“Where we going, man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.”

With that exchange in the book “On the Road” by the late Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, he helped define a journey of discovery that many identified with back in the 1950s and still do today. And in some ways, it defines Alexa Micek’s journey.

When Alexa's younger brother, Cole, was recruited by Ateneo de Manila to play for their basketball team, he leapt at the chance. It was something new and it was a chance to discover his Philippine roots. Although their mother is Filipina, she was born in the United States and wasn’t too familiar with her own roots. And such, no Filipino was spoken in the Micek’s household. 

“My first reaction when my brother was recruited was, ‘Oh, they play competitive basketball there? This is crazy! Do you even know what you’re doing?,’ recalls Alexa. "I thought he’d follow the same path I took — college in the States and let’s go from there. But his mindset changed the moment he was recruited. He wanted to be here to play for the Ateneo and try his luck in the PBA.” 

While lettering at NC State, she was one of the best in digging and serving, earning a slot in the rotation of former Wolfpack head coach Bryan Bunn. “That was an amazing experience,” Alexa recalls with a smile. “And when I got my degree (she majored in civil engineering), it was a proud moment for my family and myself."  

In December of 2014, Alexa and the rest of her family visited Cole in Manila. That was also the first time for all of them to be in the Philippines.

While on vacation here, Alexa heard about the volleyball scene and she was able to get in touch with someone from the Petron team in the Philippine Super Liga. "I tried out for Petron and they invited me to come back,” she says with her eyebrows raised. "It was surreal. After playing for North Carolina State University — that was an amazing experience — I was kind of retired from volleyball. After school, if you want to keep on playing then you went to Europe. If not, you got a job in the States. I was working in a civil engineering firm in North Carolina and I was just on vacation. When I got the offer to play for Petron. I told myself, ‘Why not? I only have a limited time to play anyway.' And since then, I have not been back to work. So here I am!”

A year and a half later… playing the Beach Volleyball Republic circuit, the 24-year old Micek is still in the Philippines. 

Although the road isn’t exactly clear for her yet.

“Before I took the plunge to play the beach volleyball circuit here, I spoke with my dad and asked his advice,” Micek shares of the conundrum that has occupied her thoughts. “He told me to do what I had to do. While I can and while I am young. But you know, there are always the young adult concerns — being in a long distance relationship. The need to be financially secure since it has been a while since I had a day job. Finding my place in the world. For all my concerns, make no mistake, I am happy where I am right now. That is why I am still here. These girls have such an amazing vision.”

After Micek’s stint with Petron, she has committed now to Beach Volleyball Republic. "It just made sense become part of the BVR family,” she shares. “My first sport is beach volleyball. Growing up in California, our house was one block away from the beach. In fact, my mom continues to play beach volleyball to this day. The only way for me to get a collegiate scholarship was to play indoor volleyball. So in college, I focused on indoor. So it’s like going full circle — at a young age though."

"All the BVR founders are local girls and who played for Ateneo. But I got along with them so well and I was one of the first members; one of the first people to join them. It is exciting to see that people are falling in love with the sport of beach volleyball. The journey is just starting." 

Alexa states that the reason why she’s here is because of her brother Cole who stressed about discovering his roots. Yet is is Alexa who has been around the country and soaking in the culture. "My life has changed a lot since coming here. The more I see this country the more I fall in love with it. I want to discover more of my heritage. Every place I got to makes me happy. I love seeing the different communities. Meet new people. Hear new stories. Try different food. I love the old Spanish feel of Ilocos Sur. The cobblestone streets, kalesas. It’s like a time machine feel. It’s unique."

When she gets homesick, it helps that in her BVR travels, she oft stays close to the beach. “It reminds me of home,” she says wistfully. “The beach and the ocean has a calming effect on me.”

“As much as it is playing beach volleyball, I think that being here in the Philippines is about finding myself,” she sums up. "I followed the American Dream — get your degree, work. Now, I yook a massive chance. I’ll admit that it isn’t easy or it has been smooth sailing but I also find a lot of inspiration in Bea and Charo who juggle so many things with their businesses and volleyball."

With BVR in the meantime, after playing for the National Championship this weekend (May 26-27 at the Sands, SM by the Bay), Alexa will be working with the sandroots program; teaching the youth to get in the game. “It an opportunity for the youth and a character builder,” she says clearly excited for the opportunity. But I think that also works the same for me.”

"We are travelers on a cosmic journey,stardust,swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” 
- Paulo Coelho in “The Alchemist"

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Is Rodil "Boy" Sablan UST's new head coach?

This appears on

MANILA, Philippines - The University of Santo Tomas will name Rodil “Boy" Sablan as its new head coach for its varsity basketball team, a source close to the team tells Rappler.

Sablan, who currently works as an assistant for BlackWater Elite in the PBA and academic adviser to the UST men's basketball team, was part of former head coach Alfredo “Pido” Jarencio’s coaching staff several years ago. Sablan was also a teammate of Jarencio’s in the early 1980s with the UST Glowing Goldies, as the team was previously known.

According to Rappler’s source from UST, the Institute of Physical Education and Academics will make the announcement on Wednesday, June 1, a day after Bong de la Cruz's contract as head coach expires.

De La Cruz, who led the UST Growling Tigers to the finals of UAAP Season 78 in a losing effort against Far Eastern University, has been in limbo since he was placed on suspension following complaints about alleged physical abuse towards his players.

Following De La Cruz’s fall from grace, Jarencio as well as his own former UST head coach Aric Del Rosario, who led the school to 4 consecutive UAAP titles from 1993-96, expressed interest in the position.

Attempts to reach Sablan to confirm the report were not returned by the time of this article's publication. 
Cantonjos played seven years in the PBA with Tanduay, Purefoods, Coca Cola, and Talk ’N Text. Ballesteros played a year longer than Cantonjos in the pros with Shell, Pop Cola, Coca Cola, Ginebra, and Welcoat. David Jr. spent his entire nine year career with the Ginebra fanchise alongside Robert Jaworksi, Marlou Aquino, Vince Hizon, and Noli Locsin.

Charo Soriano wore #8 as a tribute to Brazil's Leila Barros.

As a young girl, Charo Soriano idolized former Brazil star Leila Barros. When she began playing for Ateneo, she chose the #8 for her jersey. And I think that years later, Leila would be proud of her.

16 teams vie for Beach Volleyball Republic National Championship

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16 teams vie for Beach Volleyball Republic National Championship
by rick olivares

After four months of competition. Seven legs over seven cities around the archipelago. And dozens and dozens of participants, the Beach Volleyball Republic National Finals is coming to its exciting conclusion with 16 duos vying for the title of the Queens of the Sand and P100,000 richer. The BVR National Championship will be played at the Sands, SM by the Bay. 

During a press conference at Lola’s Cafe in the South Triangle area of Quezon City, BVR founders and former Ateneo Lady Eagles Bea Tan, Charo Soriano, and Angeline Gervacio along with Ateneo volleyball team manager Tonyboy Liao conducted a draw to determine the groupings that will compete for the national championship.

Outside the former Lady Eagles in the competition, the familiar names among the 16 teams include Philippine Air Force’s Judy Caballejo and Anna Camille Abanto, Isa Molde and Diana Carlos from the University of the Philippines, and Bernadeth Pons and Kyla Atienza of Far East University. 

“They add a lot of star power to the competition,” noted a visibly pleased Tan who has received massive support from the local volleyball community.”

According to Gervacio, they were surprised at the turnout of both participants and viewers over the course of the seven legs. “Especially in Bayawan City in Negros Oriental, it was amazing. We’ve seen indoor volleyball packed with big crowds. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing pretty good turnouts in beach volleyball. It’s a good start.”

The cities that were visited during the seven legs include Ilocos Sur, La Union, Cagayan, Negros Occidental, Pampanga, Aklas, and Negros Oriental with many of the different city's native daughters participating in the competition.

“These are the best of the best so expect every set to be hotly contested,” pointed out Soriano. 

“Even the teams from the provinces will be in the hunt for the championship,” said Tonyboy Liao, BVR tournament director. “You cannot take them lightly.”

Group A:
  1. Alexa Micek and Charo Soriano
  2. Jennifer Cosas and Floremel Rodriguez 
  3. Nieza Viray and Jeziela Viray
  4. Ivee Ilao and Tatiana Sablan

Group B:
  1. Judy Ann Caballejo and Anna Camille Abanto
  2. DM DemontaƱo and Jackielyn Estoquia
  3. Rhea Fermilan and Javen Sabas
  4. Therese Ramas and Janelle Cabahug

Group C:
  1. Jonafer San Pedra and Jessa Aranda
  2. Bea Tan and Fiola Ceballos
  3. Cherrilyn Sindayan and Rainne Fabay
  4. Lourdilyn Catubag
  5. Karen Quilario

Group D: 
  1. Angeline Gervacio and Michelle Morente
  2. Apple Saraum and Jusabelle Brillo
  3. Isa Molde and Diana Carlos
  4. Bernadeth Pons and Kyla Atienza 

Admission to the BVR National Championship is free. The matches begin at 8am.

Violence in football rears its ugly head again

It has been barely a month since a jury found the 96 Liverpudians who were killed in a crush in Hillsborough in 1989 as unlawfully killed when two new incidents in British football involving fans have reared the ugly side of the beautiful game. 

Last May 11, the Manchester United bus that was hammered and pelted with missiles as they made their way to West Ham’s Upton Park for their final match of the Premier League season. Also during that match, a fan got on the pitch and approached United goalkeeper David De Gea before stewards led the former away. 

And second was last May 22 when Hibernian fans invaded the pitch following their team’s Scottish Cup Final win over Rangers. Mounted police took to the pitch following the pitch invasion to prevent any further incidents between the two sets of fans. But it is reported that Rangers players and fans were assaulted while the goal and the pitch was destroyed by celebrating fans. The violence and disorderly conduct have been decried not only by the Scottish Football Association but by international observers as the incident harkens back to a darker and more violent age. 

In both the West Ham and Hibernian incidents, there was a glaring lack of security for one team and hand washing of any wrongdoing by one team’s officials. A few arrests have been made although the investigations aren’t over. 

In the midst of the pitch invasion, Hibs manager, Alan Stubbs was interviewed on BBC and he said that while he understood what the fans did, he does not condone it as it spoiled what should have been a great celebration after a 114-year Scottish Cup drought. 

Hibernian released an official statement at 5:44pm on the 23rd of May:
A Police-led criminal inquiry is underway into events at Hibernian’s historic Scottish Cup win over Rangers at the weekend.   The Scottish FA has also launched its own Independent Commission.   The Club welcomes the  announcement of the Commission which should have the widest ranging terms of reference.

The Independent Commission is to look into all aspects of the staging and management of the Final.  That is right and proper.  Everyone involved will want to know what lessons can be learned.

Hibernian FC will co-operate fully with the Independent Commission in every way it can and the Commission must be allowed to run its course and reach its own conclusions without fear or favour.

Hibernian FC today reiterated:
-That the Club is sorry that a number of Hibernian supporters invaded the pitch.   Whilst emotions were running high, the Club cannot condone supporters coming onto the field of play.

-That the Club will co-operate fully with all of the relevant authorities to identify supporters involved in behaviour which tarnishes the good name of Hibernian FC.

-In particular, the Club will do everything in its power to bring to book any Hibernian supporters found to have been involved in the most serious allegations of assault – including assaults on the staff or players of Rangers FC

-The Club will take the strongest possible sanctions against any supporters involved in criminal activity or unacceptable behaviour
Chairman Rod Petrie said: “It is now clear from various sources that supporters being on the pitch at the end of the match led to acts of violence and disorder.  

I condemn and the Club condemns all of the violence and unacceptable conduct perpetrated on the pitch and elsewhere and in the margins of the match at Hampden.   There is absolutely no place for it in the game of football.

"Hibernian will do all that it can to support the criminal investigations to ensure that those who have transgressed face the consequences of their actions.”

There must be a lot of pent-up frustration and anger in the world today that it is manifesting itself in the worst way possible. But scenes like these cannot and should not be tolerated. 

Man quits his job and travels Australia with his cat

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey

SEATTLE, Wash. -- The producers of the upcoming documentary "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" today announced the official title and logo of the film to the public, releasing a first look at the highly-anticipated feature documentary in the form of a one-minute Teaser Trailer. 

Fred Beckey is a true American pioneer, with an unparalleled list of alpine accomplishments under his belt over the past century. Known for an uncompromising dedication to the mountains with his record string of first ascents and groundbreaking new routes, Fred Beckey has achieved mythical status in mountaineering circles. He carries a polarizing reputation as a hero and a rebel, his name evoking simultaneous worship and vitriol. Despite his controversial nature, Beckey's scholarly writings reveal a greater depth to this man, captured in more than a dozen published books that continue to inspire new generations of climbers and environmentalists. 

Now at age 93, after a lifetime of rejecting societal norms in his single-minded quest for peaks, Beckey is ready to tell his story for the first time.

Colorado-based documentary director Dave O'Leske spent the past decade filming Fred Beckey with unprecedented access, getting to know the mysterious man in the mountains of China, across North America and in his Pacific Northwest home. O'Leske filmed hundreds of hours of new footage while gathering a wealth of exclusive materials from the Fred Beckey Archives, including thousands of Beckey's personal photos, films, hand-written journals and route maps dating back to the 1930s. More than 30 additional interviews with some of the world's greatest climbers--including Yvon Chouinard, Layton Kor, Conrad Anker, Royal Robbins, Reinhold Messner and Jim Whittaker--attest to Beckey's iconic impact on the sport.

In 2016, O'Leske partnered with a crew of award-winning Seattle filmmakers--producers Jason Reid, Andy McDonough and Colin Plank, editor Darren Lund, co-producer Adam Brown and co-executive producer Colin Baxter--whose collective past credits include the hit climbing documentary "K2: Siren of the Himalayas" (2012), the Webby Award-winning "Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team" (2009), the Emmy® Award-winning "Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai" (2010) and the narrative drama "Eden" (2013), which won Audience Awards for Best Narrative at SXSW and the Milan International Film Festival.

"Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" is currently in post-production targeting a release in early 2017. The filmmakers will continue to put out additional trailers and extended bonus content this summer. Please direct media inquiries to the contacts listed at the top of this release.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Meralco taps Allen Durham as Gov Cup import

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Meralco taps Allen Durham as Gov Cup import
by rick olivares

The Meralco Bolts are tapping the services of Allen Durham for the upcoming PBA Governors’ Cup. Durham is currently playing for Nantes in the Ligue Nationale de Basket (LNB), the second division of men’s professional basketball in France where he is averaging 17.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in his third season with the team. 

The 6’5” Durham previously suited up for the Barako Bull Energy Boosters also in the Governors’ Cup during the 2013-14 season where in four matches, he averaged 25.0 points, 23.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. In one of those matches, Durham led Barako Bull to an 88-74 upset of Talk ’N Text with 28 points, 29 rebounds, and two blocks.

“He really impressed us that season,” said Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo who along with the Bolts’ head coach Norman Black were still with Talk ’N Text that year. “Every game he played in the PBA, we were very impressed. We also saw him recently in the NBA D-League showcase and we knew right away that he was the right import for our team."

Trillo said that they waited for Barako’s rights to Durham to elapse before making contact with his agent.

“We did our homework and asked around,” shared Trillo. “The teams and coaches in France all gave Allen a thumbs up.”

Durham is a 27-year old from Wyoming, Michigan who played for Grace Bible College and turned them into a National Christian College Athletic Association Division II power where they won two national titles. Before Durham’s senior season, he attracted attention from a Big 12 Conference team but he opted to stay with Grace Bible Christian. 

In France, he has been regarded as the best player in the country the past two seasons and has attracted some interest from NBA squads. He also recently suited up for the Texas Legends in the D-League.

“If you noticed, our glaring need is at the center position,” accentuated Trillo. “We had a lot of injuries in that spot last conference with Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Kelly Nabong, and Justin Chua all hurt. Arinze Onuaku was perfect for us and he filled a void. With Allen it is going to be the same as Rabeh, Kelly, and Justin all slated for a return. We’ve been tracking him for a while and we like the fact that he can guard players much taller than him. For the Bolts, that’s a huge plus.”

The Meralco Bolts return to training on June 6th.

Shakey's V-League Season 13 Open Conference preliminary round schedule

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Team Baguio Summer Spikers: For the love of the game

The Team Baguio Summer Spikers during the opening ceremony for the 13th season of the Shakey's V-League.
This appears on

The Team Baguio Summer Spikers: For the love of the game
by rick olivares

How much do you love the game?

It’s enduring at least 10 hour drives — five going to Manila and another five going home. As for that ride home, sometimes, after a painful loss where they were drubbed, the five hours seems infinitely longer and definitely excruciating. 

It means sometimes arriving in the wee hours of the morning that you can’t go to bed anymore as it’s time to prepare for work or school.

It means every now and then chipping in your own money to charter a small coaster to bring them over to Manila that costs several thousands of pesos.

That’s how much the Team Baguio Summer Spikers love the game of volleyball. 

“It sounds like a sacrifice, but playing in the Shakey’s V-League is a dream for all of us coaches and players,” says Team Baguio head coach Clarissa Tolentino. “To be on the same court as Alyssa Valdez and many other great players, it inspires us to be better in our game. And hopefully, improve not only our respective school volleyball programs but also the sport in Baguio."

Setter Shirley Balantac & coach Clarissa Tolentino
The Summer Spikers are a mix of current and former varsity athletes of St. Louis University, the University of Baguio, and the University of the Cordilleras. The former varsity players are now gainfully employed; one who works in human resources, another at the local Department of Public Works and Health, and the third at a pharmaceutical company.

Notwithstanding their 1-6 record during the Open Conference of Season 12 of the Shakey’s V-League, they are looking forward to hopefully a more competitive performance this new season.

More than scratching off something on their bucket list, playing in Manila is an opportunity for the players to expand their horizons. “All our athletes take part in the Baguio-Benguet Educational Athletic League (BBEAL). Like everyone else, the objective is to win. If we are not able to achieve that then it is to gain the experience and learn so we can win next time,” adds Tolentino who in Team Baguio’s V-League debut last year was the team’s setter. “We have a young team with some young players who we hope to develop. These are Ann Atuban and Nae-Nae Arances who play the outside and opposite hitter position.”

Their names may be largely unfamiliar to volleyball fans who seem to be mostly well-versed for those who ply their trade in the Manila-based leagues, but the Summer Spikers carry with them a measure of pride that one of their own was picked up by Navy — May Madulid. 

While Madulid isn’t a household name yet, Team Baguio points to two volleybelles who went to school in Baguio — Adamson’s Mylene Paat and De La Salle’s Mary Joy Baron. Although Paat hails from Pangasinan, she went to the University of Baguio before transferring to Manila. Baron on the other hand is a Baguio City native who before she departed for the Taft-based school, went to Baguio City National High School.

“It’s not much, but we are proud of the players who came from Baguio,” beams Tolentino. “And all this helps the volleyball scene in Baguio that is growing. We hope that our participation in the tournament will really enhance our capabilities."

It’s close to 4pm, Sunday, the 22nd of May. The Opening Ceremony of the 13th season of the Shakey’s V-League just ended. Team Baguio heads over to Greenhills Shopping Center to look around. 

An hour isn’t definitely enough to browse around especially on a busy Sunday. However, there’s the matter of the five hour drive back to Baguio (they arrived right past 11pm). For tomorrow, there’s work and training (school’s still out for summer). As exhausting as the trip is, there are smiles all around in being a part of the opening program. The sport’s stars - Valdez, Grethcel Soltones, Michelle Gumabao, Jaja Santiago, Nicole Tiamzon, and many others — were there in front of them. People they saw on television or read about on the internet or in the newspaper. And there’s excitement too as well as the competition proper starts next weekend. 

They’ll charter a coaster (if it’s available). Leave late Friday evening (around 11pm). Arrive by daybreak in Manila (then get some rest in some place where they can crash). Then head over to the Filoil Flying V Centre for their first match. After that, they’ll take that five hour trip back home to Baguio.

It’s the price they have to pay for their volleyball dreams.

Team Baguio:
Yanyan Torres (opposite)
Cherry Atuban (setter)
Ann Atuban (outside hitter)
Shirley Balantac (setter)
Cielo Abella (libero)
Rochelle Degay (libero)
Nae-Nae Arances (opposite)
Lyka Reyes (utility)
Nicole Guyguyon (middle)
Melai Dicksen (middle)
Belle Belsa (opposite)
Loys Costales (middle)
Xianny Tsuchiya (outside)
Colleen Rossi (outside)

Clarissa Tolentino (head coach)
Jhiesel Agudia (assistant)
Roxanne Almonte (trainer)
Cindy Benitez (trainer)


Note: Before Team Baguio was formed, St. Louis University competed in the First Conference of Season 11. They went 0-5. 

Work, travel, basketball: Life on the road with Aga Drabik

Aga Drabik showing her Filoil referees uniform. Pic by Tomasz Kawa.

This appears in the Monday, May 23, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Work, travel, basketball: Life on the road with Aga Drabik
by rick olivares

Half of the Filoil Flying V Centre was alternating between intermittent cheers and gnashing of teeth. One side in green (for La Salle) and the other side in red (for San Beda). In recent years, this battle has been eagerly anticipated as it has turned somewhat chippy beginning with a national title followed by last summer’s pre-season championship match between the two.

As the arena rocked and rolled, a petite blonde, standing five-foot-five, smiled broadly, squatted nearly the first aid station and took the whole ambiance in. “I’m in a country to feed my passion,” declares 28-year old Agnieszka “Aga” Drabik from Bielsko-Biala, a city near Krakow, Poland known for being a industrial and tourist hub.

What’s a lass from Poland doing over six thousand miles away from her homeland?

“I work for Philip Morris International in the Human Resources division. I’m here on a temporary assignment for six months,” she confesses. “I will be here until August of this year. But you’ll never know."

Even before coming over to the Philippines, she heard of the passion, the mania, and the zest for basketball here. “What football is to Poland, basketball is to the Philippines,” she compared of the world’s two most popular sports. “You have the strongest league in Asia, the Olympic Qualifiers will be held here so in Asia, the Philippines is basketball heaven for me. I know that basketball is crazy here so I wanted to be a part of it. I asked the federation here (the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) if I can do some refereeing here. They gave me a test, I was accepted, and I passed it.”

Aga’s first match in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup was a high school match between Emilio Aguinaldo College and La Salle Greenhills last Thursday, May 19. “Not such a big crowd,” she notes of the match (she also officiates in the Dickies Cup, a women’s basketball tournament). 

She is surprised though when told that it’s just the pre-season but when the college game is in full swing come June and September, it gets really crazy. “I hope I am still around to witness that,” she wishes. 

Outside work, she goes out of town with her husband. “We’ve been around. But I like Bohol and Palawan. Bohol especially. I hope to see more of this country.”

“I try to find a balance between work, travel, and basketball,” she says. “I think I have done it."

Basketball, or at least the women’s game thrives in Poland. “In Poland, compared to Europe, women’s basktball is stronger and more popular. However, I prefer the men’s game because of the intensity of the play,” she admits. “Men like football. My husband (Tomasz) loves football but he too enjoys basketball. We have a local league, the Euro league, and keep track of what goes on in the NBA. Because of the time difference, we usually find out the result when we wake up. But we follow the NBA.”

Aga’s path to officiating basketball began nine years ago in Poland. “My father was an influence on me. He is and still is a referee in Poland. Over there in Europe, it isn’t so unusual to have ladies as referees. Here it is as widespread. In Poland though, it is not easy for women referees because with guys, they give the trust immediately. With a woman, the trust is zero and you have to earn it."

Joey Guillermo, tournament director for the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup is happy with Drabik’s performance. “She impressed everyone,” he says. “She called it very smart and was very decisive. No one protested any call. I think that’s good, right? But after the match, players and officials all had their picture taken with her.”

The pictures are something that still perplexes Aga. “Even when I am walking on the street, people stop to ask if they can have their picture taken with me,” she wonders. “I am not sure if it is because I am a woman with blue eyes."

She dismisses the assertion of the fan selfies because of her looks. “I think Philippine women are beautiful too.”
Aga called her second match of the tournament, once more a high school match between EAC and National University where she once more impressed. As a reward for her impressive performances, she will be calling the match between La Salle and Letran next Sunday, the 29th of May. “People think that because I am here I am a national or FIBA referee. No, I am not yet at that level,” she admits. 

When asked if she was nervous because it’s a big game, she professes, “I’m excited because I get to be a part of some of the best basketball played in the world.”

Maverick and Jerrick Ahanmisi: Flying under the radar

With the Ahanmisi brothers Jerrick (top photo) and Maverick (bottom picture)
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Maverick and Jerrick Ahanmisi: Flying under the radar
by rick olivares

There’s a six-foot-two dude in a white shirt and a baseball cap up in the stands of the Filoil Flying V Centre. He’s taking in the ongoing ball game between the Adamson Falcons and the Mapua Cardinals.

On the court, a skinny six-foot kid plucks an errant pass and hightails it down the opposite end. The defense closes him down and he passes off. The skinny kid moves into another spot. He gets the return pass but his shot from beyond the three-point arc bricks.

The dude up the stands doesn’t flinch.

Two plays later, the skinny kid drills one from way out. All net.

The dude up in the stands still doesn’t flinch even if the folks around him slap his back and offer congratulatory words.

Truth is, Maverick Ahanmisi, the dude up in the stands, is anxious. Anxious for his younger brother Jerrick who is now playing for the Falcons after coming over from Village Christian High School in Sun Valley, Los Angeles, California. “I’m nervous for my brother,” said the 24-year old who three days ago just won his first Philippine Basketball Association championship with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. 

“I’m just trying to be cool and not show it,” he grins.

Big brother played in all 23 matches of the just-concluded PBA Commissioner’s Cup where in 22 minutes of action per outing, he tallied 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists versus 2.2 turnovers. “Just a rookie but he’s hitting big shots,” marveled his pro coach, Yeng Guiao. “And he will get better."

Skinny younger brother — although he has somewhat bulked up after he arrived as a skin and bones wide-eyed kid — has put up an average of 11.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 0.6 steals in five matches in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup. His best stat line in the country’s premier pre-season tourney was during an 83-78 win over defending NCAA champion Letran where Jerrick scored a game high 26 points in addition to five boards, three assists, two steals, and one block. “You don’t know how good that felt,” sighed Jerrick after struggling in his previous matches. “I was starting to wonder if I left my game back in California.”

The Ahanmisi brothers were born in the United States to a Nigerian father and a Filipina mother. Hoops ruled their household, their talk, and dreams. “Throw in the California sunshine, girls, NBA basketball, and hanging out,” laughed Maverick some more.

“We used to play one-on-one,” recounted Jerrick. “He would always beat me. But that’s because he is older. In a few years, man, I’m gonna beat him. But seriously, I love my big brother. He really helps me get through the difficult times. Like now, adjusting to life and basketball here in Manila."

Maverick is just happy that Jerrick is over here as well. "I wasn’t able to watch him play when he was in high school (Village Christian HS in Sun Valley, CA) because I was in college. Now that we’re both here in Manila, I have a chance to watch him."

The elder Ahanmisi was a surprise number three overall pick in the last PBA Draft. Coming out of the University of Minnesota, Maverick wrecked a lot of analysts and armchair generals’ mock drafts. “Story of my life,” he chuckled. Then he amends his statement, “Our lives.”

It seems that is the norm for the Ahanmisi brothers who have this habit of flying under the radar. “And proving people wrong,” clarifies the eldest of the three sibling brood (they have a sister named Mylene). "It has been like that since high school and college up to coming over here. Everywhere I went no one really knew who I was. I always flew under the radar. But it’s good to show that I belong."

Following Jerrick’s breakout match of the summer, Adamson Falcons head coach Franz Pumaren promised, “A lot of teams will regret passing up on him."

“I think that Jerrick plays a little too cool,” observed his older brother. "He’s so young that he doesn’t realize how good he can be. He’s got better range than I had at his age. When he first arrived, he was being pushed around. He wasn’t sure what he could get away with. It was a matter of getting used to the physicality. First few games, he was groping. Now I think it will take a few more months. Wait until the big college season opens. I watched him a couple of times. I am just happy to see him. I want him to play well. Am anxious for him and his team to win.”

During Adamson’s tournament opener against La Salle, the Falcons got crushed 98-88, with a late flurry cutting down what was a huge lead. “It really is a learning experience for me,” underscored Jerrick who looked flustered at being blitzed by faster and stronger guards. Maverick’s younger bro finished with five points in 15 minutes of playing time as he picked up four quick fouls curtailing his debut. "Sometimes, you think you’re ready for it but you will never know until you go through it. I’ll come back better."

“Besides, I have my big brother here for me."