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, October 21, 2014

The Controlled Fury of Brandon Vera


This appears on philstar.com

The Controlled Fury of Brandon Vera
by rick olivares

When it rains it pours.

His eight-year ride with the Ultimate Fighting Championship ended with an unceremonious statement to the press that he has been released (despite repeated promises by UFC President Dana White to fix his contract) last June.  Despite getting stiffed with questionable fight decisions and kept on the shelf with unfulfilled promises, Brandon Vera remained a loyal soldier.

Then about a month and a half ago from today, his wife Kerry informed him that she wanted a divorce.

“It’s a good thing that there are a lot of things happening in my life right now that I’m too busy to sit down and mope and feel bad for myself,” admitted Vera who sat at the lounge of the Discovery Suites with the clouds outside hinting rain. “My trainers are saying that I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Years ago, Ernesto Vera, laid down one of life’s basic truths to his son, Brandon: “Life is difficult. It is tough. It always is. So when you fall down; you have to stand up and move on.”

The son took that as gospel truth and ever since, it has been a mantra for him. Never mind if he was supposed to fight Tim Sylvia only he wasn’t put on the line for a title fight because of “contract problems”. Never mind if he and everyone on this planet felt that he beat Randy Couture but ended up losing in a judges’ decision.

Never mind if he was lying in a hospital bed during his US Air Force days, temporarily blinded and unable to use his arm during a training accident that saw him tear some ligaments.

Never mind if his wife of eight years is leaving him.

There’s an uneasy pause. The answer comes in a controlled and measured burst.

“In the public view, I am not allowed to crack because I am a superhero, brother,” he says emphatically. “What my father told me is what keeps me going. We didn’t have too much growing up and times were hard. We went through hard times as a family but we didn’t crack. Dad never ever cracked and his life was hard. There is no way that anything will break me. If you quit, the people who had hope in you will have nothing else to believe in. So I do not crack and I do not quit.”

To understand Brandon Vera, you will have to go back and know that although wrestling gave him something he could be good at, it was his stint in the Air Force taught him discipline.

And fighting in the UFC taught him patience, understanding, preparation, and respect for others and for yourself.

“My career, just like life is filled with peaks and valleys,” explained Vera who waxed philosophical. “When you understand that you know you cannot stay on top forever. When you accept that then you look at things from a different perspective and don’t let things faze you.”

When he lay in that hospital bed unsure if he will ever regain the use of his arm or and eyesight, Brandon wanted to know only one thing, “When will I fight again?”

“When the UFC offered me a contract extension that was so ridiculous I said, ‘Hell, no.’ I thought that it was like a slap on my face so they can take it and shove it wherever you want. I have other businesses and things going to keep me going. But Dana (White) called to ask what’s going on and to say that he wanted to fix it. And I am cool with that. But they kinda kept dangling the carrot but no call came.”

“With all the other organizations calling, I said I won’t sign anything until I talk to Dana and I am a man of my word. Dana didn’t call even if he was back from China. I know he is a busy man so I called him and he was like, ‘Yeah okay, kid. You and Asia makes a lot of sense. Good luck.’ It was a bittersweet ending. It was cool to hear from him but it left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Now Vera is in the ONE FC. And he is proud to be associated with Mixed Martial Arts’ fastest growing fight organization.

“Uh uh,” said Brandon with a shake of his head. “No way is the ONE FC the den for washed up UFC fighters,” said Vera with a sneer.

“One FC is a step backwards? Take your blinders off and see what you have done in the last two years and compare that to other fight orgs and how they are doing, taking care of their fighters etc. and you’ll find out that ONE FC at the top of the game. And I want to be a part of that. And I am even more proud that it’s Asian with a lot of Filipino it in (referring to Victor Cui, ONE FC’s President and CEO who is a Canadian of Filipino lineage).

Brandon Vera, is on his nth wind – you heard him say that he’s been through peaks and valleys in his 37 years on Planet Earth. “I’m not yet done,” he pronounced. “I have gas in the tank and I am going to show it.”


Come December 5 at the Mall of Asia Arena, I pity the poor fool he is facing because controlled fury is going to be in the house.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tim Cone on Grand Slams, growth and defending the crowns


This appears on the PBA website

Tim Cone on Grand Slams, growth and defending the crowns
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio

We caught up with Tim Cone just as the re-branded Purefoods Star Hotshots were preparing for their defense of the Grand Slam. The eloquent and loquacious coach had much to say about the past season and the one to come.

After spending more than two decades with Alaska where he won 13 championships, Cone departed for B-Meg/San Mig Coffee where he has once more brought his winning ways to arguably what is the country’s most popular pro ball club today. Five titles and a Grand Slam (his second) with his new team later, he is aiming to keep this streak, this title run going for as long as it can.

If you talk to Cone, you will constantly hear the word “growth.”

At first he was goal-oriented but that subsequently morphed into being “growth-oriented.” The coach explained, “When you try to achieve a goal, if you accomplish that then you have a tendency to sit back and relax and say, ‘Well, it’s done.’ So you take it easy and the hunger isn’t there anymore. Growth? I can honestly say that I think I am a better coach than I was three years ago.”

With not much left to conquer with Alaska, Cone chose to leave and try his luck with a new club. “Maybe that is why it is considered shocking because there was no reason for me to leave.”

The path is just a tad similar to Phil Jackson’s, one of Cone’s coaching idols. “With Phil and the Chicago Bulls, there was a lot of acrimony headed into that 1998 season. There were major disagreements with Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause (the owner and general manager respectively). As for my case, there was none. I wanted to see if I could bring the culture that I developed to another team and be just as successful,” explained Cone.

However, like Jackson who was just as successful in Los Angeles, Cone found out that he could replicate that winning culture with another club.

“Did I think we’d win all this? No. To win one championship can sometimes be accidental. But multiple titles? That’s like a quest; it is very difficult. It’s special. The key word here is ‘culture.’ And that includes attitudes, ethics, the way we dress and the way we think.”

“The Grand Slam achieved with Alaska in 1996 is was very different from the one won with San Mig Super Coffee,” said Cone. “The mechanics of the first grand slam were very different. Primarily because of the scheduling was very different. Remember, it was a very conventional time. We had a conference then a first break. The second conference and then a break and so on. We were coming off a championship and some very successful years that were leading to 1996. We had normal rest. We beat Purefoods then Shell in a very tough series for the second title. In the third we won 13 games in a row and went on to win 4-1 over Ginebra. There was a sense of inevitability. We were so dominant. The only thing we had to overcome was the specter of expectations. The previous season before that we lost the third conference so when we had the opportunity to do it again we knew that we weren’t going to step off that gas pedal.”

“Eighteen years later, the difference is we were preparing for the Gilas tournament. We had the draft, the practice and then we were already playing. There was no chance to sit down and immerse everyone in the system and the culture. We were the underdogs in every conference. In the first conference, Rain or Shine has won 13 games going into the finals and we were struggling and barely got through. But we beat them in six games. Then we played TNT that swept the eliminations. In the last conference, we ended up being the sixth seed even if RoS was the second seed. By that time, people were thinking we could do it again. My thinking was that throughout the whole year we were not the dominant team. We just happened to win what he had at the right time. The only similarity perhaps is that once we got in the Finals of that third conference, there was that feeling that we could do it.”

However, the “GS” word was taboo in Cone’s camp.

“No one was ever allowed to talk or mention the term “Grand Slam in all our meetings, practices, film sessions etc. I said, ‘Don’t talk about it. Let others do it for us but let us not encourage it because it adds to the pressure. We don’t even want to think about it so we can concentrate on the here and now.’ The one time we began to talk about it was after it was all done.”

With the 40th Season of the PBA a day away from tip off, Cone is pretty much done talking about the year before. “Can’t rest on our laurels,” he reasoned. “Whether the club wins or loses, we have this saying, ‘Yesterday ended last night.’”

“I used to say that my two goals were send all my kids to college in the US, and number two, to beat Baby Dalupan’s record. Two of my three children are in the US (Nikki is in law school in Washington while Kevin is at Santa Clara). I have my youngest son, Trevor, who is only nine years old and is still at home. So I’m not yet done with that. Regarding the second goal, Baby Dalupan was always my idol. I have much respect for what he achieved. And even breaking the record, I that level of respect has not dissipated one iota. Ultimately you want to be growth oriented. Yesterday ended last night. You want to keep going. Winning is not finite. You never want to say, ‘I never want to win again.’ Now the losing -- that gets tiring in a hurry.”

“Right now we’re in a good place. Every conference last year was a struggle but we ended up winning. We want to see how long we can keep this going. My idea is right now is to get Justin (Melton), Ian (Sangalang) and Alex (Mallari) to be better because when that happens, what more can they bring to the table and the system?”

Growth.

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” laughed Cone.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Five stories during NU’s championship celebration

Look who is Number One!


Five stories during NU’s championship celebration
words and pictures by rick olivares

A seat to history
Dr. Arlene Royo, who used to be National University’s representative to the UAAP Board, made her way to the court as the Bulldogs and their supporters whooped it up after annexing its second ever UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship; one that was 60 years in the making. She used to be very visible and active in school as well as all the games especially when her family, the Paguias were co-owners of the school, but since the Sy family took over operations, Dr. Royo has stayed mostly in the background.

She walked close to the sideline near the officials’ table then pulled out her wallet. She then faced her wallet towards the celebration that had engulfed the court.

Upper left: Leticia Mommy Paguia and Sonny Paguia. Below: Bam Paguia.


There were three pictures inside her wallet – Leticia “Mommy” Jhocson-Paguia, the matriarch of NU, as well as her brothers Sonny and Bam Paguia. The former served as the Bulldogs’ longest tenured coach while the latter was the school’s former board representative. All three have shifted from this mortal coil with Bam Paguia passing away due to cardiac arrest early this year.

“I was there when NU won its first ever UAAP Men’s Basketball championship (in 1954),” said Dr. Royo. “Si Mommy nandun din.”

“My brothers were there for the tough times. Sonny never saw things get better but Bam did. I know they’ll want to see this.”

Dr. Royo held her wallet up high for a few minutes before she placed it back inside her bag while wiping the tears away. “This means so much not only to us but to all who ever went to National University.”

His team posed at center court and began whooping it up. Eric Altamirano dutifully finished some interviews before joining his victorious NU Bulldogs.

Déjà vu all over again
Twenty-eight years ago, Altamirano presided over the University of the Philippines’ attack as it wrested the title from three-peat seeking University of the East.

Just as they did in 1986, Altamirano’s team won it with defense. Back then, they couldn’t solve the riddle of Jerry Codinera. In the finals, with Altamirano busting open UE’s zone, Benjie Paras found the space to work inside and UE came undone.

This year, with Alfred Aroga owning the paint and JJ Alejandro, Rev Diputado, and Gelo Alolino sniping from the outside, the Bulldogs, no longer the underdog, claimed its championship.

Altamirano joins Baby Dalupan, Joel Banal and Norman Black as the only four coaches to win a PBA and UAAP championship. He also joins Arturo Valenzona and Fritz Gaston as the only players to win a UAAP title as a player and as head coach. Valenzona won both with FEU 1961 as a player and 1991 as coach while Gaston won with Ateneo in 1976-77 and 1988 as head coach of the Blue Eagles. Dalupan won titles as head coach of the UE Warriors and the Ateneo Blue Eagles to go with his championships in the PBA with Crispa, Great Taste, and Purefoods. He won a football championship with Ateneo but not for its basketball team. Banal won a title as a player in Mapua and as head coach of the Cardinals in the NCAA and as head coach of the Blue Eagles in the UAAP. He also won with Talk ‘N’ Text.*

When asked to describe in one word this championship, the word “redemption” came to mind. After the galling Final Four defeat to UST last season where the Bulldogs owned a twice-to-beat advantage, they crumbled against the physical play of UST. Quite a few people in the Sampaloc school felt that Altamirano should be replaced. But top management stuck with him and he repaid their faith by delivering a championship.

“The feeling… is close,” groped Altamirano for words when asked if there was anything similar to 1986 and 2014.

Assistant coach Joey Guanio, who was a teammate of Coach E on that UP championship squad respectfully disagreed. “It’s the same. We ended a long drought back then and we did it again. But Eric is right, it is vindication for our system and what we have been trying to accomplish.”

“Siguro last season, we were not yet ready for the championship,” chimed in Vic Icasiano, assistant coach with NU. “Our biggest learning – we had to play, win and lose as a team. Not as individuals but as a team.”

Five on five
When Hans Sy’s family purchased control of National University five years ago, he outlined a five-year program to win the coveted men’s basketball crown. Everyone took him for his word. With the SM machine behind NU, recruiting top-notch players as well improving the school’s facilities became prime importance.

In Season 76, a lot of people felt that the Bulldogs were ready to ascend to the Mount Olympus of Philippine college basketball. But the team crashed badly although it did not burn.

“At the start of the year, I told the coaching staff that I wanted to be the number one defensive team in the UAAP,” related NU team manager Manny Sy who is a constant presence during all team functions here and abroad. “Playing soft was unacceptable. We lost eight players so we knew we had to work as a team. And the coaches got the job done.”

“I think,” noted Hans Sy. “We played better with less pressure on us. We had no real stars to begin with. You tell me… were there any hotly recruited players on this team? None. So maybe it was better this way. They relied on one another.”

“Did I think that after losing in the Final Four last year that we will not hit our target? I didn’t think about that anymore. When you stumble; you adjust. It’s sounds simple but it isn’t. We had to work really hard.”

The Last Stand
When the NU Bulldogs joined the PBA D-League early this year, they took quite a shellacking even with their graduating players still on board. But as the D-League season wore on, the team began to realize, “Hey, we can hang with these semi-pro teams. So let’s work harder.”

The Bulldogs did and picked up three wins. Towards the end, Ray Parks selflessly deferred now to Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin.

For much of their college career, Khobuntin and Kyle Neypes were glued to the bench. They didn’t see much playing time and their confidence waned badly. “That was because there were other players ahead of them in the rotation,” explained Icasiano. During our D-League stint, we told them, ‘this is your time to shine.’ Both of them responded to the challenge.

In the middle of the fourth period, Neypes was struck in the side of the face by FEU’s Reymar Jose. Never one to back down from a challenge, the graduating Bulldog tried to go after Jose but Khobuntin wrapped his arms around his irate teammate. “Hindi natin ‘to kailangan,” emphasized Khobuntin as Neypes cooled down. A few seconds later, Neypes drilled a baseline jumper as the NU bench and crowd let out a huge roar.

After a FEU timeout, Neypes trooped to the bench to high fives from his teammates. “That is how you get even,” said Manny Sy who patted him on the shoulder.

In their final college game, Khobuntin finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal and three turnovers. Neypes added eight points and four boards.

“Marami nagsasabi na dapat hindi na lang ako dapat umalis ng UST,” said Neypes in the midst of the championship celebration. “Lahat naman yan pagsubok. Sipag at tiyaga lang talaga. Ngayon, champion na kami. Masaya rin yung ending di ba?”

He then joined his teammates for more selfies in the middle of the court.


The Good Son
“During our time,” said Jeff Napa. “We went from the worst to the worst kung posible man yun. Nag-Final Four din kami pero after that bagsak ulit.”

Napa said it all. He played for Sonny Paguia and Manny Dandan. He served as an assistant to Eric Gonzales during the interim period before Eric Altamirano took over. He has since coached the Bullpups to two UAAP Juniors championships. He’ll also get a championship ring for working as an assistant in Altamirano’s staff.

“Iba nung time na yun nung talunan kami,” related Napa. “Hindi ka masasanay sa talo. Magsasawa ka. Ayaw na ayaw mo. Ngayon, maganda na yung may programa. Nakakapagbigay din kami ng pride at accomplishment sa school. Iba rin yun para sa mga estudyante. Hindi na kami basta parang tapakan ng UAAP. Lumalaban din kami.”

The former sharpshooter for NU paused and measured his words for effect.

“Alam mo hindi naman kami nakakasiguro kung kelan kami ulit mananalo. Sa lahat ng na-experience namin – yung mga season na walang panalo, yung mga laban na masakit sa dibdib mo -- hindi ka pwede mag-take for granted ang lahat ng ito. Magce-celebrate kami ngayon. Tapos bukas, trabaho na ulit.”


Valentin “Tito” Eduque also won as a player for UST and La Salle while coaching the green and white to a pair of NCAA titles in the 1970s. Ronnie Magsanoc won a championship with UP as a player and as head coach of San Beda. Ed Ocampo won back-to-back championships as a player for Ateneo in the NCAA then also skippered Toyota and Royal Tru-Orange to some PBA crowns! 







This is for Tito Sonny Paguia (my old neighbor in Cubao) and Tito Bam. Oh, menudo na!