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, March 20, 2019

Faith, Dreams and that One Big Fight: Faith Nisperos on her move to Ateneo

Faith, Dreams and that One Big Fight: Faith Nisperos on her move to Ateneo
by rick olivares

If you want to fully understand Faith Nisperos, you will have to look farther than her volleyball credentials.

You will have to start with her lovely name that is more than a name. It is most apt as it defines who she is. At the very core of her being is her unwavering faith in her religious convictions. 

“’Faith’ is unquestioning belief and full trust in the Lord,” explained Nisperos. “Ateneo de Davao’s school motto is ‘Fortes in Fide’ or strong in faith. I have always tried to live by that code. And as I go through my journey in life, I always trust the Lord’s plan for me. His will be done.”

When the two-time girls’ division MVP and two-time Finals MVP awardee made her decision to go to Ateneo de Manila University for college, it set the local volleyball scene and social media abuzz. To those who know her well, the decision didn’t come as a surprise. For all the pitches made by other schools, it really boiled down to two of them – staying with National University or going back to Ateneo.

Nisperos went to Ateneo de Davao University for her elementary education but transferred to Nazareth School of National University seventh grade all the way to senior high school. 

Even then, it wasn’t an easy decision to move. 

“It was also difficult for me and my parents (about moving from AdDU to NU),” she admitted of that move. “It took a lot to convince my parents but ultimately, I decided that I wanted to study at NU.”

However, she did leave the door open to transfer for college. 

“One condition for her to moving to Manila was to give her the freedom to choose where she wanted to college,” shared someone who is familiar with the details of her decision.

And it was agonizing decision for Nisperos. One she mulled over and over. She took us through the process that helped her arrive at that decision.

“January 19, 2019 was the day I took the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET),” related Nisperos. “The campus was filled with vehicles going to the examination venue and I knew traffic was bad. Instead of taking a tricycle, I decided to walk from the (Katipunan) LRT station to the (Ateneo) High School complex. I passed by the college buildings and imagined myself in them. As I passed the Church of the Gesu, I reflected if this is the school where I will see myself in the next years. After taking the ACET, I knew that Ateneo was the school for me.”

In fact, the cover photo of her Facebook page is of the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo campus.

Faith even remembers when that photo was taken. “It was May of 2013; the same date when I had my picture taken with Ate Alyssa (Valdez),” she revealed. “I was thinking that someday, I will be a student-athlete in this school.”

Yet still the decision did not come easy. 

“It took me four months to finally decide. I asked for guidance from my parents and even asked for signs from the Lord through prayer. I was reminded every time to find God in all things. And that just did it for me.”

Season 81 did not end the way Nisperos and her Lady Bulldogs teammates envisioned. For the first time in five years, NU did not come away with the winners’ medal. “It was heartbreaking,” she said of the finals loss to De La Salle Zobel. I know that my former teammates will continue what we started and will bring back the crown to NU. But for me, this is the start of a new journey.”

“Going to Ateneo is a dream come true.”

Metta World Peace to join Baldwin, Beveridge, Racela in Go for Gold NBTC Coaches Convention

Metta World Peace to join Baldwin, Beveridge, Racela in Go for Gold NBTC Coaches Convention
by rick olivares

What do Tab Baldwin, Rob Beveridge, Nash Racela, and Metta World Peace have in common?

They are all winners and who know a thing or two and more about developing teams into winners.

Among Baldwin’s accomplishments outside numerous club titles is leading New Zealand to the 2001 Fiba Oceania championship and the semi-finals of the 2002 Fiba World Championship; steering Lebanon to the 2010 Fiba Stankovic Cup; and guiding the Philippines to the 2015 Fiba Asia silver medal. He has also mentored the Ateneo Blue Eagles to back-to-back UAAP Men’s Basketball championships.

Beveridge coached Australia’s Under-20 squad to the Fiba U20 World Championship in 2003.

Racela piloted Far Eastern University to the UAAP crown in 2015 and coached the RP team to the Seaba Cup gold medal in 2016.

Metta World Peace is a former NBA All-Star (2004) with the Indiana Pacers and NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers (2010). Aside from being named the 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, he also made numerous All-Defensive fives. His son, JeRon, is currently playing with FilAm Sports USA in the ongoing Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals.

The three accomplished coaches, along with veteran Fiba doctor George Canlas, Singapore sports official Vincent Ong, and motivational speaker Ardy Abello will discuss and breakdown various aspects of basketball related to coaching the next generation of youth cagers in the Go for Gold Coaches Convention presented by SM from March 22-24 at the MOA Arena.

National Basketball Training Center director Eric Altamirano said that all the talks pertain to youth development. “As you can see, our theme for this edition of the Coaches Convention is, ‘coaching Excellence: Empowering the next generation athletes.’ And while many principles remain the same over the year, the techniques as well as understanding people in our ever-changing world have made sports and coaching even more challenging. We chose these coaches not only because of their accomplishments, but also because they are known for molding and developing young players into terrific athletes.”

Breaking down the topics, Altamirano said that Ardy Abello will discuss the importance of leadership in sports and coaching, Dr. Canlas will talk about Hydration and Injury prevention, and Vincent Ong will tackle the subject, “What makes a great youth coach.”

For the big game coaches, Racela will teach “offensive concepts for high school basketball.” Joy Reyes will discuss the crucial and all-important topic of identifying young talent. Veteran and renowned strength and conditioning coach Dan Rose will reveal secrets to ultimate training without going to the weight room. 

Metta World Peace will teach defense and basketball opportunities globally while Baldwin will share the secrets of finding peace in the midst of pressure.

“We believe that this current batch of coaches and instructors will provide a unique insight into developing young players and molding them into upright citizens of the world as well as top student-athletes.”

Registration for the Coaches Convention starts at 12 noon on March 22 and is open to all coaches including those from non-NBTC schools.

The Go for Gold NBTC Coaches Convention is also sponsored by Gatorade.

MPBL Playoffs: Preview: Game 2 Bataan vs Caloocan

Preview: Game 2 Bataan vs Caloocan
by rick olivares

March 20, 2019 San Andres Gym

The Bataan Risers are looking to close out the first round of the playoffs by sweeping the Caloocan Supremos. Bataan crushed Caloocan, 91-71, in Game One.

What must the Bataan Risers do to advance to the second round?

Rebound and run.
Bataan certainly has the studs rule the boards in Alfred Batino, Bernie Bregondo, Richard Escoto, Barkley Eboña, Arvie Bringas, Vince Tolentino, and Gab Dagangon. They have better finishers on the break than Caloocan that is really built for a half-court game. The more uptempo the game, the better it suits Bataan.

If they can keep Mark Sarangay and Rene Pacquiao off the boards that will help because the onus is now on Caloocan’s thin bench to find their points. Furthermore, not being able to contribute frustrates Sarangay and when he loses his cool his game goes south.

Stop the Supremos’ sparse frontline of Sarangay and Pacquiao.
The duo isn’t really one to inspire fear, but they do complement their small corps of point producers. If the lane is shut to their inside game, they go outside where they do have considerable range. However, that poses an even bigger problem because there will be no one to rebound the ball. 

Continue to have a lot of contributors up and down their bench.
It is ironic that for all of Bataan’s superb record and play, they do not have that superstar in the vein of a Gab Banal who has proven himself as a player since his days at Xavier School. This is a total team that maximizes the bench. We refer to the fact that all season long, not one Risers led the statistical parade. No matter which five is on the floor for head coach Jojo Lastimosa, the play does not slacken. 

Unleash Gab Dagangon.
He has been the spark in what – the last 12 games for Bataan? What makes him lethal is his ability get to the rack with that quick first step. He has a pull up jumper, a three-point shot, and can even weave in and out of traffic. He can pass when needed too. Furthermore, he gets it done on defense. 

Bataan has a lot of creative players, and Dagangon – depending on his role – is right up there with the best of them.

What must the Caloocan Supremos do to extend the series?
Play much better team ball. 
The operative words are “much better” because anything less in unacceptable. They already have a thin rotation and it should be incumbent upon the guards and forwards to help create for each other. 

Get Sarangay and Pacquiao involved.
These to have to be very active inside the lane and contributing on both ends of the court. As it is, Bataan has dictated the pace in their two previous matches. Whatever they have done has not worked. Now is the time to try something else.

Hit their outside shots.
It is incumbent upon any team to bust up that zone. It will help their inside operators.

Let’s take Paul Sanga for example. The problem with his game is that when he isn’t making those corner shots, he pretty much doesn’t do anything. I recall how this pro coach would pull out this big-time scorer in the NCAA and the PBA because when his shot wasn’t dropping, he was useless on both ends of the court. 

In a nutshell, Caloocan must have a lot of players contributing if they want to upend Bataan. The problem is, Bataan plays even better on the road.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Meet Fil-American sensation Kai Ballungay

Meet Fil-American sensation Kai Ballungay
by rick olivares

Filipino-American basketball sensation Jalen Green was the pre-game buzz owing to his aerial exploits in last year’s Chooks-to-Go NBTC National Finals presented by SM. And no doubt, this high-flying, slam dunking basketball prodigy who lead the United States of America to the Fiba Under-17 World Championship in Argentina last year lives up to the hype.

But tugging on superman’s cape and also catching the eye of basketball coaches and observers was his FilAm Sports USA teammate Kainoa “Kai” Ballungay.

The tall and aerodynamic 6’7” Ballungay tallied 19 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block versus 3 turnovers in Team USA’s 78-45 romp over AusPinoy Australia in the classification matches of the 2019 Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena, Monday, March 18.

“I’m from Hawaii,” introduced Kai of himself. “My dad, Miles Ballungay, is a Filipino who hails from Hawaii but I am also half-white. My grandmother is from Ilocos Norte.”

Ballungay turned 17 last November and just graduated from for Kimball High School Jaguars (the school is located in Tracy, California) where he averaged 24.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game from the three-spot.

The Jaguars were knocked out by Vanden High School Vikings, 80-75, in the first round of the Sacramento-Joaquin Section Division III Championships last February 13. Ballungay scored 22 points for Kimball (also the same number his teammate, John Harris).

“Right now, I have committed to California State University Stanislaus for college,” said Ballungay of his young basketball career. The CSU Stanislaus Warriors are coming off a 12-14 season and it is hoped that Ballungay will give the team a lift.

Coming over to Manila for the first time, Kai was happy to be in touch with his roots. “It’s a great feeling coming over here,” said the young basketeer. “This (MOA Arena) is the biggest venue I’ve played in and I hear that by the second day of competition, this place gets packed and is really noisy. That would be great. I will see what I can do for Team USA and the fans.”

Playing alongside Jalen Green, Ballungay chuckled, “It would have been nice to have him too as a teammate in Kimball.”

“But he’s a great young talent and it’s just one game, but it has been fun to play alongside him.”

Regarding any chances of playing in the Philippines, Ballungay said, “I can’t tell what happens in the future. We’ll see.”

JeRon Artest: On having a NBA great for a father; playing in the Philippines

JeRon Artest: On having a NBA great for a father; playing in the Philippines
by rick olivares

FilAm Sports USA is always the team that basketball fans, local coaches, and players look out for in the Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals.

Always teeming with talent – two years ago Kamaka Hepa wowed everyone with his big man skiils and last year, the high-flying Jalen Green and crafty point guard Kihei Clark set local social media on fire with their hard-court exploits – they are almost single-handedly the best draw.

This year, FilAmSports USA, with Green making his second appearance and newcomer Kai Ballungay coming on strong with his solid play on the ground and in the air, 18-year old JeRon Artest is making a case to be seen and heard.

JeRon is the son of NBA great, Ron Artest.

During FilAm Sports USA’s 78-45 win over AusPinoy Australia in Day One of the National Finals, Artest, running the point guard position, quietly but solidly backed up Green and Ballungay’s tremendous output with four points, five rebounds, and one assist in 25 minutes of play.

“It is also a feeling out period for me and my teammates,” said the 6’3” Artest who was accompanied by his mother, Jennifer Palma, and her mother and aunts who hail from New York City. Although Jennifer was born in the United States, her mother, Connie, hails from Mindoro.

Artest transferred from Hillcrest Prep to neighboring Bella Vista Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona where they won the championship with JeRon was named Defensive Player of the Year.

“When he was seven years old, he said that he wanted to play basketball. So, we looked for a team for him to play,” related Jennifer. “I entered JeRon but used my last name and not his father’s because I didn’t want him attracting extra attention. And I wanted to see if he would get in without any favors (he did).”

“It is tough to follow his dad because the pressure is double,” added the mother. “I can imagine that it is tough trying to live up to his dad’s accomplishments so I don’t add to the pressure.”

“The cool thing is my dad only offers advice and pointers when he needs to,” chimed in JeRon. “He allows me to play my game and really supports what I do. He was fun to watch too."

The Artests first came over to Manila in 2014 for a vacation and young JeRon worked out with the De La Salle team. “But playing in the US was our goal more so since JeRon was doing very well. Even the people we spoke to in La Salle were telling us, ‘Be sure your son goes to the US NCAAs.’”

Right now, with high school done, the young Artest is evaluating his options. Regarding his first game NBTC experience, “It’s tons of fun to play on a pro court and play against tough competition. I think as a team, we’re coming on pretty strong and building our chemistry.”

“My family is looking at all our options for my future,” said JeRon. “I am not closing any door to any opportunity. My dad says, ‘an opportunity is an opportunity’ and I believe that. We’ll finish the (NBTC) tournament then see what is best for us. But I am excited to be here. I hope it will be a rewarding trip for my team and myself. And the basketball fans too.”

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tough Fiba Draw

Tough Fiba Draw
by rick olivares

The Fiba World Cup draw saw a somewhat equitable distribution of the powerhouse nations amongst the good teams and rising ones. 

After the draw, Argentinean coach Sergio Hernandez summed up everything about the draw and the talent, “There are no easy opponents and predictions serve for very little. You have to perform on the court. It’s like that. There are no secrets.” 

I agree. In my opinion, the closest one to a “Group of Death” is Group H with Canada, Senegal, Lithuania, and Australia that will play its matches in the city of Dongguan. 

One thing is for sure, the Philippines isn’t going to ambush other countries – although we can hope – such as the manner in which we did in 2014 in Spain.

The top two teams of each group will advance to the second round. Let’s see – off hand – if we can pick out who will progress to the next stage.

Group A: China and Poland
Group B: Argentina and Korea
Group C: Spain and Puerto Rico
Group D: Serbia and…
Group E: USA and Turkey
Group F: New Zealand and Greece
Group G: France and Germany
Group H: Australia and Canada

If you noticed, I didn’t pick a second team after Serbia to advance. It is too presumptuous for me to say, “Philippines” because I am Filipino. 

However, I figure it is either Italy or the Philippines. Italy is such an unknown commodity. When we say that, we usually look for NBA or Euroleague players. As it is, no Italian on this squad – although this could change – is playing in this 2018-19 Euroleague as well. 

All the players play at home. They have no one who matches up with either Andray Blatche, Japeth Aguilar, or June Mar Fajardo height-wise or in size. Of course, that doesn’t mean they cannot be taken lightly. 

It is the same thing with Angola. They have the height and athleticism, but I feel they more often than not give more importance to these rather than court vision or game intelligence if you will.

That is what in my opinion has really helped Philippine basketball take off. Since generally, we aren’t tall and able to take to the skies and dunk, we worked on other aspects of the game such as dribbling, shooting, and finding the open man. Pretty much like the Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese. 

Of course, the success of these Angolan teams in recent memory will really help their grassroots movement. 

No doubt, they will be a handful.

Serbia might be the fourth ranked team in the world, but make no mistake, they have a young team that was inconsistent during the qualifying phase. 

If you ask me, it is a most unpredictable group. Even for the Philippines. And that is good, don’t you think?

As the man said, there will be no easy games. Everything will be earned.

If we do progress, now that would be something to crow about.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Crossover Canada to parade more Fil-foreign prospects to collegiate hoops via NBTC

Crossover Canada to parade more Fil-foreign prospects to collegiate hoops via NBTC
by rick olivares

When Durham Crossover Canada makes their fourth appearance in the Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals presented by SM (March 18-24 at the MOA Arena in Pasay City), they will parade four Filipino-Canadians who local colleges should take a look at.

According to Crossover’s coach Mike Cruz, Tyler Garcia, Jason Diaz, Denzel Faraon, and Josh Samonte could find homes among Manila schools competing in the UAAP and NCAA.

Garcia was recently named Most Valuable Player for the 2019 National Junior Circuit (born 2003) in Canada. Garcia is a 5’10” combo guard.

Diaz stands 6’2” and is also a tournament MVP in Canada and has long range marksmanship. He has reportedly sparked interest from San Beda University and the College of St. Benilde.

Faraon is a 6’0” guard and is the starting point guard for Thornlea Prep School in Canada. He too is a multi-MVP.

The 6’2” Samonte is an athletic forward. 

Crossover Canada has seen seven of its previous standouts recruited by local squads. The most known are James Canlas who played for the Red Lions last NCAA season and was a part of its current three-peat squad. Also other Fil-Canadians in San Beda’s pool are Alvin Florido and Andre Cruz.

And there is Matthew Daves who was a part of Ateneo’s UAAP champion squad and earned a gold medal in the recent UAAP 3x3 tournament.

Forward Evyn Santiago plays for UP while Robbie Ocampo is with CSB.

Ben Kwawukumey is now with UST.

“It speaks of the quality of players that we have coming from Canada,” said Cruz of Crossover’s success. “Hopefully, this year we can break past the Round of 16. We don’t have the height, but we are used to playing tall guys in Canada and some of our players have experience playing here so we are also banking on our chemistry.”

Durham Crossover Canada will play Far Eastern University this Monday, March 18, in a classification match to determine the final seeding of all the 32 squads taking part in the national finals.

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ Game 1 demolition of Caloocan

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ Game 1 demolition of Caloocan
by rick olivares

Even at 91-71, Game One of the quarterfinals best-of-three series between the Bataan Risers and the Caloocan Supremos wasn’t close. The game was practically over in the first period, 28-9, in favor of Bataan.

The closest Caloocan could get within touching distance was a shoving match between the Supremos’ Mark Sarangay and Bataan’s Yvan Ludovice (after a foul by his teammate Gab Dagangon on the former). 

How did this demolition job happen?
If you explain the game of basketball, in its most simplistic terms it is to score and stop the opponent.

And the Risers accomplished that. They were exceptional on offense and pretty good on defense (more on this later).

Take a look at the first period.

Bataan registered six assists on offense and two blocks and one steal on defense.
The Supremos only had one assist, one steal, and one block.

Eight of the Risers’ baskets came inside the lane while they hit six shots from beyond 15-feet.

The Supremos were 3-8 inside the lane. They missed all eight of their medium range shots and were 0-5 from beyond the three point arc. 

That is an indication of one, the difficulty Caloocan had to get the ball inside to Rene Pacquiao and Mark Sarangay, and this team’s propensity to shoot from the outside instead of mixing it up.

The Risers made life difficult for Pacquiao and Sarangay. Then Caloocan couldn’t hit the side of a building even if their lives depended on it.

Their outside gunners were firing blanks.
Paul Sanga was 2-9 from the field.
Jopher Custodio was 2-8.
Damian Lasco was 4-9.
Cedrick Labing-isa was 2-8.
And Almond Vosotros shot 5-17.

With a collective field goal shooting pegged at 33%, it is still possible to win. However, Bataan shot 49%. A good number of the baskets made were from within 15-feet or closer.

Alfred Batino was 5-6.
Gab Dagangon 7-10.
Byron Villarias shot 7-11.
Pamboy Raymundo was 5-9.
Richard Escoto, 4-7.

We’ve seen the field goal percentage but the total team game of Bataan was on display. They chalked up 28 assists to Caloocan’s 14.

And lastly, while this was a game where the offense took center stage while Bataan’s defense was quietly effective.

Key stats here are the production of Pacquiao and Sarangay.
Sarangay in 25-plus minutes had four points, four rebounds, one steal, and one block.
Pacquiao in under 20 minutes of play finished with four points and nine rebounds. 

With Caloocan’s two key inside operators held in check, Jopher Custodio had to help out and he did provide quality minutes for Caloocan – with five points, nine rebounds, one steal, and one block.

When the inside game isn’t going to well, that places more pressure on the regular gunners in Almond Vosotros and Ced Labing-isa. Paul Sanga has been streaky at best and never consistent.

So on to Game Two. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

MPBL Q-finals: Looking at the Bataan Risers-Caloocan Supremos match-up Game 1

MPBL Q-finals: Looking at the Bataan Risers-Caloocan Supremos match-up Game 1
by rick olivares
Best-of-Three series
Elimination round record:
Bataan 23-2
Caloocan 11-14

The top seed (Bataan) versus the eighth seed (Caloocan).

When Bataan played Caloocan last November 27, 2018, at the Batangas City Coliseum, the Risers came out on top, 94-81.

Caloocan was in the midst of a four-match slide with the Bataan game the third of the losses. The Supremos went 7-2 after that with a three-match win skein heading into the playoffs of the MPBL Datu Cup.

However, they have to be concerned. 

In the North Division of the MPBL, they lost all their matches against the top seven teams. Every one of them. 

In their last five wins, they won by an average of 5.0 points. All those games went down to the wire. 

Looking at the Supremos, they surprisingly play a short rotation.

Rene Pacquiao and Mark Sarangay play the four and five spots at the same time or alternate. The two are reliable point producers for Caloocan, but the bulk of their scoring comes from their backcourt of Almond Vosotros and Cedric Labing-isa. Their two former FEU Tamaraws – Monbert Arong and Paul Sanga – also get playing time. Damian Lasco, Danny Marilao, and JR Ongteco round out the regular rotation.

Actually, Arong is the only one who can create off the dribble and yet, he isn’t used as much in the manner that made him a star with the University of Visayas and FEU.

They Supremos love one thing – to shoot from the outside. Three players shoot better than 30% from beyond the arc – Vosotros, Sanga, and Mar Villahermosa. Of their frontcourt players, only one would rather bulldoze his way inside and that is Pacquiao (a cousin of the more famous Manny who was drafted by KIA in the PBA). 

So this isn’t a very good rebounding team.

What must Caloocan do to stay in the game against Bataan?
-       Their main men must stay out of trouble.
-       Take it to the basket because their penchant for bombing for the outside hasn’t worked against the top teams. 
-       If their bench can step up and provide quality minutes, they have a chance.
-       Battle the Risers tooth and nail for supremacy inside the lane.

When they first clashed, the Risers were not with Richard Escoto, Yvan Ludovice, Arvie Bringas, and Barkley Eboña. So Bataan has gotten better scoring wise, defensive-wise, and in rebounding.

And while I am not crazy about a lot of one-on-one plays, Bataan has more creative players in Ludovice, Raymundo, Vince Tolentino, Byron Villarias, Escoto, and Gab Dagangon. If the Risers opt to break down the Supremos one-on-one they can get to the hoop or find the open man when the help arrives. 

Having said that, here are what we think are Bataan’s keys to victory:
-       Limit Vosotros’ output. He is the only one with any sort of consistency on that team.
-       Keep Sarangay and Pacquiao off the boards and win those rebounds. 
-       Attack the Supremos inside because they already play a short rotation. When you have their bench on the court, they will break down because of the lack of confidence and playing time.
-       Run. Caloocan isn’t a team that runs. They are a slow and plodding squad.
-       Bataan has to make their shots from the outside to open up the lane for their bigs.
-       Overwhelm Caloocan with the Risers’ depth and talent.
-       Get the crowd at the Bataan Peoples’ center involved. That will rattle any opponent’s cage.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ win over Pasig

It is all smiles for Achie Iñigo and the Bataan Risers after beating the Pasig Pirates to finish with the MPBL's best elimination round record (23-2) and homecourt advantage throughout the play-offs.

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ win over Pasig
by rick olivares

It is a rousing end to a fantastic, historic, and most incredible regular season for the Bataan Risers.

In their final game of the elimination round, they plastered the Pasig Pirates, 105-87, to finish with a 23-2 record. Best in the league and with a nine-match win streak. They barge into the play-offs on a winning note. And a full crew.

Robbie Celiz returned to the team giving head coach Jojo Lastimosa a near full crew. The only ones missing are Barkley Eboña who will be activated for the play-offs and Ervin Grospe who is still on the mend after a season-ending knee injury in only the first game of the season.

Now, after a seemingly interminable elimination round, the Risers have taken the next step to scaling the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League summit.

And how.

Five straight triples to open the game? 

Talk about shooting woes. On the road at the Navotas Sports Complex, Pamboy Raymundo, Byron Villarias, and Gab Dagangon finding the range. Then Robbie Celiz scoring two straight buckets. Bernie Bregondo ending the first period with a huge block on Rodan Reducto. What a statement.

And how about those free throws? 11-15. Not bad. And the overall field goal percentage was at 50%. Talk about humming.

The proud Pirates with their cadre of PBA veterans battled back in a much closer second half. The first half cushion helped ward off the Pirates. The second half was more grind it out basketball. And the Risers can play both ways – run and gun and half-court/pound-it-inside. 

We will say this again… when Bataan lost Jeepy Faundo and Jayjay Alejandro to the PBA, there was concern of who will be brought in to replace their output. We said back then that Gab’s presence would alleviate that. We have seen the explosions he detonated while playing for the Perpetual Help Altas alongside Scottie Thompson and Bright Akhuetie. 

Gab thrives in a team where the spotlight doesn’t have to be on him. He does all the little things too – hustles on defense, rebounds, passes. 

To illustrate that, he scored a game high 26 points on 83% shooting, grabbed three boards, and pilfered the ball once. 

He has stepped into the starting five and given the Risers a massive lift. Even without Gary David for the game, Bataan was a handful. Four of the five starters scored in double digits. Villarias had 13, Raymundo scored 12, and Alfred Batino chipped in 10. Celiz came off the bench to chip in 13. 

Bataan shooting well and rebounding well has been a hallmark of many of their wins especially in these dog days of the season. However, one stat that any coach would be proud of is the assist total. Sure, the assist total can be misleading because the extra passes could be there but not the shooting.

In this game, Pasig passed for 22 assists. A huge number already. Bataan? Thirty-five Yes, 35 assists.

Achie Iñigo, oft left to grapple for playing time with the late season addition of Yvan Ludovice, had a game high six assists. Raymundo and Richard Escoto added five apiece while Vince Tolentino and Ludovice chalked up four each. 

Now, this is a team firing on all cylinders.