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, July 31, 2007

From Da Kid to Da Man

The luck of the Irish is back in Boston!

The three-leaf clover on the Boston Celtics' leprechaun may finally bring good luck to this downtrodden and once proud franchise.

Three leafs = three All-Stars in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Doc Rivers must be doing the jig.

Garnett's addition kills the youth movement perpetuated by Danny Ainge who many had to wonder if all that time in Phoenix diluted his green blood as he killed that great team he had with Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce.

For that matter, you think Kevin McHale decided to help out his former club and teammate in AInge? Inquiring minds want to know. He ran out KG in Minneapolis. You think Minnesotans will run out McHale? Once a Celtic. Always a Celtic.

But it does add excitement in Beantown and vaults them from the depths of mediocrity to conference contender status.

When was the last time a player of KG's caliber created seismic reactions upon his transfer to the other conference? I can only think of Shaquille O'Neal's desertion of the Orlando Magic in 1997 and Charles Barkley's move from Philadelphia to Phoenix in 1993.

The shoe is on the other foot now. Garnett's move to the East challenges the theory that many players prefer the warmer confines of the West. While many may infer that a good team on the West can win the Eastern title, that is not necessarily so.

Now there are the Bulls, the Cavs, the Heat, and the Pistons who are all legit title contenders (but they all need some more tinkering with their line-ups if they want to continue their ascent). Can these teams beat the San Antonio Sterns, er Spurs, the Phoenix Suns, or the Dallas Mavericks? Absolutely. The balance of power is shifting.

And the Celtics are in the midst of it. As for Da Kid... he is now ready to be the Man.


I wrote this for my Bleachers' Brew column in last Monday's issue of the Business Mirror. I wanted to write about the UAAP but told myself to hold on to it for a week more since I'm trying to gather a few things. This however isn't filler material. I wrote a part of it about two months ago and it was based on an essay I did in my first year in college. Baseball, like football, will always be sentimental favorites. With MLB baseball action heating up (more so with Bobby Bonds a dinger away from tying Hank Aaron), the time was right.

o O o

For school kids, there’s probably no better time than summer. And for me, not having my parents’ around for two months as they were on vacation in Europe was even cooler.

It’s not like I held slumber parties at home. Instead, I was a poster child for couch potatoes as I watched the telly ‘til my eyes closed shut. I hung out with my friends as malling, our current national pastime was totally non-existent back then. We also played football and baseball, watched R-rated movies, and yapped about that Japanimation stuff that took the country by storm. Hey, this was before my classmates and I discovered the female of the species.

My “lawlessness” was put to an end when my Lolo Ramon came over from Tarlac to stay with us kids while the folks were gone. If Martial Law was about to be declared then I had another thought coming. What followed was one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable of summers a young boy could ever have.

My classmates and I used to go all the way to a park in Project 6 to play baseball with these guys from San Beda. One day we lost by the score of 12-8 with the game called on account of darkness. I felt bad because I gave the game away as the Bedans teed off on my pitching. Back then, the only thing I knew about pitching was to get it across the plate and hope they didn’t smack the ball into some car window. I knew nothing about off-speed pitches, getting batters to chase high fastballs, or curves that veered out of the way at the last moment.

The day after that loss, I taped a target on an old mattress that I propped against the wall. I pulled my cap down close to my nose then worked my fingers across the seams of the baseball that was snuck in my Rawlings glove. And this was years before I saw Andy Pettite do that in the Major Leagues.

My grandfather watched my unusual practice routine for a few minutes before he pointed out the flaws in my delivery. He corrected my form and my leg kick. I didn’t have a fastball that clocked into the 90’s, but he taught me to get by on guile. I did well enough until I switched to first base later in college.

I stayed up late to catch those wrestling programs that my folks forbade me to watch. Lolo Ramon knew pro wrestling was fake but every bit entertaining. Yet he didn't just acquiesce to what I wanted. I had to earn it whether by cleaning the car, helping wash the plates, or making sure my room was in order. One time, as a reward for my attending to my chores, he took me to watch a PBA game and we sat at courtside never mind if I was the only Toyota fan in the family.

It was golden. It was magical. And it developed in me a life-long love for sports. But at the core of it all was baseball. I inherited my grandfather’s Time and Life magazines that featured the Apollo 11 moon landings, the JFK and RFK assassinations, and… the one with Mickey Mantle on the cover.

Through those pages and my well-thumbed almanac, baseball came alive. I read of the Great Home Run Chase of 1961 and the unfortunate asterisking of Roger Maris’ feat. Incensed at the injustice, I proceeded to write a letter to Life where I batted for Maris let alone that it was like 16 years late. My grandfather laughed and let me finish my diatribe against this “evil.” We went to the post office together and mailed my first ever letter. Doing my bit to save the world, I said to myself.

But the Mick… he is why I wear #7 number on my jersey. And it was even way cool to see that some of my fave athletes wore the same number: Sonny Jaworski, Toni Kukoc, and JC Intal.

I had Bernard Malamud’s The Natural as my bedtime story. I regularly checked the standings and box scores of Major League Baseball in the back pages of Bulletin Today. I saved my allowance to buy Sport magazine at the old PDPI magazine specialty stores. And we followed the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals. In fact, he taught me to appreciate other teams and their stars as not everything revolved around pinstripes. But all that baseball speak was every bit as enjoyable as a trip down the PX store for a stash of Avengers and Fantastic Four comic books and a banana split on a hot summer day.

During the vacations that followed, I was either in art class, piano lessons, or learning how to swim. I hated swim school because the instructor always threw me inside the pool all the time. It’s not that I couldn’t swim, but I was afraid of the water after watching Jaws (which is kind of weird since it’s not even the ocean). But when those summer lessons were done, I went to Tarlac and Lolo Ramon. We played catch and watched sports on FEN. Sometimes, we went to the old Clark Air Base in Pampanga to watch those F-4 Phantoms take off to those sunny azure skies. While waiting for the planes to zoom by, I’d sit mesmerized as my grandfather recounted those fabled pre-World War II days when the Blue Eagles and the Red Lions battled almost yearly for the NCAA basketball crown.

Summer’s a couple of months over and there’s another Great Home Run Chase. This time, it’s Barry Bonds all set to smash Hank Aaron’s record to smithereens. I may not be excited about Bonds’ historic quest because of accusations of his usage of performance enhancers. Nevertheless, for him to belt more than 755 home runs is still an awesome feat. Whether there’s an asterisk or not, I couldn’t care less. This time of the year with the baseball season 60% done, all I know it’s not complete, as I no longer engage in baseball talk with Lolo Ramon who passed away years ago. There’s no more talk of pennant races and towering home runs.

It was golden. It was magical. It was a little boy and his doting grandfather who imbued in him a passion for all things sports and most specially baseball. And it is most unforgettable.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Courtside with the Ateneo Sports Shooters. We're all smiles before the game, but after the loss to FEU, we were pissed. Thanks to Miggy Mendoza for this shot.

Clear and Present Danger - UAAP Game 6 Ateneo 64 vs FEU 77

Clear and Present Danger - UAAP Game 6 Ateneo 64 vs FEU 77
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares

July 29, 2007

Araneta Coliseum

Quezon City

We should petition the UAAP Board that after we play La Salle, our next game be a week after. After all, there’s a precedent.

After beating the Green Archers in a highly emotional Final Four series in 2003, the Blue Eagles suffered a serious meltdown against the FEU Tamaraws in the Championship Series. “Naubos” was the best way to describe Ateneo’s collapse that year.

Four years later history poked us in the eye to remind us of our folly --- La Salle is not the UAAP. Every team this Season 70 -- even the University of the Philippines and Adamson despite their being winless – will give us all we can handle. The Far Eastern University Tamaraws may not have name stars but what they have is a championship pedigree.

Opposite directions
Coming into this game, both teams were a man down. Ateneo was without its rookie forward Bacon Austria who is out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury while FEU was minus JR Gerilla who was thrown off the team for disciplinary reasons.

Ateneo was still hung-over from that rousing victory over their archrival while FEU, although coming off a win versus hapless Adamson, was trying to break its annoying habit of alternating between a win and a loss.

In the game against DLSU, the Blues and Whites were all business-like from the round robin all the way to the final buzzer. Against its Morayta rival… as they jogged out onto the Araneta Coliseum floor, they were joking, laughing, and incredibly loose.

We were ripe for the picking.

FEU is two years removed from their last superstar player in Arwind Santos. But the incredible thing about this team is how they continue to roll out a factory line of long-limbed athletic players with a penchant for ripping the cords of the net.

Despite a 6-0 lead (courtesy of some great plays by Ford Arao) to start the game, Ateneo’s offense seemed out of sorts. Unfocused and sloppy come to mind. After FEU guard Mark Barroca picked up his second foul, instead of collapsing, Tamaraws coach Glenn Capacio sent in the much taller Marlon Adolfo and Paul Sanga whose size and ability to double team and recover wreaked serious havoc on the Blue Eagles’ offense.

What was ironic about this is that we handled the press of UE and DLSU pretty well, but against FEU, it seemed as if it was a new defensive wrinkle that was thrown at us.

The Long-awaited hero
The Long family has made the Philippines their home for 16 years now and Jeff Long was extremely happy that his son, Kirk, chose to stay rather than go back to the United States for college.

“I’m glad that he stayed,” said Mr. Long, who works with orphanages and street children, sat courtside with his brother and cheered the team on. “It’s only been a few months but it’s a great experience. Kirk’s with a fantastic school, has a great coach, and is part of an exciting and very good team.”

“You’ve only seen glimpses of Kirk’s game. Wait ‘til he gets going.”

Making his second straight start, the frosh out of Faith Academy in Antipolo, Rizal, played another 27 quality minutes while chipping in 10 points and a team high 5 assists.

A lethargic first half and a frightening propensity to lapse into a series of turnovers prevented the Blue Eagles from finding any rhythm. As a result, the team was down 39-27 at the half. But the Ateneo crowd sprang to life at the start of the third quarter to provide the beat as Long and Chris Tiu rode the show of support to bring the Blue Eagles back into the game.

The American has showed a knack for finding the creases in the Tamaraws nearly airtight defense for an and-one, a twisting lay-up and some nifty dimes to the Ateneo bigs. "I really want to help the team win," said Long after the game. "I'd rather we pick up the W."

The tale of the tape
Skipper Tiu on the other hand rebounded from a poor 25% shooting from the field in the first half for a four-point play and three other huge treys during Ateneo’s rally after the resumption of hostilities.

With the turnovers piling up and an inability to convert from close range, the closest the Blue Eagles would get was five points down at 46-51 after Arao (7 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes) split his freebies.

The clear and present danger to Ateneo’s title aspirations lies in its ability to rule the boards and to limit its turnovers. We won the rebounding battle 43-31 but we finished with a season worst 23 errors that FEU exploited for 30 huge and painful points. The Blue Eagles have averaged 18.8 TO’s per outing and for this match, they nearly reached their quota after only 20 minutes of action with a crippling 12 that led to the early deficit.

The start of the fourth quarter saw the boys of the green and gold hike their lead to double digits once more as they survived one last barrage from Long, Tiu (18 points and 5 caroms), and Eric Salamat (9 points and 2 boards).

Jai Reyes who stood so marvelously tall against the big men of La Salle found his guns silent and shooting way off against the Tamaraws. After his final trey attempt misfired – the summary of an atrocious game by Ateneo, FEU’s Capacio was visibly elated, “Pwede namin gamitin ito na pang build ng confidence. Siguro lang nahuli namin ang Ateneo na masama yung araw.”

“Aaahhh, nakakainis,” mumbled Blue Eagle forward Jobe Nkemakolam as a glum and disappointed Ateneo team quickly made its way to the dugout. “Bawi tayo next game.”

“Naubos yung intensity sa La Salle,” agreed one table official after the game. But that’s not the only bit of history repeating itself.

If you were paying close attention, FEU did exactly what UST did in last year’s Finals… and that was to torch us from the outside. Even their bigs got into the act.

And look who’s on deck. It’s the Growling Tigers.

It might be nothing but coincidence, but when FEU last beat us in 2003, they had an Ateneo connection. Forget Anton Montinola’s blue blood for a moment and consider RJ Rizada’s roots in the southern Ateneo schools.

And this year, it’s a bit of an unusual source. First of all there’s rookie point guard Jens Knuttel who also went to a Jesuit school before transferring to FEU-FERN. He also played in the last Ateneo Basketball League (ABL). And if you went to the Ateneo De Manila in the 1980’s to the mid-90’s you probably might have known the security guard who was assigned to the campus’ Gate 3. Guard Bong Adolfo had an amiable smile and a ready helping hand for students. And yes, Tamaraws forward Marlon is his son.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Only Wanna Be With You

Went to bed at 130am reading Deathly Hallows. Someone asked why I'm not done. Chuckled and said that it's like a good steak dinner. You want to savor it.

Got up at 530am -- I've been getting up at this time for almost everyday of my life since 3rd year high when I had COCC training -- and hit the PLAY button on my itunes. What do you know, it's Hootie and the Blowfish's "Only Wanna Be With You."

And it's only one of the best songs/sports-music videos by my fave one-album wonders. But hey, I loved their contributions to the soundtrack of Friends, Me, Myself and Irene plus Encomium, the Led Zeppelin tribute album.

Don't you just dig the Sportscenter cameo with my two fave all-time anchors, Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick. And man... Dan Marino! Hoo-hah!

En fuego!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Titanic - UAAP Game 5 Ateneo 80 vs DLSU 77

Titanic - UAAP Game 5 Ateneo 80 vs DLSU 77
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares

July 26, 2007
Araneta Coliseum
Quezon City

The teardrop explodes
PJ Walsham had been talking all game long. In Ateneo’s first possession of the game, he blocked a tentative undergoal stab by Jobe Nkemakolam. Walsham hurled a few choice words the Blue Eagle forward’s way while wagging his finger; an infuriating form of trash talking co-opted from NBA great Dikembe Mutombo.

After another Blue Eagle miss that the fifth year La Sallian center corralled, he was ready to be booked for his own talk show.

But with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, the diminutive Jai Reyes floated a teardrop over Walsham, his third such shot over the hulking La Salle center to pad Ateneo’s lead to nine 53-44. Reyes flashed a wide grin. Why trash talk when you could kill them with a smile and an almost unblockable shot?

Mythology 101
The rivalry is of mythical proportions. Much has been written and said about Ateneo versus La Salle over the years. Or vice versa. How you can throw the stats out of the window when they play. How traffic is at a standstill. How you can virtually launch a coup since government leaders and the captains of the industry can be found under the roof of the Araneta Coliseum whose owners and heirs are also split down the lines of blue and green.

It’s David (Ateneo) versus Goliath (La Salle). The pre-game odds may have been of biblical reference, but it’s kin to mythology nevertheless.

The Green Machine was derailed last week by the title-hungry UE Red Warriors. So to get them in the mood for fried chickens – as La Sallians once taunted the Ateneans of yesteryear – they went film viewing.

They watched Frank Miller’s 300 to get themselves in a righteous mood – no mercy. They were the gallant Spartans while we were the… Persians?

If they did watch the movie, they would have known that Leonidas’ gallant 300 fell at Thermopylae. Although it was a loss, it led to the Greeks’ ultimate victories at Salamis and Plataea. And the name Ateneo is derived from the Greek goddess Athena.

Whatever. The Blue Eagles on the other hand weren’t overly concerned with such tactics or Walsham’s histrionics. It’s basketball plain and simple. And all they wanted was a win to move up to solo second place. They practiced on beating the press and made adjustments so they wouldn’t be beaten off the boards once more.

Slaying the beast
Heading into this game, people wondered how the Blue Eagles would handle La Salle’s press and if they could stand up to the physical game that the Green Archers love to play. “It’s mental,” dryly said Franz Pumaren.

In case no one from the green side has been taking notes; these are the new jack Blue Eagles who pride themselves with their being mentally tough. If people think that last year’s showing by Ateneo is a fluke… check the stats. They've been winning close games, overtime matches (we’re now 2-0 in extra time), and blowouts. Even the one loss to UE was clearly winnable.

So even when the Green Archers’ jumping jack forward Rico Maierhofer was trying to goad Ford Arao into a fight, the Blue Eagles just pushed Arao out of the way. After Maierhofer made good on his freebies to bring La Salle closer at 71-69 Ateneo, Arao returned the favor by scoring on Walsham for a deuce and adding one free throw the next trip down the floor.

As it is with every meeting between the two, the basic strategem for Ateneo is to handle the pressure. The first few minutes of the game are crucial. If you prevent the Green Archers from going on a scoring spree and if you break their dreaded press, then it’s all going to boil down to a battle of nerves.

But first of all, Ateneo had to beat the press.

There were a few unnerving moments in the first quarter that saw La Salle feeding of miscues that fuel their fastbreak. But Ateneo stayed within reach and were down only by four 19-15 after 10 minutes of hostilities.

In the second quarter, Ateneo’s bench mob of Nonoy Baclao, Ford Arao, and Eman Monfort scored eight straight points to vault the Blues to a 22-19 lead. While the Blue Eagles lost the track meet (the Greenies had 18 fastbreak points to our measly 2), they certainly asserted their might on the boards. But Cholo Villanueva doused the fire as he played the passing lanes and scored 7 points to keep the score tied at 30-all (the game’s fifth deadlock at that point).

Visions of “5”
In 1987, Gilbert “Jun” Reyes, then a junior and wearing jersey #5, led Ateneo to its first UAAP title as he copped league MVP honors with his superb quarterbacking and deadly shooting. He would repeat the feat the following year this time at the expense of the Green Archers. Interestingly, there were two Pumarens on the La Salle sidelines in 1987, Derek, who was the coach, and their star point guard Dindo, now the coach of UE.

And now the nephew who inherited the #5 is coming into his own. Like his uncle, he won too a juniors title. And in the seniors division, he has greatly improved his quarterbacking as well as his shooting to become an integral part of Ateneo coach Norman Black’s rotation. And if a Reyes is to lead the blue and white to the Promised Land of UAAP basketball glory, there’s another Pumaren on the DLSU bench he has to run the gauntlet through… Franz who steered the green and white to four straight titles and brought La Salle to greater heights.

With the first meeting in two years between the two teams on the stage that really matters, Reyes wasn’t about to disappoint. He scored a team high 18 points and dished for 6 assists during an incandescent second half before turning it over to the team’s senior marksman in Chris Tiu and its rookie guard out of Faith Academy.

Fourth and Long
Prior to the game, Kirk Long’s teammates tried to tell him what the atmosphere was going to be like for his first Ateneo-La Salle game. “It’s gonna be wild,” smiled super-sub Zion Laterre before the match. Long saw a few tapes but was hardly prepared for the intense and titanic atmosphere.

But the 18-year old from Kansas knows he’s not there anymore but smack in the middle of the hottest rivalry in these 7,100 islands. The pressure got to him in the early going as he airballed a pair of shots. Long shrugged, apologized, and promised to do better. And he played a big 27 minutes, finished with 6 points (all in the fourth quarter and overtime including a jumper reminiscent of Macky Escalona’s and four clutch free throws), and played good defense on La Salle’s guards and forwards.

When the game’s final buzzer sounded, his teammates mobbed him. “I hope to get better with every game,” he beamed while high-fiving his teammates.

Tiu for two big shots
Ateneo runs very precise sets with everyone moving to predetermined positions that react on what the defense gives them. The bigs anchor themselves for a post play, a screen or if they attract a double team then a kick out to the spot up snipers arrayed around the arc.

With the clock winding down to its final seconds of the first half, Rabah Al-Husseini set a huge pick then handed off the ball to Chris Tiu who nailed the trey from the left side corner to knot the count at 30-all.

Now in overtime, after a pair of crucial breaks where a botched free throw by Rico Maierhofer (La Salle would only make 19 of 33 shots an atrocious 56.7%) resulted in the possession arrow going Ateneo’s way 75-74. Tiu, who scored a quiet 10 points up to that point, was being guarded by JV Casio. Ren Ren Ritualo's heir got lost in the switching when Jai Reyes looked like he was going to drive for another of his teardrops. Tiu, who planted himself once more at the left corner pocket, received a pass from Reyes and with La Salle point guard Tyrone Tang doubling down on Ford Arao at the post, the Ateneo captain saw daylight.

Bang. 78-74 Ateneo.

A few more exchanges in free throws. A desperation attempt by Maierhofer to tie the game. And Round One was in the books for an Ateneo win; good for second place at 4-1. La Salle sank to 3-2, its second consecutive loss since 2005 (to FEU) along with a rejuvenated UST.

After the Ford Arao-Rico Maierhofer altercation, Walsham was still talking. Rabah Al-Husseini sidled up to him; looked him in the face without saying a word.

Talk is cheap. Why trade barbs when you can simply execute the play and give him a look?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Road to Beijing

It’s time.

Time to see if we still have a place in the basketball firmament or if we’ve been deluding ourselves all these years that we got game.

The Jones Cup and Four-Nations Invitationals are nice, but the Promised Land is in Beijing. And the road there officially begins in Tokushima. The 2007 FIBA Asian Championship will be held in Japan and sixteen teams from across the FIBA Asia region will qualify for the event through their various sub-regional competitions. The winners of the 2007 championship will qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Basketball Tournament.

The FIBA Asian Championship is held every two years and this competition is the premier Asian basketball event for men’s national teams. And our souped-up Men’s National squad, Team Pilipinas is all pumped up for this.

Team Pilipinas will be bannered by Mark Caguiao, Asi Taulava, Jimmy Alapag, Mick Pennisi, Dondon Hontiveros, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood, Kerby Raymundo, Jayjay Helterbrand, Ren Ren Ritualo, Tony de la Cruz, Kelly Williams, Nino Canaleta, James Yap, and Eric Menk. Rommel Adducul and Enrico Villanueva are on the reserve list while Rafi Reavis and Danny Seigle are convalescing.

Chot Reyes will be coaching the team and will be assisted by Aboy Castro and Nash Racela.

The Philippines is bracketed in a tough group and will be facing higher seeded teams. Included in our division is current FIBA Asian Champion China ranked #11 in the world. Lebanon, silver medalist in the 2001 and 2005 competitions and pegged the 25th best team in the world, will once more be led by Fadi El-Khatib. Meanwhile, Frederick Femi Onica’s stratospheric Islamic Republic of Iran squad, ranked at #37 will be a tough unit to deal with despite their not being expected to move on in the competition.

As host of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China gets an automatic slot in the Olympics. In the event China places 2nd, 3rd, 4th or worse, they will still quality alongside the champion of the tournament. The finalist and 3rd placer then qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Qualifier.

The current FIBA Asia champions are the Yao Ming-led China who retained their title in the recent 2005 FIBA Asia Championship that took place in Doha, Qatar. China defeated Lebanon in the final with Qatar beating Korea for the bronze medal.

Basketball TV and RPN 9 will be televising Team Pilipinas’ games.

Schedule of games:
First Round
Iran vs. RP July 28 Live 5pm on RPN 9 then 7pm BTV
China vs. RP July 29 Live 5pm on RPN 9 then 7pm BTV
Jordan vs. RP July 30 Live 7pm on RPN 9 then 9pm BTV

Second Round
Teams to be determined
Semi-final 1 August 4 7pm
Semi-final 2 August 4 9pm

Third Place August 5 7pm
Finals August 5 9pm

Defend the faith! Go Ateneo!

This was Zion Laterre's jersey in his rookie year with the Blue Eagles. Good luck, team!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flagrant Fouls

Foul #1
In the press conference for the 2007 NBA All-Star game in La Vegas, league commissioner David Stern was asked about gambling in the pro loop. The commish took a moment to massage his forehead, shook his head, and then delivered a sharp but curt reply. The media continued with the line of questioning forcing Stern to backpedal, force a smile and answer in a most congenial manner. After all, the commissioner is a smart man and any display of anger could be interpreted as being on the defensive.

For years, the NBA has had to fend off conspiracy theories and it was never more evident this year after the Western Conference Finals wherein two Phoenix Suns players were suspended after getting off the bench in a near altercation. The subsequent suspension although correct to the letter – but not in the spirit of the game -- forever altered the outcome of the series and may have allowed the San Antonio Spurs a clear lane to their fourth Larry O’Brien trophy.

And that was before the indefinite suspension of veteran zebra Joey Crawford “for grandstanding” – you’ll love this… against those same Spurs. Now comes the hard part… 13-year referee Tim Donaghy is being investigated by the FBI for game fixing and betting on the outcomes of matches.

And Mark Cuban’s first reaction is probably a smug “I told you so” before screaming “Oh my God” and running to his Tivo to review the 2006 NBA Finals that his Dallas Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat. Did Donaghy officiate any match? Well, it should also be interesting to note that he worked the game that is now dubbed the infamous Malice at the Palace.

Now every player will revisit and contemplate calls made in the dying seconds of some matches. Now does holding the All-Star Weekend and USA Basketball matches in Sin City seem like a good idea? Now the suspicion of dirty officials will spread all the way to the college game and who knows where.

Maybe the sporting leagues everywhere must look into the inclusion of Instant Replay (similar to how the NFL’s enforces it) to ensure fairness for all. Will this slow the game down? Most definitely, but it will try to eliminate controversial calls and endings.

And does that mean we’re going to take a long and hard look at the way local basketball is officiated? Any local hoops fan worth his salt will know of the whispers of game fixing, betting, and point shaving. In fact, one player who just left his college team is believed by its coaching staff to have thrown a match or two. Now shouldn’t officials instigate thorough background checks? Why let this pass? The UAAP has been beset by a variety of ills over the last few years and its board has chosen to deal with their stink either passively or in a lame duck manner. For what – political concessions later on?

A former official of another hoops association once told me in confidence that they discovered that a veteran referee was always regulating matches by one particular team. The veteran ref was given a graceful exit on the pretext of health reasons to prevent a probe or even irreparable damage to the game. But the official is now an ex-official because the owner of the squad in question demanded his pound of flesh.

The stigma of game fixing is something that doesn’t just go away. It has long-lasting repercussions that can kill a league. Now I wonder what Stern would trade for just to have (Major League Baseball counterpart) Bud Selig’s steroid scandal or (National Football League Commissioner) Roger Goodell’s Michael Vick problem?

Foul #2
Speaking of officials, top honchos from the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission have dropped football and baseball from the national sides that will be competing in the 24th SEA Games in Thailand this coming December. The volleyball teams were said to have voluntarily dropped out since it was deemed they were rookie-laden and far from a medal hopeful team.

Football has been on an upsurge of sorts in the last two years. When we bombed out of the Asean Cup earlier this year is not the point. So how do they gain performance continuity and the opportunity to play against top-flight competition if they’re banished to domestic play? Didn’t we climb the FIFA rankings in the last few months?

The sad thing about that is when the PSC and POC made this announcement, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) wasn’t informed at all. In fact, in a phone conversation with PFF President Johnny Romualdez last Friday morning, he knew nothing of this. Go infer what you want from this.

Foul #3
And I can’t believe the gall of the University of Santo Tomas to ask the UAAP Board if Jojo Duncil who “decided to turn pro” can still suit up since he really is of legit age! Whether or not he is legit is not the point. He submitted two birth certificates (with two different birth years said to be the parents’ fault since they were the ones they filed them) and after weeks denying there was a problem they sheepishly admitted that both sides were moving on. UST already submitted a line-up and it would be bad form to tinker with it even with half the first round done. I didn’t see any clemency when the Ateneo baseball team’s victories were overturned in Season 69 when one of its players who is a long-time Philippine resident didn’t have his Alien Certificate of Registration papers in order.

The action should be on the playing field not in the sidelines. But you have to admit that controversy does make for good theater and more ticket sales. Now that’s preferable to game fixing.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

True Grit. True Blue. - UAAP Game 4 Ateneo 66 vs. NU 65

True Grit. True Blue. - UAAP Game 4 Ateneo 66 vs. NU 65

Round One UAAP Season 70

by Rick Olivares

Saturday July 21, 2007
Ninoy Aquino Stadium

Manila City

Three wins and one loss. That’s not bad when you think that the Blue Eagles’ basketball machine has been somewhat sluggish with the win against UP the only one where the team was firing on all cylinders.

“A win is a win,” sheepishly said Ateneo coach Norman Black after the game. “Obviously this NU team is not the same one as last year. We knew we were in for a tough game, but not this tough. We just gutted out a win"

Amidst the media crush after the Bulldogs dusted off the UP Maroons in the past week, NU coach Manny Dandan celebrated with his team for a few moments then turned his thoughts to his next match-up against Ateneo. “Wala kaming pahinga nito. There will be no easy victories this year. Norman somehow always finds ways to win.”

And this game… the 59th meeting between these two teams in UAAP play, at times resembled a match where the teams tried to outdo each other through turnovers.

Crumbs on the table
The 76-73 setback to the University of the East Red Warriors last Sunday went down to the wire. But one glaring statistic that went against the Blue Eagles was that they were outrebounded on the offensive boards in two of three matches (it was only against a much smaller UP squad where Ateneo ruled in that department). The Warriors grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against our 12. Against a smaller Adamson unit, the Falcons hauled down one more than us 15-14.

With the Bulldogs and their active frontline of Edwin Asoro and Joseph Lingaolingao, it was a 21-8 difference. And at one point, in the first quarter with almost four minutes gone by, we had more turnovers than points (three to zero).

The three missed free throws down the clutch by Nonoy Baclao and a passing error by Eric Salamat – the team’s 19th of the game – kept NU in the thick of things. Fortunately for the blue and white, Bulldogs gunner Jonathan Fernandez turned the ball over that was the ultimate undoing for the Gastambide team. Although NU had fewer turnovers (15), they committed crucial ones and totally misfired in the fourth quarter. Perhaps even more mystifying is that they preferred to bomb away from beyond area code in spite of lording it over the glass. The Bulldogs attempted an incredible 37 three-point shots and made only nine.

Fifteen strong
It’s not meant to crib Miami Heat coach Pat Riley’s championship slogan, but the Ateneo Blue Eagles are 15 men deep. They may not have a bonafide superstar, but with almost every game, they find new heroes; even ugly ways to win.

In the first game against Adamson, it was Claiford Arao who finally stepped out of being a practice player to become a vital cog in Norman Black’s rotation. Against UP, Rabah Al-Husseini literally stood tall with a solid fourth quarter. During the UE game, it was Chris Tiu and Ken Barracoso who had their breakout games.

Against the Bulldogs, Jai Reyes came off the bench to put some points on the board during the first quarter drought. Tiu, bucking a fever, scored 17 markers to pace the team. Nonoy Baclao earned his wings with timely buckets and stellar defense in the clutch. And then there’s Kirk Long.

The frosh out of Faith Academy showed the promise of greatness to come by hitting a huge trey, grabbing seven boards, and playing solid defense on Jonathan Fernandez. After Bulldog sparkplug Manuel Salvado hit a trifecta over the American for a 22-18 lead for NU halfway through the second quarter, the Blue Eagle guard returned the favor by hitting a three of his own on the other end. Even his near faking of Salvado out of his high-tops was spectacular.

“We got quality minutes out of Kirk Long today,” Black said afterwards when pointing out the bright spots in a rather difficult game. “And we can expect many more.”

With Ford Arao having an off game (four points, six rebounds, and one block in 15 minutes of action), Baclao finally announced his arrival with some timely offensive putbacks early in the fourth quarter in the face of a withering three-point barrage from NU (two by Asoro and one from Fernandez). His three consecutive baskets made it 53-49 for Ateneo. “Dapat lang gumawa na ako,” smiled the rookie forward after the game. “Sana tuloy tuloy na ‘to.”

In the clutch, it was the starters who finished off the Bulldogs as Al-Husseini chipped in five points, Tiu with a deuce, and Eman Monfort with two big free throws.

Logjam at second place
At the end of the weekend’s matches, UE was atop with a 4-0 slate. La Salle’s loss put them at 3-1 good for second place with Ateneo. With the two arch-rivals set to duke it out this coming Thursday, it’s for more than just bragging rights but also to remain within striking distance of the Red Warriors.

“It was a tough win for us,” said a tired but relieved Chris Tiu after the game. “I was struggling with my free throws. I hit some shots and hopefully, I’m out of my slump. But we’re going to have to put in a lot more hard work if we want to make it to the Final Four. Every team is so much more competitive.”

“It’s an ugly win,” said Norman Black to the beat reporters after the game. “But at 3-1, it’s not such a bad place to be.”


Some of My Memorable Sports Moments
1. Going to Cooperstown where the Baseball Hall of Fame is. Total fanboy moment here (took the bus from Port Authority).
2. Playing hoops with Steve Watson, Jojo Lastimosa, Gene Afable, Jet Nieto, Fritz Gaston, Chito Afable, Tito Panlilio, the Gabster Gabby Cui, and many of Ateneo's greatest hoops players on one Sunday morning at Acropolis
3. Watching Chelsea vs. AC Milan in the Meadowlands
4. Watching Gary Payton ball at Rucker Park
5. Playing at West 4th
6. Screaming myself hoarse in the Upper Deck of Yankee Stadium when Aaron Boone hit that series-winning home run to defeat the Red Sox in 2003
7. Seeing Dwyane Wade during his rookie season at the NBA Store in Fifth Ave.
8. Going to Wrestlemania XX (does this count?)
9. My pilgrimage to famous sports arenas in Philly, Boston, NYC, and Chicago
10. Going to my first World Series in Yankee Stadium

My Top North Carolina athletes
1. Michael Jordan
2. Lawrence Taylor
3. Marion Jones
4. Mia Hamm
5. Davis Love III
6. Vince Carter
7. Julius Peppers
8. Eddie Pope
9. BJ Surhoff
10. James Worthy

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Me as a Fanboy

Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle! Yahoo photos is closing down this September! Am transferring my stuff to photobucket and flickr. But I thought I'd post some of them here. Will add more from time to time.

with Gerald Rosales at Wack Wack. To the right is Karla, Zion Laterre's wife.

with Flash Elorde's grandsons Migs and Bai

with Monsour Del Rosario and Stephen Fernandez at the Fernandez home in Wack Wack.

with the Triggerman at Green Meadows. We've been friends since his days as coach for Ginebra San Miguel.

with Amang Parica at his pool hall in Quezon City

with Vince Santos, 1996 UAAP Men's Football MVP and my former officemate at the Lead Institute of Sport -- a good friend of mine! Yo, Santos!

with Dyan Castillejo at the Palms

with Richie Ticzon at a San Miguel Beer practice at Reyes Gym

with Rico Villanueva after Red Bull practice at RFM Gym

with Chocolate Thunder at the Araneta Coliseum

with JC Intal during the shoot for the Ateneo Generations AVP at Xavier Hall, Ateneo

with LA Tenorio and Magnum Membrere during the 2006 PBA Draft

with Cecil Mamiit at the City Gardens

with Manny Pacquiao in a dinner feted by Solar Sports after his beating of Erik Morales in their third bout

with Ali Peek at National Sports Grill (I did I story on him for Men's Health magazine)

with the Azkals at the Mizuno Press Conferece after their successful Asean Cup Qualifiers in Panaad, Bacolod.

with Bob Arum and William Tieng

with Brandon Vera at Dish

with Brian Viloria at Oakwood

with Paolo Bugia after Red Bull practice

with Francis M and Brian Viloria outside the Eat Bulaga studio in Broadway, QC

taking a pic of the Three-time UAAP football champs at Philsports moments after the title match

with Alex English at Araneta Coliseum

with Danny Siegle at Acropolis (after a Men's Health story)

Interviewing the late Commish Jun Bernardino (who was a very good friend), the Hizons, and Monsour before Manny Pacquiao's second match against Erik Morales during the CCTV Viewing at Megamall

Monday, July 16, 2007

Awakenings - UAAP Game 3 Ateneo 73 vs UE 76

Awakenings - UAAP Game 3 Ateneo 73 vs UE 76
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares

July 15, 2007
Ninoy Aquino Stadium
Manila City

A royal flush
The beat reporters exchanged notes. The Ateneo Blue Eagles were in for a beating, many opined. The UE Red Warriors were too deep and too tough. Their vaunted trap would once more stymie Ateneo’s sleek passing game. Some digressed and said that the Loyola Heights squad’s unblemished slate wasn’t a fluke despite their being seeded fifth at the start of the season. They haven’t played a good team yet, argued one long-time college basketball reporter and this afternoon was their acid test.
When the final buzzer went off and the UE gallery exploded into cheers as their team escaped with a hard-fought 79-76 win, some scribes agreed that not only were the Red Warriors for real, but so were the Blue Eagles. The game with its play-off like atmosphere was clearly winnable by the Loyola Heights squad were it not for a pair of turnovers in the waning moments. But then again, matches between the two schools have always been hard-fought.

Royal rumble
There are eight schools in the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines. They’ve played with that line-up for some 20 years now and that’s more than enough time for each one to develop rivalries with each other.
Ateneo’s acknowledged chief rivals may be La Salle and the University of the Philippines, but with the UE Red Warriors… there’s no love lost ever since former Blue Eagle Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan turned his family-owned school into a hoops power with a six-foot-one center from Baguio City who liked to play point guard on occasion… Robert Jaworski. It was customary back then for the champions of the UAAP and the NCAA to meet in the post-season to decide which league was better and each team would pull one over the other all the time. When Ateneo, the undisputed basketball King of the NCAA, moved in 1978 to the UAAP where its former King, UE ruled the hoops landscape, the battles just got a lot fiercer.
In 1982, a small Ateneo line-up led by Chot Reyes and Jeric Hechanova upset the Warriors team led by (almost Blue Eagle) Allan Caidic and Jerry Codinera. Recalled Hechanova, “If there was a three point shot at that time, we would have beaten them all the time. We only had Mike Facundo to match up against Jerry and the Warriors were so tall. So we did a lot of our damage from shooting outside.” But at the end of the day, Ateneo got their licks in, but it was the red and white that won back-to-back titles.
In 1987, Ateneo finally broke out of the doldrums of its defection from the NCAA to win its first UAAP crown at the expense of the Warriors. It is a defeat that still rankles Codinera to this day (he lost back-to-back finals to UP and Ateneo).
But UE had their revenge in 1990 when they ousted Ateneo from championship contention when Richie Ticzon missed a pair of free throws with almost no time left on the game clock. The Warriors were led by Ferdinand “Bong” Ravena who was in his third year in the league and their unorthodox center Jolly Escobar (they lost to DLSU in a one-sided the finals) while Ateneo was bannered by Olsen Racela and Eric Reyes.
Now the assistant coach of Dindo Pumaren, Ravena still remembers the rivalry all too well. “Every one got up for Ateneo whether malakas sila or mahina,” recalled the former King Warrior who went on to win the Philippine Basketball Association’s Rookie of the Year Award with San Miguel (beating out Presto Ice Cream’s Vergel Meneses). “There’s something about beating them.”
The rivalry was revived when former player turned coach David Zamar (who played on UE’s ’84 & ’85 title teams) fielded the deadly troika of James Yap, Ronald Tubid, and Paul Artadi who had many memorable battles with the Blue Eagles of Rico Villanueva, Rich Alvarez, and LA Tenorio. But the blue and whites played heartbreakers once more when Gec Chia knocked out UE with a buzzer-beating game winner that propelled Ateneo to the 2002 championship.
The cast of players may have changed but on the bench of UE sits an all-too familiar foe -- Dindo Pumaren who played for UE during his elementary years before moving over to La Salle where his talent-laden team fell to Ateneo in 1988. His older brother Franz may have won the 2001 title at Ateneo’s expense, but Dindo would love nothing more than attaining redemption through his own means.
The Warriors have won every pre and post-season title in the last few years. But the one title that has eluded their grasp for the longest time is the UAAP Men’s Basketball crown – something they last won when they trounced Pido Jarencio’s UST Glowing Goldies squad in 1985. And even with De La Salle’s return to the league, UE is considered as one of the heavy favorites to slug it out for the crown and to put an end to a 22-year UAAP drought.

The return of the King
For the second straight year, the Blue Eagles entered the collegiate hoop wars on stealth mode. The graduation of its stars were said to weaken the team’s chances since all they had were underperforming veterans and a bunch of untested rookies. But that’s just the way the coaching staff likes it. Low key profile but high on returns.
The season has been a revelation so far for several Blue Eagles. Claiford Arao has gone prime time. Jai Reyes has shut up the naysayers who wondered aloud if he was a one-dimensional player who could only spot up for a trey. And Jobe Nkemakolam has shown that he’s a keeper and can provide points, rebounding, and defense up front.
Quite noticeable in the team’s two wins was the absence of Chris Tiu’s scoring. While his contributions to the game go beyond the bottom of the net, the team’s co-captain is also perhaps its most deft playmaker.
Tiu has been getting good looks at the basket except that the shots aren’t falling. The coaching staff has urged him to continue because eventually, he’s bound to get going. And once he does then Ateneo will be firing on all cylinders.
And on Sunday, Norman Black tried to get his gunner untracked from the opening whistle. Although Tiu nailed his first shot of the game, a jumper from the left side of the court (hit 55% of his two-point field goals), he struggled from long range hitting only one of six attempts from trifecta land.
On this day, Tiu wasn’t the only one to come alive. Ken Barracoso, a former Juniors Most Valuable Player, finally had his breakout game by scoring 12 points including a huge three-pointer that gave Ateneo its final taste of the lead as well as hauling down six rebounds and dishing for three assists.

Warriors to the rescue
The game plan was to shut down Mark Borboran and limit Marcy Arellano’s production. While Borboran doesn’t put up spectacular numbers (he averages around eight points and eight caroms every outing), it’s his presence that creates match-up problems. Arellano torched NU for 21 points in their previous outing but against Ateneo, he was limited to seven points and three assists. Their vaunted trapping defense caused problems early on, but the Blue Eagles’ passing forced Kelvin Gregorio and the high-leaping Elmer Espiritu to the bench early on.
But playing the fireman’s role was guard Paul Lee and forward Hans Thiele who scored 13 and 10 points respectively. And for the first time, Ateneo got clobbered off the boards. The team averages 58.5 rebounds a game and the Warriors held them to 40 (as opposed to the 42 they grabbed). While the difference may not seem much, it should be noted that 20 of those were off the offensive glass. While Ateneo shot better from all departments (35.7% to UE’s 16.7% from three-point range, an even 50% from two-point area, and 60.9% to 58.8 from the stripe), it was these second servings that stopped the team cold.
Ateneo also averaged 17.5 turnovers in their first two games, but in this outing, the Blue Eagles coughed up the ball 19 times including the final two of Tiu and Eman Monfort that UE took advantage of.
In the game’s aftermath, the coaching staff stressed that the streak while it would have been good to keep going isn’t that important. The last couple of years saw Ateneo put together a long win streak before flaming out when it mattered the most. The important thing is to correct the mistakes while the season is young and use that as momentum towards the Final Four and hopefully beyond. The silver lining in this defeat was that Chris Tiu and Ken Barracoso have gotten their offense going. And for Ford Arao who is averaging 17 points a game (while shooting an impressive 60% from the field) on top of 9.6 rebounds to pace the team, he’s shown what he could do against top-flight competition. Even the sports scribes agree so.

Epilogue I
As the Ateneo crowd sang the alma mater, Bong Ravena eyed the Blue Eagles and looked at the pained look on some of the players’ faces. “I wouldn’t underestimate them (the Blue Eagles),” said the former pro. “You don’t learn much from a win. But with a loss like this, you know Ateneo will be ready next time.” He then went to pat Ford Arao’s back for a job well done.

Epilogue II
UP Maroons team manager Bombit Silva shook his head after the match. “Not a good day for the teams from Katipunan,” he said also referring to UP’s third straight setback (the Maroons lost to NU earlier in the afternoon). “It was the Gastambide teams’ day today. But it’s still early.”

Signs of the Apocalypse

We like our sports to come down to its basic and logical conclusion… that there are amazing winners and there are hard-luck losers. It’s defined in part by stats, performance, human achievement, and to a certain (maybe even lesser extent)… the judges’ decision. But it’s not a perfect world the way Nadia Comaneci was in Montreal, the Miami Dolphins were in 1972, or Michael Jordan’s shooting form and follow through against the Utah Jazz in 1998.

We would be in the realm of perfect if His Airness never went on his baseball sabbatical and instead led the Chicago Bulls to eight straight NBA titles; Luis Gonzalez never hit that bloop single into shallow center field that would have allowed the New York Yankees a dramatic win in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series; and Ateneo De Manila’s JC Intal’s bank shot in the fateful final seconds of regulation of the 2006 UAAP Finals went in.

But that’s not just the beauty of sports. There are every bit as much agonizing and Homeric stories where even failed campaigns remain etched in every fiber of our being, history, and culture. And there are boners, eyebrow-raisers, or head-shaking incidents that tell us that the apocalypse is upon us…

  • Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White wasn’t planning on renewing the contract of Tito Ortiz, the Bad Boy from Huntington Beach. Showing behavior uncharacteristic for a top sports league’s president, White offered no good words for Ortiz and ended his tirade by calling him “a gorilla.” But after an unpopular draw with Rashad Evans in the main card of the recently-concluded UFC 73: Stacked, and all the trash talking that ensued in the post-fight press conference between them, White saw visions of dollars and top-Nielsen ratings flash before his eyes. So he did the next best thing – he declared that return match is good to go and he’s renewing Ortiz’ contract. Hey, it’s a business.
  • FIFA is financing the new headquarters of the Philippine Football Federation. It’s located at the corner of Danny Floro and Javier Streets in Pasig City. That’s right in the heart of motel alley and a literal stone’s throw away from Victoria Court. That’s great -- football on one side and footsie on the other.
  • After mercilessly booing Barry Bonds in every major league city (save for San Francisco) for the better part of the past several seasons due to suspicion of taking performance-enhancing steroids, baseball fans all across America voted him to the National League All-Star team.
  • After weeks of denying that there were any irregularities with Jojo Duncil’s birth certificate, UST finally admitted that there were two authentic documents in the hands of the UAAP but with different birthdates. Although Duncil was of legitimate age last year, the UAAP Board said that they would only recognize the first birth certificate that was submitted that would have placed him over the playing age limit for Season 70. To avoid any further complications, Duncil “decided” to turn pro. And to think that UST is this year’s host in the UAAP and their theme for the season is “Recreating the value of honesty through sports.”
  • In 1996, Real Madrid hired Fabio Capello to manage the famous football club. They won the Spanish La Liga that year but let Capello go at the season’s end because they felt that he wasn’t a fit. They brought him back for the 2006-07 campaign where Los Blancos won their 30th league title. Top management fired him again barely two weeks after because management felt he wasn’t the man to take them into a new era of sustained success.
  • After declaring himself a Gunner for life last season, Thierry Henry left Arsenal for FC Barcelona. To justify his move, Henry pointed to the resignation of David Dein from Highbury’s top management and the alleged non-renewal of manager Arsene Wenger’s contract as huge reasons for his leaving. Henry must have paid attention to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant who said similar things a few years ago.
  • Self-promotion is not something new in sports. For all the clich├ęs of “there’s no ‘I’ in team” and yadda yadda yadda, humility in the modern athlete is definitely out of the window. Remember when Purefoods Hotdogs’ forward-center Kirby Raymundo said that he deserved to win Conference Most Valuable Player Award over former teammate Enrico Villanueva of Red Bull? Well, Talk N Text’s Mac Cardona reprised that and said, “I think I am deserving of the award. I played well in the eliminations and in the finals.” So much for thanking mom, dad, and his parents (do you remember which PBA player said that gaffe?).
  • Motormouth Gary Sheffield is in the right place… with Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers. The slugger, in an interview with HBO’s Andrea Kremer last Saturday, said that his former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre didn’t treat black players well and that he singled them out during team meetings. White players, on the other hand, were called into his office. When asked if Torre was a racist, after a long tirade, Sheffield concluded that he didn’t believe the Yankees’ skipper was one.
  • The landmark Manila Zoo is reportedly going to be torn down to give way for the construction of the Philippine Basketball Association’s permanent arena. Quite a few are thinking that they’re coming home.

2007 Phil 9-Ball Open

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Living Daylights - UAAP Game 2 Ateneo 79 vs. UP 55

The Living Daylights - UAAP Game 2 Ateneo 79 vs. UP 55
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares

July 12, 2007
Ninoy Aquino Stadium

Manila City

Long-day afternoon
It was that kind of afternoon. In spite of the air-conditioned atmosphere of a white-hot basketball rivalry, Joe Lipa looked up to the rafters of the Ninoy Aquino Stadium and wiped his sweating brow. The game was a blur. He was oblivious to the cheers of the Blue Babble Battalion behind the UP bench.

His young Maroons scored 19 first quarter points and another 13 to end the half. It wouldn’t sound so bad except that they trailed 44-31 to an inspired Ateneo team after 20 minutes of action and were looking at the makings of another blowout. They had barely gotten over the opening day shellacking they got from a pumped up De La Salle squad then they were up against Ateneo which has swept them in the past two seasons. To make matters even more complicated, he was going into this match two men down as Martin Reyes was nursing a fever and Magi Sison hobbled by an injury. Even worse, he didn’t have anyone down the blocks to stop Ateneo’s new go-to player… Claiford Arao.

Lipa railed at his boys at halftime for their inability to execute and take care of the ball. Ateneo may have a taller line-up, but if their shot selection were better they’d be in the fight. The long-time UP coach hoped that a couple of long bombs would not only open up the game but also give his team some badly needed confidence. Chris Tiu was struggling with his shot but that wasn’t because of his guards’ defense. The Blue Eagles’ co-captain simply wasn’t draining them. But to the league’s surprise, Ateneo had found a wellspring of points inside the shaded lane with the three-headed monster of Arao, Jobe Nkemakolam, and Rabah Al-Husseini. Something not seen since Enrico Villanueva and Rich Alvarez patrolled the shaded lane for Ateneo.

The UP cheerleaders and dancers were putting the finishing touches on their halftime routine as Lipa stayed in the tunnel leading to the dugout. He issued last minute instructions to his captain Veejay Serios to be aggressive inside and to take the fight to Ateneo’s big men. The Maroons were taking a beating off the boards. They had to pull abreast now or the game was over.

At the 4:34 mark of the third quarter, the Blue Eagles’ Nkemakolam hit a one-handed jump shot; a 12-5 blitz that hiked the lead to 56-36. Lipa shook his head and was unable to mask the pain in his face.

The living daylights
Unlike in their season opener last Sunday July 8, where the Blue Eagles took to the floor joking and smiling, they were all business-like this time around. They started out flat against Adamson and after spotting the Falcons a sizeable lead; they nearly fell apart in the fourth quarter. They arrested their late game skid care of an and-one by Al-Husseini and a pair of free throws by Chris Tiu before handing over the scoring chores to Ford Arao’s sudden magic touch in overtime.

With Nonoy Baclao once more in foul trouble this time against the Maroons, Arao checked into the game with five minutes left in the first quarter to a huge ovation. The fifth year frontcourt man immediately went to work and scored six straight points to erase an early 14-15 deficit. The Blue Eagles would trail no more after Arao’s follow up bucket off a missed shot.

Since Arao joined the Blue Eagles in 2003, he’s always had to play second or even third fiddle to Paolo Bugia, Japeth Aguilar, Doug Kramer, and Rabah Al-Husseini. During his high school days in San Beda, he was the man in the middle who led the Red Cubs to a juniors crown over the Letran Squires. Several schools recruited him, but he chose to go to Loyola Heights that had somewhat become a favored destination among migrating Cubs.

The college game with its bigger and faster pace was a difficult transition for Arao. He found himself fumbling and bumbling plays to calls for his benching by rabid alumni. He persevered and under Norman Black, he has flourished and displayed a newfound confidence and intensity. Gone are the days when he’d flash his goofy grin and battle Doug Kramer for the Butterfingers Award. Over the last two years, Arao has slimmed down and reduced his body fat while adding some muscle to better manage the mosh pit of collegiate hoops. Not only did he win the UAAP Player of the Week citation last week, but incredibly, he’s leading the team in scoring and rebounding with a 19 points and 12 rebounds average.

After three quarters and Chris Tiu still misfiring, Arao who had 16 markers at that point (he would also finish with nine rebounds), turned over the scoring chores to Rabah Al-Husseini who dumped 13 points in the final period – one point less than the entire UP squad. While Rabah and Ford top-scored for the team (21 and 16 points respectively), the game also saw the UAAP debut of Bacon Austria (five points and four caroms), Kirk Long (two assists), and Chris Sumalinog (one rebound) who all found a way to contribute to the team’s second straight victory. But after the game, Arao apologized to Assistant Coach Sandy Arespacochaga for his five turnovers. The game had been over for about five minutes now and he still had his game face on.

After the funeral dirge that passed off for the alma mater, one alumnus serenaded Arao: “Ford for MVP!” The Blue Eagles big man suddenly thrust in the spotlight and adulation of the Ateneo gallery offered that sheepish and goofy smile of his.

Day’s end
The five strides to halfcourt from the UP Maroons team bench to shake Norman Black’s hand after the game was difficult. Joe Lipa’s young team had taken another beating. Almost all game long they were unable to mount a consistent attack. Were it not for Ateneo’s 20 turnovers – many of them unforced – the final margin might have been higher.
As his team walked off towards the dugout, he put his hand on his gunner Martin Reyes’ shoulder. “Coach,” asked Reyes.

“Growing pains lang ‘yan,” answered the coach who looked up one last time at the scoreboard. “I need a cigarette.”

Epilogue I
Doug Kramer watched his former teammates battle for their second consecutive win. As much as he looks forward to a career in the pros, Kramer terribly misses the college game and wearing blue and white. But he’s happy; he had a good seat in the house to watch Arao’s maturation and breakout year. After the game, Arao sought him out in the stands and they shook hands. The baton has been passed.

Epilogue II
At the far end of patron section, De La Salle coach Franz Pumaren and the rest of his staff scouted the Blue Eagles. The Green Archers had practice after the game and all of them watched and compared notes. Said Pumaren after the stadium began to empty out, “We’ll have to devise something to stop Ateneo’s bigs (referring to the Blues’ frontcourt players). And when we meet, it will be jam-packed. That’s all I can say.”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bend it, Beckham. If You Can.


That was what Philippine Football Federation President Johnny Romualdez said when he was informed of the hefty price tag that came along with Goldenballs’ proposed tour of Manila. Half a million dollars. And in the event David Beckham does play you know he’s not even going to go full throttle. With his debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy coming up there’s no way Beckham will risk another injury more so after he limped off the pitch during the championship deciding match against Mallorca in the just concluded Spanish La Liga.

That price alone is enough to host a couple of seasons of a pro football league and pay for training, materiel, clinics etc. “But that’s possible only if we could find some sponsor willing to cough up that amount of cash,” added Romualdez.

Some time ago, there was also a similar offer regarding Diego Maradona to play in a seven-a-side friendly in Indonesia with a possible stopover in Manila. The asking price was the same and too steep. Yes, Maradona may have scored the greatest goal in World Cup history and is worshipped as a demi-god in Argentina, but even clean and sober, he’s far removed from his peak form.

It would have been nice to actually see Becks make an appearance, give a talk or two, and help out in a football clinic as it would have attracted attention from hardcore football fans as well as the casual and non-fans. Becks and maybe Posh by his side. It would have been crazy. But at the end of the day, would it have helped local football? Maybe. Maybe not, added another local football official. It would be erroneous to think that the spark that local football needs is going to come from an Englishman who may not be anywhere among the Top 20 best footballers in the world yet may certainly be the most well known. What is needed is a long-term plan with long-lasting and positive effects on the game not a short-term photo op with politicians who play footsie under the table and certainly not an opportunity for hawkers to sell Galaxy Beckham kits (his jersey number is still a mystery) to fashionistas who don’t even know how many MLS teams there are.

Signing Beckham to anything is also a cash bonanza. That’s something Real Madrid found out as soon as the former Manchester United right-winger signed with them. On the day of the Beckham signing, they sold out every available #23 kit for a 624,000 Euros (that’s equivalent to $850,321.60 or Php 39,119,045). In one day. In Beckham’s four years in the club, Real Madrid Marketing Director Jose Sanchez said that the club made L300 million pounds sterling (that’s $ 603,281,853.28 for the exchange rate conscious). The knock on then-Madrid President Florentino Perez was that he acquired the Englishman’s services not just to serve as the last piece to the championship puzzle for his galacticos but also for the media mileage and corporate sponsorships Becks would bring. Becks longed to play the central midfield but with Zizou and Guti in there, his job was to cross the ball to Ronaldo, Figo, and Michael Owen.

As Becks heads westward to a galaxy far far away in the football firmament, Major League Soccer is hoping that lightning will strike twice. Thirty-two years ago, Pele left Santos to play for the New York Cosmos in the now defunct North American Soccer League where he teamed up with Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia to raise the consciousness of America to the world’s most popular sport. Although well past his prime, he was plenty still good enough to prompt former American President Jimmy Carter to say, “Pele has elevated the game of soccer to heights never before attained in America. And only Pele, with his status, incomparable talent, and beloved compassion could have accomplished such a mission.” And as if on cue, Pele scored against the Dallas Tornados in his first game with the Cosmos for a 2-1 victory and led his team to the league title in his third and final playing year. In his farewell match in Giants Stadium, where he played for the Cosmos in the first half (and scored the equalizer) and with Santos FC in the second half, the game was beamed to a world that was watching.

Pele certainly sees comparisons and says that Beckham’s move to MLS will only be good, because if it works in America then it can only mean better things ahead for football which has been torn asunder recently with reports of racism and game violence.

ESPN will be giving Beckham marquee coverage. Its Sportscenter episode at 6pm will give the pre-game lowdown while the 7pm edition will be MLS-centric. By 7:30pm, the sports network will air an hour-long documentary “David Beckham: New Beginnings” to be followed by a half-hour pre-game show. The Galaxy will be going up against English Premiere League runner-up Chelsea FC featuring John Terry who replaced Becks as England captain. There will be 19 cameras used for this game with most of it trained on Beckham.

But beyond the hype and the excitement of the transfer is a torrent of cynicism. Even within ESPN, some like senior columnist Gene Wojciechowski opine that the madness that has inflicted LA (something not seen since Wayne Gretzky transferred from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings in the National Hockey League) will dissipate within a few months time. Recently, several English premier League officials lambasted the MLS for its inferior play prompting Galaxy President Alexi Lalas, the Mark Cuban of American soccer, to retaliate by saying that American football players were just as competitive if not better than the British. "The experts in England talk about David Beckham as if he's going into semi-retirement, growled Lalas to the Guardian Unlimited. “It's insulting to say Beckham is on his way to Hollywood when he's coming to play in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.”

The Los Angeles Galaxy website is running a countdown to Becks’ July 13 debut. The team is currently in fifth place in the MLS’ Western division with a 3-3-5 record despite the presence of Captain America Landon Donovan who led the league in goals the past two years. Whether rightly or wrongly, David Beckham is being looked at as the savior of football in America. The footballer who would finally elevate football into the upper tier of sports in America and would begin an exodus of top-flight talent to the MLS.

Jorge M is a former officemate of mine when I used to work in New York. He transferred to LA two years ago so it’s closer to his homeland of Mexico. In LA, he roots for Chivas USA, a team deeply rooted with Hispanic and Latino players. Yet he’s clearly excited about Goldenballs’ move Stateside.

“Beckham,” he wrote to me via an email recently. “Oh yeeeaaahhh!”

Check out video of Ateneo Blue Eagles at:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Emotional Rescue - UAAP Game 1 Ateneo 69 vs Adamson 63

Emotional Rescue - UAAP Game 1 Ateneo 69 vs Adamson 63

Round One UAAP Season 70

by Rick Olivares

July 8, 2007
Cuneta Astrodome
Manila City

An unlikely duel
Patrick Cabahug glided out of the Adamson locker like a shark. His predator eyes ablaze with excitement and intensity. There was a silent fury to his disposition that was in stark contrast to his teammates who joked and laughed. Perhaps it was to mask the first game jitters that seem to come at this time of the year.

Cabahug has not forgotten the three stinging down-to-the-last-shot losses to Ateneo in Season 69. He still maintains that Ateneo didn’t win them and that Adamson lost them. And today… today was time for retribution. Even if they were without the pro-bound Ken Bono and the graduated Mark Agustin.

The nephew of former pro player Elmer Cabahug is every inch a hotshot sniper himself. And he looked forward to an artillery duel with his Ateneo counterpart Chris Tiu.

Except that with the Blue Eagles’ co-captain misfired almost all game long. It was the six foot four Claiford Arao, in his final year in blue and white, to get locked in when the Ateneo sorely needed a go-to player.

Ford Arao has that easy going smile and hearty laugh that will make a person believe that everything will be all right. Even with the Blue Eagles laying a big fat egg at 12-0 with three minutes and thirty seconds gone by in the opening quarter.

Arao and Jai Reyes checked into the game for the ineffective Nonoy Baclao and Eman Monfort. And right off the bat, the two conspired for the point-starved Blue Eagles that gave the Ateneo gallery something to cheer about.

A grim reminder
William “Bogs” Adornado is the Falcons’ first year coach, but he isn’t exactly unfamiliar with his squad having served as an assistant to Leo Austria last year. Even after the Falcons were eliminated in last year’s Final Four, Adornado intensely watched the titanic championship series between the Ateneo, where he also served as an assistant coach during the Joel Banal years, and his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas.

He noted that one advantage the Tigers had was that their guards and swingmen didn’t need screens to get their shots off. They were talented enough to create their own shot --- something Jojo Duncil did very well against Ateneo.

Adornado knew that he possessed the same kind of player in Cabahug who lived for big games. Cabahug could knock down the trifecta or post up for turn-around jay. And if his guard wasn’t squared for the drive, he would take it to the lane for the stretch or a drop pass to the forwards if someone foolishly rotated. And, thought Adornado to himself, if Roel Hugnatan could wreak havoc down low, it would open up the floor for Leo Canuday, Paul Gonzalgo. And plodding center Junard Yambot.

After six minutes of play, the rookie coach’s game plan was clicking with all five Adamson starters having scored. They had Ateneo on their heels with the score at 18-4. He hoped his team could continue their torrid scoring pace.

A big lift
Blue Eagles’ coach Norman Black shuffled his men to match up against Adamson’s man-zone defense. Digging deep into his bench, Black went with Reyes and Eric Salamat in the backcourt and Zion Laterre, Mike Baldos, and Rabah Al-Husseini up front.

And soon enough, Ateneo settled down. In danger of not even putting double-digits on the board, the Ateneans began to run their offense. “Make sure you get two when you come back down,” barked the third year American mentor to his guards. Reyes nodded and the team finished at a more respectable 22-11 at the end of the first canto.

Baldos’ activeness in the pit gave the physical Hugnatan fits as he coerced the rough-playing forward into his second and third fouls. With the Falcons‘ power forward playing Matador defense, Black sent Jobe Nkemakolam in. It was time to get their inside game going.

The rejuvenated Fil-Nigerian was a revelation in the pre-season as he posted sterling numbers in the Fil Oil tournament. And with his confidence growing with every game, Nkemakolam, thrilled at finally being able to play in Team A after being benched in his rookie year, scored four quick points to breathe life into the quiet Ateneo gallery.

With the Eagles breathing down the Falcons’ necks, the rally was somewhat stymied when they failed to convert off a pair of steals that had Black’s eyes bulging. “I need a lay up and two points,” said Black after a botched breakaway lay-up by Salamat who was fishing for a foul from Falcons point guard Lester Alvarez. “I do not need something special.” But even so, Ateneo was beginning to assert themselves. They finished the half down by five 25-30 in favor of Adamson.

A familiar scenario
“They have to make their run now,” muttered long-time Ateneo Sports Shooter Aaron Vicencio who was at the baseline of the Blue Eagles’ side of the court taking photos. With Arao and Nkemakolam (eight points and two rebounds) taking it strong to the rack, Ateneo finally stormed ahead 43-37 at the end of the third quarter.

Before it looked like they blow the Falcons off the court after racing to an 11-point lead, the lid suddenly closed on the Eagles’ basket and the turnovers began to pile up once more (the Blue Eagles had 15 as compared to Adamson’s 20). Then once more, it was Patrick Cabahug time again.

With Zion Laterre (three points, four ribbies, three assists, and one block) fronting him, Cabahug dribbled from left to right then arced himself backwards for a deadeye trey that saw Adamson wrest the lead from the Ateneo 51-48 with time down to 58.7 left in the game clock.

In previous years, Ateneo might have crumbled under the pressure but since last year, the team has displayed steel nerves when it counted the most. And just like that, they retook the lead, courtesy of a three-point play by Al-Husseini (five points, three caroms, one dime, and a block) and a pair of free throws by Chris Tiu (nine points and nine boards) for a 53-51 advantage. With time down to four seconds, Cabahug took the inbounds pass from Leo Canuday, spun around Laterre, and hit a floating leaner to send the game into the season’s second overtime.

A new day rising
Maybe you’ve heard that joke where Ford Arao jumps no higher than a telephone directory. Maybe you’ve heard that joke where when he gets rid of the ball in the post, he will find the opponent for an assist.

But maybe now, people would like to know if Arao has finally lived up to his potential after being highly recruited out of San Beda high. “What in the world did Arao eat his morning,” wondered an Ateneo supporter from the ringside seats. “I hope he’s got a huge supply of it.”

There would be no buzzer-beating shots today. Adamson had their chance and Ford Arao refused them second servings. In overtime, the fifth year player scored 10 of Ateneo’s 16 points and stole the ball from a driving Cabahug who was clearly tuckered out. Arao would also haul down 15 rebounds including four off the offensive glass. Plus he had only one turnover.

As the blue faithful sang the alma mater with gusto and relief, Arao’s teammates slapped high fives with him for a job well done. He looked sheepish because of the extra attention yet he still flashed that easy grin and toothy smile. “Thanks,” was all he mumbled.

By the Adamson locker room, Patrick Cabahug was devastated. He scored a game high 28 points and pulled down 11 boards in 37 minutes of action. He wore a pained look on his face. It was only the first game of the season, but it seemed like it was yesterday once more.

“I made a mistake,” said Bogs Adornado outside the team’s locker room. “My boys were tired. I should have given the starters a rest and let the bench play. Lessons learned ‘yan.” Assistant coach Jing Ruiz, who was a star for Letran in the late 1980’s, was quick to erase any doubts on his team’s morale. “We believe we can beat Ateneo,” he offered his voice trailing off. “We just have to go out and do it.”