Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A generation of Ateneo Blue Eagle swingmen: Wesley Gonzales & Von Pessumal

Wesley Gonzales and Von Pessumal talk about different generations of Ateneo basketball during the annual Gatorade Brand Ambassadors shoot.
Part 2 of a seven-part series (Part 1 was Danny Ildefonso & Gelo Alolino of NU; Part 3 is Renren Ritualo & Jeron Teng of DLSU; Part 4 Johnny Abarrientos & Mike Tolomia of FEU)

A generation of Ateneo Blue Eagle swingmen: Wesley Gonzales & Von Pessumal
by rick olivares

If you were to define the Ateneo swingman, the requisite requirements and skills would he be tall, can shoot from beyond the arc, can put the ball on the floor, and when confronted by a roadblock find the open man with a nifty pass.

They’re sleek, agile, and with a heart that beats blue that makes them all the more willing to die for that ball and give his all.

Rainier Sison and Larry Fonacier are some of the names that come to mind.

And there’s Wesley Gonzales, junior champion in 1997 and seniors champion in 2002; and Von Pessumal, juniors champion 2008-10 and seniors champion from 2011-12.

The two sat next to one another talking about the differences and similarities from their respective teams during one scene for the annual Gatorade Brand Ambassadors shoot at Blue Eagle Gym last Thursday.

Wes, 6’4”, a 10-year PBA veteran, has finally called it a day. He’ll be working with HSBC in a couple of weeks. He’s older now but that gift of gab remains. He’s still as makulit as ever. Even on a dreary Thursday afternoon with the rains seemingly never relenting, he brightened up the shoot with his anecdotes, wild gestures, and one liners that kept everyone in stitches.

When Wes was playing for the Blue Eaglets, they lost in the finals of 1996 to Emerson Oreta and the UST Tiger Cubs (with Alwyn Espiritu as their center). The following season, they  (along with BJ Manalo at guard – “our Kiefer Ravena then” as Wes described his former teammate) faced each other again in the Juniors Finals only this time, Ateneo had its revenge.

When Wes moved up to the seniors team with Enrico Villanueva, the Blue Eagles were still mired in its Second Dark Age as they struggled to stay out of the cellar. The games weren’t all televised back then (by Silverstar Productions on PTV-4). “There was no pressure on us to win,” recalled Gonzales. “In hindsight, that made it easier for us to win.”

Pessumal smiled. He was just getting started in Grade School at that time Gonzales was a college freshman. Things sure have changed in those years. College ball is even more massive now. The games are regularly televised. Recruitment is a black art. Training camps abroad are routine. “Parang byaheng Cubao lang,” quipped Wes of the Blue Eagles annual pre-season training rite.

For Pessumal and today’s Blue Eagles, the pressure is bigger. To quote the team patron, Manuel V. Pangilinan, “Any time you put on the blue and white you are expected to win.” Success begets that as well. 

However, the way the team went through Season 76 (as they saw their streak of Finals Four appearances and five consecutive championships snapped) and the long wait until the next season, Pessumal says it only made them hungrier. “I don’t think we ever get tired of winning. We had to learn from last year and have to learn from that loss to NU. Hopefully, we’ll be better for it.”

Gonzales learned what playing for the school meant when he found himself cut from the team in 2001. He never watched a live game that UAAP Season 64. “Only on television,” he revealed. “It was painful not to be a part of that team.” 

Gonzales was cut on the last Friday of the summer and he remembered feeling empty as he left the campus that day. In order to stay in shape, he joined Chot Reyes’ Pop Cola team in the PBA as a practice player. There he went up against the likes of Ato Morano, Rudy Hatfield, and others where he learned a lot. And that helped him become a better player when he returned to the Blue Eagles as he became an integral part in their title run of Season 65. "Sweet homecoming," he described that 2002 dream season.

In one of his most impressive performances while wearing the blue and white, Gonzales carried the Enrico Villanueva-less Ateneo team (post-2002 championship) during the Bantay Bata post-season tournament against the UE Red Warriors that counted James Yap, Paul Artadi, and Ronald Tubid in its roster. Wesley was a one-man gang as he danced around defenders en route to scored 33 points off three-pointers, post-ups, and drives as he led Ateneo to a huge win.

Over at the pros, Wes arguably played his best basketball when he started for the San Miguel Beermen when regulars Danny Seigle, Dondon Hontiveros, and the others were injured. When the starters returned to active duty, Gonzales was relegated back to the bench.

“I played for six teams in my PBA career and it was hard to get by as I had to learn and unlearn different systems from 10 different coaches,” he said of his journeyman status in the PBA. “But I am thankful that I got to play 10 years in the PBA. And to be a part of one championship team (the San Miguel Beermen that won the 2009 Fiesta Conference over Ginebra San Miguel) is good as well.”

For Pessumal, the transition from high school to college was a little difficult. “I had to be patient because we had a loaded line-up,” he recalled. “I knew I’d be given my chance.”

Season 76 was supposed to be just that as Pessumal was firing great guns in the pre-season until he broke a finger during a match against Lyceum of the Philippines. While he was healthy in time for the UAAP tournament, his shooting touch deserted him.

This season, Pessumal, now a senior on the team, is averaging 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 23 minutes per game. He had his breakout game against La Salle in Ateneo’s second game of the campaign where Von scored 21 points. He has quickly blossomed into one of Coach Bo Perasol’s go-to players.

When Von Pessumal was a Ateneo Grade School kid, one of his goals was to play for the seniors team. “Wes, Larry… those guys are my idols.”

Gonzales looked sheepish when he heard Pessumal say that.

“Enjoy your college career, kid,” he advised. “It’s pure basketball; truly for the love of the game. Sa PBA… well, that’s another story.”

Generations and legacies.

And some sound advice from one generation of Ateneo swingman to another.


-----------------

How talented are these guys?

Wes played point forward. Sometimes power forward. Or the two. Von played the one to the four spots in high school. Last season, sometimes, he was used at the three. This season, it's been mostly at the two. Talk about versatility.



Looking at the FEU-UE game


This appears on philstar.com

Looking at the FEU-UE game
by rick olivares

The streaking FEU Tamaraws (3-1) handed the UE Red Warriors (2-2), their second straight loss, 73-63, yesterday at the SM MOA Arena.

The Tamaraws overcame a slow start and UE’s pressure defense to take control of the game in the fourth quarter.

While there are certainly factors that decided the game, I wanted to track how the foreign players had an impact on the outcome.

After 20 minutes played, the score stood at 32-31, for the Red Warriors.

FEU’s Anthony Hargrove
Of the 28 offensive plays FEU ran in the third period, Anthony Hargrove was involved in five offensive plays. He turned the ball over twice, scored twice (2/2), and kept the offense going with an offensive board.

So I’d say he turned up positive in three plays and negative in two.

Defensively, Anthony was involved in five plays.

He blocked one shot, grabbed a defensive board, forced one turnover (on Chris Javier) and saw Bong Galanza and Moustapha Arafat score on him.

Again, he has a positive impact (alongside Mac Belo and Mike Tolomia) on three sets and negative on two others. In eight minutes of play, Hargrove had a positive impact on six plays and negative on four others.

So in eight minutes, he was involved in 10 plays. So FEU Coach Nash Racela got quality minutes out of his center (Hargrove).

In the Fourth Quarter, Hargrove played even better as he tallied four points and five rebounds and had no turnovers.

Offensively, he scored on two possessions and had two offensive rebounds.

Defensively, Anthony had three defensive boards and contested two shots – by Roi Sumang and Chris Javier – for misses.

UE’s Moustapha Arafat and Charles Mammie
Again following the halftime break, here’s how the duo did for Coach Derrick Pumaren.

Arafat in 6.8 minutes (3rd Qtr.): four points, one defensive rebound, one assist, and one turnover.
Mammie in 3.1 minutes (3rd Qtr.): four points and one turnover.
Moustapha was involved in five offensive sets: He scored on two of three attempts, missed a high pass from Roi Sumang that could have been an alley-oop slam dunk, and turned the ball over once.

Defensively, he was more active. Arafat forced Anthony Hargrove into a traveling violation and a turnover. As he had to mostly guard players on the wing (Mac Belo and Carl Cruz), he went out where he isn’t the best defender as they can beat him off the dribble.

Cruz, Hargrove, Raymar Jose, and Belo (twice) burned him for shots – two from jumpers and two inside.

Defensively, Mammie forced Carl Cruz to miss to two shots and into a turnover.

In the fourth period, in the combined 10 minutes for the duo, they had two points, three rebounds, and three turnovers.

Defensively, Arafat blocked a shot and forced a miss from Mike Tolomia although Cruz got him for a bucket.

As for Mammie, he also contested a Tolomia attempt that missed.

It would be difficult to compare Arafat and Mammie as both play different games. Arafat is a wing player while Mammie plays more inside.

Why do I think that FEU won this game?

Dating back to last season’s Philippine Collegiate Champions League, I thought that the Tamaraws played better team ball. Hargrove came out of the funk that he was in when RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo were around. Although he has on occasion been absent (see FEU’s opening day win over La Salle), his contributions will also spell the difference if Racela will want his team to go deep in the tournament.

Hargrove doesn’t need too many plays. If he can scavenge for balls and putbacks then that is what will help FEU notch some wins. But he needs to be on the floor.

And after that negative first period where it was all Mike Tolomia, FEU’s next three quarters saw three players lead them – Belo, Tolomia, and Hargrove.

Consistency.

UE on the other hand, like Ateneo, has masked their deficiencies with wins over Adamson and UP. But when they ran into the contenders – La Salle and FEU – they encountered problems.

I think that the integration of Arafat and Mammie still hasn’t worked. They are still ironing out the kinks. Against, UE is a work in progress.

But to say that Arafat and Mammie have underperformed as the reason for their two losses is also incorrect in some ways.

Roi Sumang isn’t his old scoring self. He had one good game and that was against UP. He scored in double figures against La Salle but his field goal percentage wasn’t so good.

And what they need too is consistency from everyone – Gino Jumao-as, Chris Javier, Dan Alberto, Paul Varilla, and the rest of the bench.

In that first quarter against FEU, Galanza, Javier, and Alberto led them. In the second period, it was Paul Varilla. In the third period, UE had consistent scoring as Varilla, Arafat, Mammie, and Galanza all chipped in vital points and the score was close, 52-49. However, in the fourth, it was just Roi Sumang with seven points. And the reigning pound-for-pound hoops player in the UAAP cannot do it alone.


In the UAAP, sometimes, two losses can be considered as quota already in the “L” department. It would be interesting to see how they adjust to all this.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Great Scott! Byron’s got his work cut out for him with the LA Lakers!


This appears on the NBA Philippines site.

Great Scott! Byron’s got his work cut out for him.
by rick olivares pic by kirby lee/usa today

In a previous column, I wondered about NBA players playing for their hometown teams. We saw LeBron James go back to his Cleveland Cavaliers while Carmelo Anthony opted to stay in New York.

Kevin Durant then wondered about going home to Washington D.C. where he watched the Bullets/Wizards as a kid. Who knows what will happen in two years’ time when his contract with Oklahoma City expires?

However it isn’t only the players who are going “home”.

There’s Byron Scott who not only grew up in Los Angeles to play for the hometown Lakers where he won some championships but he’s now getting the chance to coach them as well.

In one of the few right moves made by Lakers management, they brought back a hero on their Showtime teams but someone who has also made a name for himself as a head coach.

The last link to those Showtime teams actually got to play with Kobe Bryant in his rookie year and now they get a chance to change the course of their team’s sagging fortunes. 

So do I like the move?

Yes. On two levels.

For starters, Scott cut his coaching eyeteeth working with bad teams. Once he got them to buy into the defensive schemes, they got better.

Two, Scott got his teams out of the doldrums when he acquired a darn good point guard.

Cases in point for both points.

Team
Season
Record
Finish
Point Guard
New Jersey
2000-01
26-56
6th Atlantic
Stephon Marbury

2001-02
52-30
East Champions
Jason Kidd
This Nets team that John Calipari had put together was good but not that good as they lacked depth. After Calipari, Don Casey took over and the team’s decline continued. Scott inherited a team that was a mess.

But in his first year with Jason Kidd, Scott re-tooled the team getting players he wanted to play his brand of defense. From 23rd in 2000-01, they jumped all the way to #1 in team defense.

Team
Season
Record
Finish
Point Guard
New Orleans
2004-05
18-64
5th Southwest
Dan Dickau

2005-06
38-54
4th Southwest
Chris Paul
I was surprised that this team that finished with an even 41-41 record under Tim Floyd and was 12th best in the NBA in defense fell to 22nd in the rankings.

But in 2005-06, Scott was able to get the team to play better defense and they moved up to 19th.

Team
Season
Record
Finish
Point Guard
Cleveland
2010-11
19-63
5th Central
Ramon Sessions
Cleveland
2011-12
21-45 (strike shortened season)
5th Central
Kyrie Irving
After losing LeBron James, the team that ranked 7th in the NBA defensively tumbled all the way to 29th!  The improved slightly to 26th in Scott’s second year; hence, the better record.

However, Scott couldn’t get his teams to progress any further after their initial gains prompting his removal from duty. In fact, it is even telling that his teams played better in that first season after his departure.

It should be noted that in the press conference that announced his hiring by the Lakers, Scott decried any illusions of the fastbreaking style that was played when he wore the purple and gold. That team had Magic Johnson as its point guard.

This current Lakers team has a broken down Steve Nash who is so far removed from his MVP days.

Correction. It is a broken down team with Kobe Bryant enduring two injury-laden seasons after being relatively healthy all throughout his past 18 seasons.

Health is paramount for this team in transition. Now that they look healthy, it’s time to buckle down to work. And Scott has emphasized defense: “First of all, defense, we got to do that on a night-to-night basis.”

The 25th coach in LA Lakers history also said that he’d like to sometimes play Kobe Bryant at the one-spot. The problem is that isn’t Bryant’s natural position. Besides, if Nash isn’t up to it, Scott will have the newly acquired Jeremy Lin.

His cache of credit and goodwill with Bryant will be a major factor is working that locker room.

Scott has made a name for himself as a good transition coach albeit one who can’t get them to the next level (some will digress as they point to Jason Kidd more as the reason why the Nets made the finals more than Scott’s coaching chops).


Maybe a homecoming will change not only the Lakers’ fortunes but his as well.