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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Fight Against Extinction

by rick olivares

Behind every dark cloud there’s a silver lining. In the case of the 1-8 Coca Cola Tigers, that cloud has a blonde streak.

In his first game in a Tigers jersey, Paul Asi Taulava, all 6’9” of him was expected by his banged up and shell shocked teammates to be Jordanesque, nay, the Taulava of yore and to rescue them from the dregs of PBA mediocrity. He did score 33 points and haul down 17 boards, but it wasn’t near enough to give Coca Cola a win against the Alaska Aces.

The Taulava of yore. It is theorized that Talk 'N Text team management thought the man mountain had lost his fire that’s why they needed a shake up. They’ve dangled Don Allado and Yancy De Ocampo previously, but if any player was worth Ali Peek and a first round draft pick it was the Big Fella.

As the 11th acquisition of Coca Cola since April of this year, Taulava joins a team with already a huge chip on its shoulder.

Forced to let go of its core that gave them championships, the team was in a rebuilding phase in more ways than one. Since the team was practically decimated, there was structure where the newcomers could plug the holes – everyone had to compete for playing time further souring chemistry. And the double whammy was the insecurity of having changed team ownership. The team already felt like a fourth-class citizen in the San Miguel hierarchy and now, the felt like an island surrounded by a sea of question marks.

To compound matters, the team was downed by a plague of injuries. And they’ve never fielded an intact line-up for some time.

“When I joined the PBA, I came into a similar situation with Talk ‘N Text where they were in the cellar,” said an optimistic Taulava in his first official practice with the Tigers. “I was surprised by the trade, but I got over it very quick. It’s the nature of the business. I guess they wanted to go in another direction and thought that maybe Ali (Peek) was they guy they needed to get there. It’s nothing personal, but it is not bad. We have an opportunity to turn things around.”

When the trade was consummated, Tigers coach Binky Favis gave Taulava a call and asked one question, “Did I do the right thing?”

“C’mon, coach,” laughed the former league MVP. “It’s me.”

That was all Favis needed to hear. They now had a player that other teams cannot take lightly. The normally worked up Tim Cone had his team make sure there wasn’t any complacency now that Asi was playing for the Tigers.

Alex Cabagnot missed six games with a sprained ankle but was activated for the Alaska match. “Not playing was killing me,” said the former first round draft pick of Sta. Lucia “But with Asi around, I wanted to see if we could get a win. We didn’t but we’ll get better.”

“We have nine games to go and if we’re able to get our act together, we should still be in the hunt for a play-off berth,” added Favis.

Taulava’s presence has clearly boosted the team’s morale. Barely in the team for a couple of days, the big man, lean and rejuvenated, is taking charge and bouncing all over the court egging on his teammates. Said one league coach, “Asi isn’t like the other Fil-Ams who don’t know how to relate with the locals. He’s a great teammate.” In fact, on the night of his trade to Coca Cola, many of his current teammates went to his pad to visit him.

“Everyone here’s a joker,” fessed up Cabagnot. “But Asi’s the biggest one of them all.”

The kidding aside, every one here is playing for their basketball lives. “I’d be lying to you if I said the losing isn’t getting to us,” said Favis. “But now with Asi here and John (Arigo), Egay (Echavez), and Cesar (Catli) rejoining us soon we’ll have a better fighting chance.”

Side story:
The Tigers, a curious blend of the youth and experience from the players down to the coaching staff, would dearly love to win a title and prove their detractors wrong.

More so with the team’s brain trust. Binky Favis, Richie Ticzon, and Boybits Victoria were all stars of their respective teams (UST, Ateneo, and San Beda) who all played against each other during their amateur days. Ironically, all three never won a title in the collegiate and PBL level. It was only in the pros that they got an opportunity to experience a title campaign. “Maybe that’s something that drives us,” says Victoria who to this day still carries the scars of an NCAA finals loss. “But it’s not all just about games. As coaches, we have a responsibility to our players. We also help them get through life.”

“In many ways, this is even harder than your average 9-to-5 job,” extrapolates Favis. “We’re always thinking of the game and the team 24-7. We watch endless tapes of our games as well as yung sa kalaban. We scout, we train, we teach, we plan… it can get tense. We’re in this because we love the game.”

Thanks for the Seasons

I came home -- when I shouldn't have -- from New York one day and one the drive back home, I asked my dad why EDSA seemed so dark at night. Whether the city government was scrimping on electricity I'll never know, but before we got home to Industrial Valley, I asked if we could drop by the old school a 12:30 am (my flight landed at NAIA at 11pm).

The campus of course was in the dark too. But just to see the old school was a sight for my sore eyes. Even in the Big Apple, I wore my Ateneo jersey with pride to Ateneo East Coast Alumni reunions. I even wore it during warm-ups at the New Jersey Fil-Am summer leagues where quite a few would offer to buy it off my back or trade for authentic NBA jerseys -- I said no. Hahahaha.

We crashed out of the final four that year and I was upset because I thought some of our players failed to stand up to the pressure. A good friend of mine, photographer Joseph Nocos (who I shared many a game dating back to the Mike Facundo-Rey Rances days of the Blue Eagles) invited me to go with him and Fr. Nemy Que, S.J. to watch an Ateneo Team B game. The last time I saw one was when Magnum Membrere and Larry Fonacier were leading Team B.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the game and began to tell friends that I saw a team that was truly a team in every sense of the word. We began helping out the team and soon some of its players were elevated to Team A (Zion Laterre and Eman Nazareno). Jobe Nkemakolam who I share the same birthday became a good buddy and we'd sometimes drive these guys to class/batch parties just to make sure they'd stay in good company and out of trouble. Well it wasn't like we were chaperones, we only did it like three times and it was only in the immediate area of Libis, White Plains, and La Vista.

Then we saw Yuri Escueta and Mike Baldos make it to the senior line-up and it was vindication for the program and the efforts we were trying to infuse to help these kids. We didn't have the resources that MVP has but we managed with what we had. As Joseph put it, "this hardship -- it builds character."

I stayed when I should have gone back to NYC. Staying meant once more getting a job because I just couldn't live on my dollar savings. And in many ways, I'm glad I did.

It's incredible that my bosses allowed me to play hookey from work when the blue and white was playing. I guess it helped that I worked for a couple of sports groups where my bosses were of the blue and white variety -- the LEAD Institute for Sport and Solar Sports. While at Solar, I would bring a TV crew to cover the UAAP football games. We got station ID tags from the Ateneo, La Salle, San Beda, and UP teams. I got great interviews with Ompong Merida, Pat Ozaeta, Mickey Ingles, Hans Smit, and some Bedistas like Japeth Sablon and Louie Casas.

In fact, our efforts even forced ABS-CBN to send crews to cover the games - the bastards, they'd only send crews during the title games while we covered them rain or shine.

I never missed a game by the Blue Booters for three straight years. Even non-UAAP games. At times, in covering the team, I felt like a groupie. Even during lonely quiet Sundays in San Beda's pitch, I'd be there along with one or two girlfriends of the players. But it was just us to cheer the team on. One time, there was a Ateneo Lady Spikers game going on inside Blue Eagle gym (on a Sunday afternoon) and I was the only one in Erenchun Field to watch a magnificent game between Ateneo and UP where each side scored five goals apiece.

I also became active with the Ateneo Men's baseball team and covered them through a most turbulent Season 69. I've got a nephew who plays right field for the Blue Batters and have another joining the team next year. So covering them wasn't just for the love of the game but personal. Plus I've got another nephew with the grade school football team.

The Lady Eagles I always enjoyed watching although I never did get to write much about them since someone else did. But I should rectify that with the school-sanctioned book I'm finishing as of this day. These girls should be supported too because they put in just as much work as any athlete. They've allowed me access to stories and information that others might not normally know of and it makes for fascinating reading and writing.

But like many, I guess the pride and joy are the Blue Eagles. I distinctly remember Steve Watson ruffling my hair at the entrance of the Loyola Center on his way to a game. I couldn't buy a ticket since my school allowance only covered lunch and recess. I didn't know much about the Blue Eagles then save that our grade school teachers would talk about their matches. It's not like you wouldn't notice as we could always hear the drums reverberate inside the gym.

I've written a lot of material about the team and there are quite a lot of stories that I never put out anywhere. I know I should, but its hard to put all these things together since I need help in doing so. But since I'm on my last legs here in the Philippines -- barring something huge that allows me to stay -- hopefully, we'll see something out there soon.

I only became close to the 2002 team later on: Chris Quimpo, Sonny Tadeo, Bajjie Del Rosario, Paolo Bugia, LA Tenorio, Magnum Membrere, and to an extent, Rich Alvarez. Gene Afable and I were in school at the same time and played on one ABL team together. And since I had helped out with Team B and got to know a fine coach in Gabby Severino (who I saw play in high school and college), it made knowing and following Team A a lot easier.

Sonia Araneta (my unsung cheerleader) and Tito Jimmy, Jun Jun Capistrano, Ricky Palou, Fr. Ben Nebres S.J., Jun Dalandan, Joe Santos, Paolo Trillo and Norman Black (a damn fine coach!) are of course huge reasons for being able to cover the team. There's Fr. Tito Caluag, Joe Lipa, Robin Tong and Jimmy Alabanza. The staff at Moro Lorenzo, the University Athletics Office, and the Office of Alumni Relations were most helpful. Mico Halili. My old classmate Gary Villanueva who is one of the guys behind Halikinu Radio. Chuck Araneta. The Ateneo Sports Shooters. Muchos gracias, muy amigos. Hahaha. The bouncers at Araneta Coliseum for watching my back (and thanks for rooting for Ateneo). The staff at Bellini's Restaurant in Cubao also for rooting for the Blue Eagles. John Flores, Ricky Dandan, Joey Mendoza, and Ramil Cruz.

Players like Martin Quimson, Johan Uichico, Rain Sison, Paul Tanchi, Vince Hizon, Richie Ticzon, Vince Santos, Gabby Cui (a lot of help from this dude!), and even coach Joel Banal gave valuable time, input, and camaraderie. I've become good friends with many of the players even those dating back to a bygone age: Ding Camua, Tito Panlilio, Jojo Gamboa, Ogie & Chito Narvasa, Chito Mistades, Chito Afable, Steve Watson, Fritz Gaston, Arben Santos, and Jimmy Pestano (his son was my classmate in college and we started an American football craze in Ateneo then) to name a few. And there are the cheerleaders like Jesse Paredes, my dad's old classmate Gary Lising, Noel Canivel, and Senator Dick Gordon who has been a family friend for years (I'll never forget when he was still Mayor of Olongapo and he took me and my dad on board an aircraft carrier!). And there's Mhel Garrido, my old ASSOC buddy.

Much thanks to the parents of Jai Reyes -- yo, Mr. Len! There's also Mrs Belle Fonacier (Larry's mom). The Tenorios of course! The Team B boys and their parents -- Mr. Escueta, Mr. & Mrs. Baldos. Mr. De Guzman. Man, those were some games we watched. Sorry but I stopped drinking already. Can't chase those tennis balls if I'm heavy, can I?

I'll be seeing ya, Zion! And of course, there's Mai.

It's been quite a ride, guys. Thanks!

Animo Ateneo!

LeBron's Zoom V

As a child, LeBron looked at a map of Ohio and asked his mother, “Why isn’t Akron on the map?” He knew then that he wanted to put his hometown of Akron, Ohio, on the map. To help illustrate LeBron’s journey, Ken Link, Nike Basketball Footwear Design Director incorporated a map of Akron in the outsole of the Zoom LeBron V. The Phyposite material used in the upper creates a lightweight shoe that is still strong enough to support the 6’8” player. Utilizing full-grain leather overlays, Ken created a shoe with great support and an amazing look. He also incorporated a full-length Zoom Air unit into the shoe for the ultimate responsive ride. The removable hook and loop closure secures the strap to the upper for ultimate lock-down. Under the strap on the medial side is one of five different codes that represent the codes LeBron lives by, each one written in script. The lion symbol on the tongue represents LeBron James—the king.

The Zoom LeBron V is now available at select Nike stores nationwide for P8,595.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Two Towers

The Two Towers
Ateneo 71 vs University of Visayas 54
by rick olivares (photos by miggy. videos by rick. "rescue me" by the Alarm)

Champions League Match #15
November 28, 2007
The Arena, San Juan

“Tapos na. Bye bye na,” said Ford Arao who was battling conflicting emotions of joy and sadness. He was tired and at times running on pure adrenalin having come from PBL practice with San Mig Coffee straight into the finals of the 2007 Collegiate Champions League, but this game, this entire series was something he wouldn’t miss for the world.

Like many of his teammates, he came to the Ateneo College after having won a high school championship. In his first year with the team, the Blue Eagles made it to the finals but fell to Far Eastern University. He would battle through the difficulty of adjusting to a new school and an inability to adapt to the tougher collegiate circuit. Like Paolo Bugia before him, just when he was about to break out he suffered an injury that curtailed his development. Through it all, he grit his teeth and bore the burden. Oh, he heard the derisive jeers all right, but he displayed firm resolve to turn them into cheers.

In the just-concluded UAAP tournament, Arao defied the odds of a premature end to his playing days by leading the Blue Eagles from one crushing defeat to nearly stealing the spotlight of a finals berth. “Hindi pa tapos” became a mantra. It was a promise he made – to bring a title to Loyola – and a promise finally kept. “Sorry natagalan,” he apologized. “At least last game at may championship.”

Prior to the finals match, Ateneo may have been favored to win, but all the pre-game talk was centered on the University of Visayas’ oakwoods in Greg Slaughter, Ariel Mepaña, and Rino Berame.

By the game’s end, people were talking about center Rabeh Al-Husseini’s performance and how good Ateneo’s chances will be next season if he continues his strong post play. Al-Husseini so thoroughly outmuscled and outplayed the taller Slaughter that he reduced the tourney’s much-ballyhooed player into a spectator.

Heading into the team’s first major competition since the UAAP’s Season 70, Ateneo coach Norman Black emphasized two things: defense, and execution. “If we play good defense it will create scoring opportunities for us,” reminded the man who knows a thing or two about playing tough D. “For this game, we worked on our execution. We played these guys before and we respect them a lot so we had to make sure that we stayed true to our offense no matter what.

And for a few minutes, it seemed that the game would be all over for the UV Green Lancers right in the opening canto as the Blue Eagles took a page out of the Visayan team’s penchant for raining down destruction from the three-point arc. Following an Al-Husseini undergoal stab to start the game, back-to-back trifectas by skipper Chris Tiu and Kirk Long opened up the lane for Ateneo’s post players. The blue and whites raced to a 17-2 lead but when the second unit came in at the 3:06 mark, they were unable to hold the lead as their foes got back in the game.

The Green Lancers’ coaches – head gaffer Elmer “Boy” Cabahug (who made a name for himself with UV, Mama’s Love, and Swift back in his amateur days) and assistant Al Solis – were fearsome pistoleros back in their heyday. And their team bore an uncanny resemblance to they way they played the game. If you gave them a glimmer of daylight and they were shooting without hesitation and without remorse. Perhaps giddy that their big men had dropped the STI Olympians, the tournament’s other Cinderella team, they decided to once more muscle their way back into the scoring column. Except that meant attending a block party by that Human Eraser who sometimes goes by the name of Nonoy Baclao and Ateneo’s own giant in Al-Husseini. With Slaughter on the bench and guards Von Lanete and Ritchum Dennison misfiring, the Green Lancers were given some hope when back up guard Chris Diputado nailed a pair of treys, the second one from 79 feet away to get UV back in the game by the end of the first 10 minutes 21-12 in favor of Ateneo.

The Green Lancers continued their heady play into the second quarter to bring the lead down to three 21-18 (in favor of the Loyolans). But that was the closest they would ever get to Ateneo and the trophy.

Weathering UV’s barrage, Ateneo went into the half with some breathing space 32-26. “We have a ballgame, folks,” proclaimed BTV analyst Mark Zambrano, an Ateneo alumnus himself. “The third quarter will be interesting to see who will come out and seize control.”

Zambrano is a clever person; he knows that Ateneo normally fashions a sizeable lead in the third frame. But who could have guessed that it would only take one man to break the game wide open.

After emerging from the shadows of Japeth Aguilar in Season 69, Al-Husseini followed it up with a somewhat disappointing UAAP campaign. Two years ago, he was the beneficiary of many open look from the space carved out by JC Intal and Macky Escalona. This year he found it tougher and was on the bench for long stretches. However, in the Final Four versus La Salle, with Jobe Nkemakolam nursing a nagging injury, the younger brother of pro player Carlo Sharma played tough and began to send a message that he was a more focused player. Save for the round of eight match against Jose Rizal University where he scored only two points, Ateneo’s starting center put in double digits and good rebounding numbers every time out. And in the pivotal third quarter of the championship game, it hardly seemed fair as he almost single-handedly answered every UV shot with one of his own. And his hook shot over the taller Greg Slaughter at the 3:26 mark of the third canto sent the Ateneo crowd into frenzy and the UV big man to the bench for good. He scored 13 to the Green Lancers entire third quarter output of 14. Teammates Yuri Escueta and Baclao chipped in a few points to give Ateneo a 51-40 lead.

Right before the final quarter, Cabahug huddled his shell-shocked boys that they needed to string up a series of consecutive shots to get their confidence going. Take some good shots and they’ll have the Metro Manila team back on their heels. After all the pressure was on Ateneo’s since they had much to play for.

The Lancers turned to their big men for six straight points while Ateneo turned to Ford Arao. For a moment there, it seemed that his last game would be somewhat forgettable as his consecutive traveling violations in the late first quarter gave life to UV. Sizing up the situation and showing remarkable poise and big game maturity, Arao strung up seven points of his own to pad Ateneo’s lead to 16 at 66-40 with under six minutes left in the game.

Black’s boys sensing the kill, ratcheted up the defensive pressure. Eric Salamat and Yuri Escueta picked their UV counterparts’ pockets for four steals in the last few minutes that pretty much finished off their foes.

In the team’s last competitive game for 2007, the Blue Eagles won their first trophy of the Norman Black era. Tiu, Al-Husseini, and Ken Barracoso were named to the mythical selection while Baclao was awarded the tournament MVP. Black was named best coach and the team pocketed half a million worth of sporting equipment and money for scholarships.

“Any time you get a win it has got be good,” beamed team manager Paolo Trillo. “And these guys deserve it.”

With 1:27 left in the game, Black put in Arao one last time. “Naririnig ko yung heartbeat ko,” said the big man to himself. He took one last shot – a three-pointer that missed. But he was on target for a championship this time.

“Tapos na,” he said with satisfied finality as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “Pero Atenista tayo forever.”

Congratulations, Blue Eagles.

Thank you very much, Ford & the rest of the team.

Animo Ateneo!

Ateneo 71 – Al-Husseini 23, Tiu 11, Arao 9, Long 8, Baclao 7, Salamat 5, Escueta 4, Barracoso 4, Austria 0, Baldos 0

UV 54 – Lanete 13, Dennison 9, Luga 8, Diputado 8, Berame 6, Mepaña 6, Tangcongco 4, Slaughter 0, Villanil 0

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Predator Force

The Honeymoon Is Over In Liverpool

A perplexed Rafael Benitez is struggling in the sidelines as his club looks to find some momentum in England and Europe.

In 2001, little did anyone know at that time but Gerard Houllier’s managing of Liverpool had peaked. They won five trophies then, but missed out on the two big ones – the UEFA Champions League and the Holy Grail of English football, the Premiership. By 2004, six years after the Frenchman arrived in Anfield, change was in the air.

Around that time, the team and club management thought highly of Valencia manager Rafael Benitez whose side won the Spanish La Liga and the UEFA Cup but who seemed to want out of the Spanish club.

Some possible replacements were named --- Jose Mourinho, Alan Curbishly, and Martin O’Niell -- but Benitez seemed the runaway favorite.

The Valencia manager was unhappy that the club’s sporting director Jose Garcia Pitarch – to his thinking – underappreciated his value to the club. He was upset that management didn’t sign the players he wanted and to make things worse, they brought in footballers he thought he didn’t need. In one press conference to present one of the acquisitions, Uruguayan Nestor Canobbio, he shocked everyone by exclaiming that if he had his way, Canobbio wouldn’t see a minute of playing time. Frothing at the mouth, Benitez then blurted out “he asked for a sofa but the club brought him a lampshade.”

It was all over between Benitez and Valencia from thereon.

Three years later, the scene in Anfield has all the makings of déjà vu. Benitez’ concern is to take advantage of the coming January transfer window that will allow the Merseyside team to claim players it will need for the homestretch in the Premiership and if they do advance, in the Champions League. Liverpool has not won the domestic trophy in almost two decades and it has been a major source of embarrassment as Manchester United has overtaken them as England’s pre-eminent club. The gaffer also hoped to lock down Argentinean midfielder Javier Mascherano, who they acquired from West Ham United, but the funds to secure his long term stay with the Reds have yet to be released.

Instead, Liverpool’s new American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett came out with the statement:
"We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed.

"There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have at the club.

"We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the Manager then."

Benitez was chastened, told to keep his sentiments to himself, and to utilize the players he previously acquired. If Rafa was somber prior to the Newcastle match, he was defiant even insolent in the press conference afterwards.

While Rafa’s sentiments about taking advantage of the transfer window may be on the ball, his system and management style has seen the team let slip a number of opportunities to move up in the Premiership or even in Europe. The historic Besiktas win notwithstanding, all if not paved for advancing deep into the Champions League. He may be right to platoon his players for the long campaign ahead, but it too hurts the consistency and confidence of some of the players. It’s hard to fathom his constant complaints over the need for new players because since he joined Liverpool, he himself put the team together. He should be the last one to complain. If he is indeed an astute observer with a keen eye for talent then why have some players underperformed? And why isn’t he playing Peter Crouch more?

In the corporate world, he’d get fired for his insolent answers to the media that are thinly veiled jabs at team management:
Media: What did he think of England’s ouster from Euro 2008?
Benitez: I prefer to concentrate on training and coaching my team.
Media: What about the threat of Newcastle’s threat this weekend?
Benitez: I am focusing on coaching and training my team.

Last week Benitez was asked if he would be interested in coaching Bayern Munich, he said he’d turn them down without batting an eyelash. And when further prodded if he’d be interested in the England managerial job, he opened the floodgates for speculation with: “You never know what might happen, maybe.”

It certainly doesn’t help that sources within the club are said to be leaking rumors about infighting between the two American partners and other unsavory comments. If anything, the communication problems indicate that there’s a breakdown somewhere and that other managers have been very unprofessional in their dealings. The row has been reported to unsettle the team’s veteran players including team captain Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Pepe Reina, and Xabi Alonso. On the other hand, Benitez’ relationship with long-time assistant Paco Ayestaran broke down as his trainer will be departing for Spain come the new year. Ayestaran has been quoted as saying that Benitez’ constant horning in his job became a little too unbearable for him. And now Benitez is showing up his new owners.

Their fortunes in the Champions League and the upcoming December match with archrival Manchester United could very well determine Benitez’ status and the direction the club will be taking.

In the meantime, the drama continues.

THE DAY AFTER I POSTED THIS (and it also came out in Thursday's Business Mirror) LFC BEAT FC PORTO 3-1.

The Rook is Coming

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Die Hard With A Vengeance

Die Hard With A Vengeance
Ateneo 92 vs. UST 66
by rick olivares (pix by my main man Miggy)

Champions League Match #13
November 26, 2007
The Arena, San Juan

Give it back to the man. Reward him for that hustle play with a sweet dish for a reverse that will bring the house down.

Rabeh Al-Husseini, in his best Brett Favre impression, threw a strike to Ken Barracoso from the UST side of the court for a touchdown at the end zone. Only the ball seemed to float out of bounds for an incompletion. But credit Barracoso for not giving up as chased the rock down and saved it to Nonoy Baclao who whipped it back to Al-Husseini (who rushed back down at his team’s 15-foot line). In one motion, the 6’8” center still giving it the old quarterback try zipped it to a cutting Barracoso whose reverse over Tiger Anthony Espiritu would have made LA Tenorio proud. The dazzling lay-up restored a 13-point lead at 87-64 to the Ateneo Blue Eagles with 1:15 left in the game clock and pretty much ended any last ditch threat by UST.

Ateneo was moving on – thanks to its 92-66 victory over its UAAP nemesis – to the 2007 Collegiate National Championships against the University of Visayas Green Lancers.

If the Growling Tigers thought that the Blue Eagles’ round of eight win over Jose Rizal University would leave them tenderized for another physical game, they were sorely mistaken. Already undermanned with Zion Laterre off to Australia, Jai Reyes and Eric Salamat injured, and Jobe Nkemakolam concentrating on his studies, Ateneo found a reservoir of steel resolve and toughness to signify that they weren’t backing down from anyone. Not even when they started out slow and UST spotted them an early lead.

“You can’t be soft,” said mentor Norman Black. “We knew they were going to come out and play physical. They played that way against San Beda so we knew they’d try that with us.”

UST has always fielded a team with a dominating center surrounded by tall and lanky players who can shoot from the outside. Second-year UST coach Pido Jarencio has the luxury of fielding interchangeable players whose size and range can give opposing teams fits. So the Blue Eagles’ game plan consisted of 1) limiting Jervy Cruz, 2) guarding against the outside shot, and 3) not backing down from UST’s roughhousing tactics.

Without a full complement of players at his disposal, Blacks boys put on their hard hats and hunkered down. “The thing about physical games and the PBL kind of officiating is to not veer away from your offense,” cautioned Black. “Don’t let the calls distract you. Of course that’s easier said than done.”

Instead, it was the Tigers who seemed distracted by Ateneo’s willingness to mix it up and their own inability to execute. The Tigers had an early 9-6 lead with Ateneo groping for form but when a forearm shiver sent freshman Raymond Austria to the floor, it woke the team up. “Hindi kami papayag na ganyanin kami,” said forward-center Ford Arao.

The line in the sand drawn, the Blue Eagles immediately attacked UST’s interior. Al-Husseini sent Cruz to the bench when the UAAP MVP fouled him on a follow-up attempt. Arao once more abused the overmatched Mark Canlas and Chester Taylor in the post. And Baclao cleaned up the glass with 11 ribbies of his own as the Tiger’s field goal percentage plummeted. Ateneo seized control after a rough first quarter with a 17-11 lead.

By the second ten, as a sign of how balanced Ateneo is, eight Blue Eagles scored as they threatened to break the game wide open. “Hindi ito boxing match. Wag natin patulan yung panggugulang nila,” Jarencio inexplicably reminded his boys (when they started the rough stuff to begin with) at the half as they trailed 28-40 in favor of the Loyolans. “Kulang sila sa player; atake lang tayo.”

Except while Ateneo got the most out of a line-up where 10 of the 11 players fielded scored, UST seemed to be missing some important production. Jarencio sent all 14 of his players in and only half of them scored. His trio of point guards – Japs Cuan, Jun Cortez, and Hector Badua (the younger brother of former Ateneo Team B swingman Mark Badua) – combined for a total of 35 minutes on the court with only 3 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal to show (they also had five turnovers). In contrast, the Blue Eagle point guards Kirk Long, Yuri Escueta, and Eman Monfort combined for 26 points, 4 boards, 4 dimes, and 4 steals. And oh yeah…1 turnover (that wasn’t even one in the first place).

With UST’s guards out of commission, instead of feeding the ball to the post or involving other players in the game, the Tigers played a lot of one-on-one ball preferring to beat Ateneo with their athleticism.

Cruz, who was in and out of the game with foul trouble and because he got busted up by a Kirk Long elbow to the chin, finished with 8 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. And the two teams finished with 40 rebounds apiece.

June Dizon, in his last game in a Tigers uniform, was unceremoniously thrown out after consecutive deliberate fouls (the second one came after he retaliated).

“Execution,” said Escueta humbly after the game. “Sabi ni coach, wag magpabaya sa game plan. Just focus on the things we have to do. Thanks sa Lord we got it done.”

Give it back to the man. He was tired having come from PBL practice and yet he played big brother to the team when he saw the Tigers doing their bit of bullying.

After UST’s Dylan Ababou scored seven straight points to spark a possible Tiger comeback to start the fourth and final quarter, the ball was dumped down low to Ford Arao on the post. He missed his bank shot as he was double teamed by Cruz and Taylor. But he pulled down the offensive rebound muscled his way back in for a stab that was pure tenacity. After Khasim Mirza stuck a trey to bring down Ateneo’s lead to a dozen 72-60, Arao scattered six more points; four of them jumpers from either side of the paint’s elbow.

Ford Arao’s team is playing another finals. It will be his last game in blue and white.

Reward the man with a championship.

Ateneo 92 - Tiu 19, Arao 17, Al-Husseini 13, Long 13, Barracoso 9, Escueta 8, Monfort 5, Baclao 4, Baldos 2, Austria 2, Sumalinog 0

UST 66 - Ababou 22, Mirza 14, Allera 13, Cruz 8, Canlas 4, Cuan 3, Espiritu 2, Soriano 0, Cortez 0, Basa 0, Dizon 0, Gile 0, Taylor 0

Asi Taulava Traded to Coca Cola

Asi Taulava was traded for Ali Peek and a first round draft pick to Coca Cola. Asi's reaction to TNT's news that they were trading him was, "Are you serious?" The big man has never been traded before and one wonders whether it will light a spark under him and revive Coke's flagging hopes. Thanks to Coca Cola for this exclusive. Interview with Asi to be posted Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.

adidas Warehouse Sale!

Check this out, bros! Time to spend that hard-earned bonus. Tell them Rick sent ya!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Brew

Bleachers' Brew has been around for over a year, but honestly, before I hated it. Maybe because I was busy at work that I didn't have time for it. You can either credit or blame Mai for that. She pushed me to work on it.

We started keeping stats (via google) since September 24 and in two months, we've gotten over 16,000 hits from 59 different countries. There are over 5,000 absolute unique viewers who go to the site. Too bad we missed out on the bulk of the UAAP season. Now that would have kicked up the numbers. To my Serbian friend, thanks for writing and going to the blog! Maybe I'll get to go to Sarajevo one of these days.

As my good friend Sidney Ventura says, we've taken blogging to a whole new dimension. Hahaha.

It would be interesting to see what happens to it next year.

Anyways, some notes:

While chatting with the RP Women's Basketball Team, coach Fritz Gaston, who is a former ABL teammate of mine, chided me for putting on weight. Of course, I laughed, but ain't it the truth? But he's right, I gotta lose weight.

The interview and video with Norman Black and Paolo Trillo should be out by late this week.

If things work out, AC Milan's Kaka will be here too. And Ryan Buenafe. Trying to work out something with Liverpool FC.

Wounded Tiger. Hidden Dragon.

(This appears in my column in the sports section of today's Business Mirror.)

This is a basketball story. At times it reads like an inspirational story. Sometimes it reads like a story out of the Old Testament including wrath of God types of plagues that would have felled a man and a team of less fortitude. But it’s a story of scruples, principles, and a steel-determination to rise above the challenges of life and basketball.

Binky Favis was a star for La Salle Greenhills – “elementary to high school,” he emphasizes. He was recruited to move up to the senior circuit at Taft in 1988 and he was very much elated. He did make the team but found himself riding the bench – a third string back up to Dindo Pumaren and Teddy Monasterio. He didn’t mind thinking he’d eventually get his minutes. Only they never came. Not even another spot on a team that was ready to dominate after their archrivals from Loyola Heights began to crumble.

In his sophomore year, he found himself without a spot in the line-up. Even worse, a missing scholarship. Hurt and disconsolate, it took him only a day to feel bad about getting cut before he packed his belongings and took that short ride from Taft to España to transfer to the University of Santo Tomas.

“It was hard at first facing my alma mater,” said Favis of that big move. “I could have stayed in La Salle without a scholarship, but my passion for the game and my desire to achieve wouldn’t let me stay put. I could have sulked, but that is not in my nature. I told myself that it was a challenge to hurdle.”

He joined a Glowing Goldies team that then-coach Aric Del Rosario was slowly building into a contender. Only they ran into some stiff competition from the University of the East that had Bong Ravena and Jolly Escobar, Far Eastern University with Vic Pablo and Johnny Abarrientos, and La Salle with Jun Limpot and the Lago brothers.

By the time he hung up his sneakers, his former teammates blitzed the league with an undefeated season that saw them bag their first title in ages (it was the start of the school’s mythic four-peat). Binky heard the good-natured jokes all right. “Hinintay ka namin mag-graduate bago mag-champion,” joked some.

“No. Hinintay niyo lang ako mag-coach sa inyo para turuan kayo kung paano manalo,” was his magnificent comeback.

Coaching. It never crossed his mind. He wasn’t even that rabid a fan of the game off the court. Sure he rooted for Crispa and would watch the odd pro game if he ever caught it on television, but if he wasn’t hitting the books, he was in the gym. Dribbling. Shooting. Working out. Pushing himself to get better.

After Binky’s last playing day, a professor who he owed some school work to asked if he could coach the College of Science team during intramurals (Favis took up BS Math majoring in Computer Science). Since he “owed” the prof, he reluctantly agreed. “I went in there and didn’t expect much,” recalled Binky of those halcyon days. “With all due respect to the students from the College of Science, these were the studious types. Yung nerds. They would rather study than practice.”

“I thought that after a couple of practices it would be enough, but a few days before the start of the intramurals, my professor reminded me of the game. I agreed to attend only if he would be there as well.”

To Favis’ surprise, his team, his “nerdy students” were running everything he taught them during those few practice sessions. “Aba, okay ‘to ha,” he thought to himself. His team won that first game. And the next. And the next until they were in the finals against the team from the College of Commerce which had in its fold some of UST's Team B players. But the College of Science team won in a monumental upset.

Binky thought none of the accomplishment or the job until a school priest approached him and said he’d be coaching the high school team after their mentor passed away. He reorganized the program by lining up undergrads and players who would study. He pre-dated Coach Carter by cutting players who would not attend class and pass their subjects. “I may have cut them,” said the uncompromising coach. “But that doesn’t mean I abandoned them. I helped them out. Until they were ready once more to play.” And as a sign of appreciation for his burgeoning hoops chops and his strict adherence to academic excellence, Binky found himself an assistant to Del Rosario during those championship years (he won a couple while coaching the juniors team as well). Even after UST, he thought he’d get a real job. He played and coached the game for the sheer love and fun of it. His assistants on Coca Cola, Richie Ticzon and Boybits Victoria dreamed of a pro career even while in college. For Favis, X & Os were not in his to-do list.

But as fate would have it, Ron Jacobs came calling trying to resurrect a downtrodden San Miguel franchise. From there it was the Metropolitan Basketball Association, Letran, Ginebra, Coca Cola, and the National Team. “Everywhere I went there were challenges.”

Coca Cola. Gone are those championship days with Chot Reyes, Rudy Hatfield, Rafi Reavis, and Jeffrey Cariaso. Normally a change in team ownership would mean the players would have to make some adjustments. Except that Favis found himself the only constant in a team that not only changed management and but almost its entire roster overnight. Even the head coach was gone.

In their place he got journeymen, stars in the twilight of their career, untested rookies, and discards from other teams. “I prefer to call them acquisitions,” corrects the coach. “I believe that they will become great basketball players one day.” Only he never had the full complement of his team. The Tigers were a team of walking wounded. They were so banged up that they were actually fielding their reserve players in the starting unit (like Ronjay Buenafe). Some like RJ Rizada have had to play out of position.

The losses since last year have been mounting and certain quarters have been calling for his head on a pike. And the team has been looking for good cheer wherever they may find it. During team practice last Friday, gunner John Arigo hyper-extended his left arm casting doubt on his availability for the next few games. “You know what they say about rain when it pours,” remarked the coach albeit with a tinge of optimism. “This is the greatest challenge of my coaching career. It’s difficult, yes. But such is life with its ups and downs.”

“I’ve been blessed with a loving wife and a great family. The only thing I don’t have is a PBA championship to call my own. But I’m sure you also know what they say about wounded tigers with their backs against the wall…”

Two of the Best Ever

Chris Jericho Returns to the WWE

Jericho instantly noses into title picture of the WWE sowing even more discontent. But he sure knows how to work a crowd.

November 25, 2007

Chris Jericho's much-anticipated return finally happened Monday on RAW when he told WWE champion Randy Orton that he came back after a two-year absence to win the title. Jericho, the former undisputed champ, won't have to wait long for his opportunity, as he will get a shot at Orton and the belt at the upcoming Armageddon pay-per-view. There are rumblings in the locker room that Jericho has been back for seven minutes and hasn't done enough to earn a main-event match. But you can bet WWE didn't pay all that money just to have him be a mid-carder.

AROUND THE RING: WWE will hold a three-hour live ''Raw'' on Dec. 10 to observe the 15-year anniversary of the show. ... Some people are reporting that Kurt Angle is very frustrated with TNA management and is considering leaving the promotion in early 2008. This would obviously be a big blow to TNA, but the question is, would WWE take Angle back after all he has done to fortify the competition?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesus Saves the Celtics

You bet I've been itching to use that headline every since Ray Allen went back east. Allen knocked down the game winner as time expired to steal one away from the Charlotte Bobcats for Boston to go 11-1. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A Letter from Ed Formoso

I met Ed Formoso a long time ago when we were both immersed in the local alternative music scene. I was working with fresh new talent like Parokya ni Edgar (yes, I discovered them for Universal Records) with an old school chum Ricky Santillan who was their manager then and Datu's Tribe; also managed by former classmate and Club Dredd owner Patrick Reidenbach.

Ed and I crossed paths again while I was working at Solar Sports and there he surprised me with his boundless enthusiasm for football and the local game.

He ran for president of the Philippine Football Federation but "lost" when Mari Martinez was declared the winner 15-14. Now the catch there is that the NSA's by-laws state that the for a winner to be declared, he must have a margin of at least two votes. So why was a winner declared?

Here's Ed's statement:
"I am happy and overwhelmed by the support that my friends are showing me although i am expecting more than the 14 votes . After all is said and done, i believe things will fall in place. The absolute majority according to our by-laws is 17 votes and the current vote count is 14-15 in favor of my opponent. We are examining our options at this time and looking at all legal and technical solutions. Therefore, I say to all, my journey to the PFF presidency is unfinished."

Best of luck, Ed. Let's see how this plays out.

The Blue Eaglets on the Brotherhood

I sat down with Juami Tiongson, JV Dumrique, Al Bugarin, and Ael Banal one afternoon during the shoot for adidas' The Brotherhood at Moro Lorenzo. Here's what these kids had to say:

Rick: adidas' new campaign is called "The Brotherhood." Does this mean anything to you as a player and as a team?

Juami: Well "the brotherhood" takes the team concept further. We become more than just teammates. We're parts of a whole.
JV: (pointing to Tiongson) I consider Juami a brother. Just like my real brother Chucky is to me. It's an understanding and closeness you develop having been together competing for the school for sometime.
Juami: Yeah, he told me to shape my game up after the finals (everyone laughs).
Ael: We're going to need everyone to make sacrifices and to surrender themselves to the team concept and team goal which is to win.
Al: Ah, nasabi na nila lahat.
JV: Palusot! (everyone laughs)
Al: The loss (to DLSZ) should be a learning experience for us. Parang if we really want something, all of us have to just do our jobs until the final outcome. Siguro kulang pa kami kaya hindi para sa amin.
Juami: Bumawi si Shaq (referring to Bugarin).
(everyone laughs)

Rick: Does being a "brother" to another player mean more than being a teammate?

Ael: Yeah. That means there's a greater involvement. Hindi lang kami taga-execute ng plays. Parang may stake kami lahat sa goals namin.
Juami: It means that we are a team that cares about everyone's performance. In fact, next season, we're dedicating it to the seniors who won't be playing with us anymore. We think that's a sign that we really care for the team.
JV: Yes, it does mean more kasi we're all more involved and more concerned with what goes on. Like the saying goes, "it's all about the team not individuals."
Al: Sinabi na nila lahat (everyone breaks out in laughter). Totoo naman (he jokingly protests).
Rick: I'll let you pass on this one. (more laughter). Pero you have to run suicides later (even more laughter).

Rick: It's not about "me" but "we." Does this have any meaning to you at all?

Juami: Yes, I should have done more during Game 2. Parang nawala ako. I should have done other things to win even if I wasn't shooting well. As team captain there's a bigger responsibility. That's leading by example. It's never about the stats.
JV: It shouldn't be. No one remembers who scores a lot of points. But they remember who won. I think that means for all of us to learn to trust one another more and do more.
Ael: Ah, it's going beyond one's self. If I wasn't scoring anymore, I should have played better defense and rebound more. It's helping out my teammates who were getting beaten by their man.
Rick: You're on the hot seat, Al. (laughter by all).
Al: It means a lot to me. (the others break out into expressions of "Naks!") We have to get better as a team and help each other out on the court. Kahit pag masama yung game ng isa, we encourage each other. We play harder. We do all the things the coach asks -- pati na yung small things na -- yung mga hustle points that don't show up.
Juami: Yeah, we relaxed when we shouldn't have. Lalo na ako. But I, we will learn from this.
Rick: Thanks, guys. Good luck next year.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Son Rises. A Chat with Kiefer Ravena.

The Ravena household is like the UAAP. Mom Mozzy is from UST. Their famous father, Bong, was the King Warrior of his time aside from being a former PBA Rookie of the Year with San Miguel Beer. And up until last year, younger brother Thirdy was still in La Salle Greenhills (he has since moved to Loyola Heights). And Kiefer is from the runner-up Blue Eaglets and this young is already drawing raves from every basketball nook, chat room, and cognoscenti.

Kiefer wears #14 for the team. But for his ABL jersey he sports #24. The number fourteen by tradition has always been reserved for any basketball team’s starting center. It’s a fine tradition that began with Caloy Loyzaga when even as a senior in high school, he was leading the college varsity to the NCAA Men’s title. That’s how revered he was. And so for a frosh point guard to wear the number...

As for #24? “Kobe Bryant. Kobe. Yes, I’m a big fan so that makes me a fan of the Lakers. But I like Steve Nash too,” he adds for variety, but he swears by Black Mamba. “If he moves to Chicago then I’ll be a fan of the Bulls.”

Bong Ravena + Kobe Bryant = high-flying, high-scoring, absolutely fearless basketball player.

See the resemblance?

Athletic. Magic with the ball. A money player come money time. And that Afro.

Okay so Kiefer doesn’t sport an Afro. He laughs at the thought and ruffles his spiked hair.

While Kiefer hasn’t had that growth spurt just yet, he is already playing bigger than his height. As a freshman, he played the game of his life against the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers in the just-concluded Junior’s UAAP basketball tournament. It’s rare that a freshman makes the junior varsity. More so to stay in a close game during crunch time. But there he was taking it to the hole against the taller Archers. And just when his guards thought he’d be driving to the hoop, he would stick a trey right in their faces. It was an incandescent performance despite a losing cause. Yet it was eerily reminiscent of LA Tenorio in the 2001’s seniors’ finals where he pumped in 33 huge points to forever cement his name in UAAP lore.

The league may have conferred the rookie of the Year Award to a player from UE, but the UAAP Press Corp restored a measure of justice by handing it to Ravena.

Dad Bong is proud of his son’s accomplishments. But the son is even prouder. He knows an obscure stat: “Dad scored 27 in his first game in the UAAP (and that was against Ateneo).”

“And napanood ko na siya sa Talk n Text.”

It’s a Friday and the high school has been let out early. Practice is at 4pm and before that pro team Coca Cola then PBL team Pharex are scheduled one after another for their own team practices. Ravena steals some time to shoot on one of the unused courts. There are two things he distinctly remembers – the SBP loss to Ateneo when he was playing for La Salle Greenhills in Grade 5 (Ravena missed a potential game winner against an Ateneo team that was bannered by Chucky Dumrique, Jayvee’s younger brother).

It was to be his last game for LSGH as he transferred to Ateneo the following year after being recruited by none other than the blue and white’s chief patron Manny Pangilinan. Even then there were rumors floated about by parents of his former schoolmates that he deliberately missed the shot (that would have given the Greenies an SBP three-peat) since he was transferring to Ateneo. “That wasn’t true,” he asserts.

At first he worried the transition would be difficult, but some of his new schoolmates were familiar to him since they played together in various tournaments.

Now he walks the campus like he’s been here in all his life. Clearly enjoying his new school, he’s aware of the tradition and the possibilities. “Malaking inspiration sa akin na yung mga players ng Ateneo nakakuha ng magandang education. Nakikita ko naman na hindi lahat ng player kahit yung ibang magagaling at umaabot sa PBA. Yung iba nandoon pero hindi tumatagal. Saan na sila pagkatapos noon?”

“So big deal yung studies sa akin at sa parents ko. And sana makalaro para sa Blue Eagles.”

If you care for the sacking of Steve McClaren

Friday, November 23, 2007

Big Heart. Big Dreams.

Big Heart. Big Dreams.
by Rick Olivares

It’s a none too fancy press conference for the Philippine Women’s Basketball team at Dulcinea along the restaurant row that is Tomas Morato in Quezon City. But the 14-strong team and their coach Fritz Gaston are grateful for every bit of help that comes their way.

“As you can see, we’re trying to build something beautiful along the way,” said the be-medaled former Ateneo and Philippine Basketball Association star. “We are definitely on to something. In fact people are looking into the possibility of a pro league for women. And these girls are the right ones to make the sport popular here in the country.”

While Gaston was sharing his views on why it’s a welcome and nice change to be coaching women instead of men with other guests, his players seated on the adjacent table gushed and smiled at a picture that veteran photographer Tony Lu circulated among the them. It was a picture of Gaston dating back to his days with the Crispa Redmanizers back in his Philippine Basketball Association years in the early 1980’s (he wrapped up a successful four-year stint with Tommy Manotoc’s giant-killing U-Tex Wranglers prior to the move). When he wheeled around to check on his wards, national team mainstay AJ Adriano laughed, “Okay sa shorts, coach.”

Despite the light mood at the press con, everyone knows the game is serious business. Fresh from a silver medal finish in the SEABA Games in Phuket, Thailand, the RP-Cebuana team, as they are known, have been working on their conditioning and their game in preparation for the 24th Southeast Asian games in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. If teams took them lightly in Phuket, they sure won’t for Nakhon Ratchasima.

“Thailand immediately scheduled us for their first match so we can’t scout them,” related Gaston. “But it works both ways. They can’t scout our reinforcements either.”

In the last SEABA, the team played for a grueling six straight days. “I don’t think I’ve ever played competitively for six straight days back in college (with Maryland) or in the pros (in Australia with the Sydney Flames),” said Vicki Brick, the team’s secret weapon in Phuket. “The last time around, we had like seven or eight days to blend, but now the team is more familiar with one another, better conditioned, and better prepared. But we still have to find how to integrate MJ and Amira (Melissa Jacob and Amira Issa; the team’s Fil-Am reinforcements). It’s all going to boil down to execution.”

Bucking a mild back injury that has kept her from going full throttle, Jacob was optimistic about throwing her weight around, “I’m in the learning process. I’m getting to know everyone’s sweet spots on the floor. Hopefully I can contribute in anyway possible.”

The SEA Games will have only have a four team field as other countries have backed out of the competition so every game is critical. A loss can immediately jeopardize one’s medal hopes. When asked of the team can win SEA Games gold, Brick deadpanned, “Heck, I dream about it every night.”

The RP team although not yet trimmed down to its 12-member roster, will be leaving for China this coming Monday, November 26 to train. There they will be playing a combination of youth, college, and military teams as part of their preparations for the SEA Games. The team will be back on home soil on December 2nd and depart with the rest of Philippine delegation on the 5th.

The team pool is composed of Joan Grajales, Emelia Vega, Adriano, Pixie Valencia, Diane Jose, Mae Narciza, Chiko Matsuno, Fats Tolentino, Tin Chua, Pipay Villanueva, Cassy Tioseco, Brick, Jacob, and Issa.

Considering the lack of popularity of women’s basketball in the country, every member of the team immediately jumped at the opportunity to play for flag and country. Pipay Villanueva quit her job just to play. “This is a once in a lifetime experience. Not everyone gets to do this,” said the former Ateneo Lady Eagle who was a part of the school’s team that won its first ever UAAP Women’s title in 2005.

Grajales, who played for the University of Iloilo and has been with the team since 2003, was clearly excited about this team’s chances. “Sa palagay ko, ito na yung pinakamalakas na team na kasama ako. Sana tuloy tuloy na.”

Summed up Gaston, “We have the skills to compete. The other teams –like Thailand have been around for about four years now. In fact, they’ve been in training for the last eight months just for SEA Games gold. But I’ll say this, this team has got a big heart. And any day, give me players with big hearts and I’ll show you what we can do.”

Side story: The UAAP throws in its support
The press conference was sponsored in part by the UAAP. “For the last 15 years, the UAAP has been sending athletes and teams to compete in the World University Games,” said Ateneo’s Jun Jun Capistrano. “Since we have a lot of our players on the women’s national team, we really wanted to support them.”

And the show of support has come in from gracious individuals and corporations like Manny Pangilinan, Pato Gregorio and the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas, Alex Wang, Cynthia Tiu, Robin Tong, Cebuana Lhuillier, Burlington, Nike, Gatorade, Petron, and Victory Liner among others.

“We are definitely happy about the support we’re getting,” said Gaston. “Like I said, every little bit counts and they know we’re onto something good here.”

Poll Results:
Should the collegiate Champions League be the premier college competition in the land?

Yes. But the SBP should heavily promote and sanction it. 36 votes.
No. The UAAP & NCAA are the better leagues and don't need any other league to steal their thunder. 17 votes.

Predator Swerve

adidas has launched the new Predator swerve, a football boot poised to be the most dynamic on the market when it drops in to stores in December. The first Predator boot was created over 13 years ago and has been through 9 models to bring us to the present day – so what does this new boot have to offer? The PowerPulse insoles have been upgraded to include 40g of "Tungsten" powder to spread weight evenly across the feet and to put power behind the foot. Each pair comes with different insoles that you can -customise depending on the game you are playing, an X-traction quick-change stud system and offset lacing to provide a larger kicking surface. All in all, these boots are guaranteed to improve your game.

Players like Steven Gerrard, Alessandro Del Piero, and Frank Lampard will be sporting these cool cleats.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Ateneo 81 vs. Jose Rizal University 71
by Rick Olivares
Photos by Miggy Mendoza

Champions League Match #11
November 21, 2007
The Arena of San Juan

The tale of the tape
Some things never change. As a player, in the mid to late 1960’s, Ricky Palou’s Blue Eagles found every game against Jose Rizal College (as they were known back then) in the eyes of many, a test of manhood. The Heavy Bombers may not have had always the most talented of teams, but they were one of the toughest to play. It was grind it out high intensity basketball. “Trench warfare,” were the words teammate Tito Panlilio used to describe those matches.

The team from Shaw Boulevard might have been accorded “university” status today, but their game remains ever the same. Bruising, physical basket… brawl, er, ball. And JRU’s second year coach Alex Vanguardia wouldn’t want it any other way. Said veteran NCAA sportscaster Butch Maniego, “They found a style they are comfortable with. And it masks their lack of ceiling.”

Jose Rizal is the team the other NCAA teams don’t want to play. Others may have gotten away with a victory but the telltale bruises, fat lips, and welts afterwards told of the struggle to get the “W.”

While in preparation for the Elite Eight Round of the 2007 Collegiate Champions league, Norman Black reminded the team that they had to meet JRU’s physicality with their own. “We need to show and tell them that we’re not backing down,” he emphasized to an attentive squad. “It’s also important to move that ball around to spread their defense. And when we’ve done that, we attack their middle where they are weak.”

Said team trainer Chester Tiongson, “It’s one thing to put your mindset that it will be a physical game as opposed to not expecting it at all. It throws off your game.”

“We’re ready,” said sophomore guard Eric Salamat as the team raced onto the court for warm-ups.

The Blue Eagles were indeed ready, but the actual game in itself was something else. A total of 20 fouls were called in the first quarter that took almost 25 minutes to play with all its stoppages, potential flash points, and free throw shooting. The Ateneo team and supporters traded barbs and jeers with their opposite numbers. “Just like the old days,” chuckled Blue Eagle alum Jimmy Alabanza. ‘No quarter is given.”

Kirk Long was clotheslined by JRU point guard Mark Cagoco, Salamat was elbowed in the mouth, and Bacon Austria was floored by forward Mark Pradas. The crowd howled for the pint of flesh, but no technical fouls were forthcoming. The Blue Eagles slogged their way through the trenches to lead 37-34 at the half.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
With two minutes and ten seconds left in the third quarter, Ateneo led by a point, 52-51, courtesy of consecutive field goals by Blue Eagles’ skipper Chris Tiu. Having just arrived from a national team stint in Singapore, Tiu was in marvelous game shape. However, he still had to unpack his jumpshot from his suitcase as he missed all five of his attempts from the field in the first half.

But by the late third quarter, after he swished his second straight jumper – this one from the right side of the court, Tiu bothered by all the tight guarding and second man-to-man defense by the Heavy Bombers served notice that he would be shackled no more. Vanguardia vigorously instructed his players – JM Wilson and JR Bulangis to mark the Atenean closely.

As Tiu drove hard for the basket, he was bludgeoned but the referees swallowed their whistles. He gave the refs a pleading look for a moment then raced downcourt to get back on defense. Senior forward Mike Baldos pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled by JRU’s Jayson Nocom. As he trooped to the stripe for a pair of free throws (JRU was in penalty), Nocom told Baldos, “mintis mo.”

The Atenean smiled and coolly canned his first, smiled at his opponent, then sank his second. It was 54-51 for Ateneo and Norman Black’s boys showed that they were not at all intimidated.

Forty seconds later, forward Ken Barracoso, playing with steely verve over the last few games, nailed a dead-eye three pointer to pad the cushion to seven, 57-51. The tide had turned.

Taking out the head and the body
Two years ago, after the NCAA’s Season 82 (where San Beda won its first championship in 28 years) ended, the Heavy Bombers lost their MVP candidate in Floyd Dedicatoria. This past season, with no impact rookies to replace his team’s lost firepower, JRU head coach Ariel Vanguardia wondered who would step up. Think of Ford Arao’s impact on Ateneo’s last season; that’s what their do-it-all forward Marvin Hayes was to his team.

Unfortunately for Vanguardia, Hayes was taken out of the fight right from the opening tip. Matched up against Nonoy Baclao, Hayes took eight attempts at the basket. Four of them – including the first three – were rejected by the long-armed Blue Eagle forward. They were almost even in the rebounding 16-15, but Baclao’s 11 points and 6 blocks were the difference. “He sure made them think twice about taking shots inside,” said Black of his prize forward’s ability to alter opponent’s game plans with his defensive presence (the official tally for his blocks were six, but by this writer’s count, he had eight).

JRU finished in the top four of the NCAA with no small thanks to its point guard Mark Cagoco. He can drive, pop and shoot, stick the three, and dish. A point guard in every sense of the word. He makes this team go. Unfortunately for him, on this day, Cagoco thought he was a linebacker as he tackled and blitzed right through the Blue Eagles and found himself in foul trouble for thinking that he was Lawrence Taylor. It certainly didn’t help his team’s cause as he missed all 11 of his shots from the field.

But this is JRU. They’re the NCAA’s version of National University (read: they haven’t met a three-pointer that they didn’t like) except that these Heavy Bombers are in a real sense “pit bulls” more than NU will ever be “bulldogs.” They are the bomb squad of the grand old league. They jacked up 32 trey attempts and made found the bottom only on 10 of them (we were just as atrocious making 8 of 27).

With two of their cogs cancelled out, Ateneo – Black played 11 of his available 12 players – got significant contributions from just about everybody. Tiu once he got going made five of nine field goal attempts and three out of four free throws in the second half to finish with 16 points. His block on a JM Wilson three-pointer (after JRU’s whirling dervish of a forward nailed two straight threes) with the Heavy Bombers threatening to come back at 79-68 pretty much ended any threat of a comeback. “Good D. Good D,” cheered assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga from the bench with a righteous pumped fist.

Ford Arao, feeling his legs having to play double duty in the PBL topscored with 18 while pulling down 7 boards. Barracoso continued his sterling play with 12 points , 3 rebounds, and 4 assists (including the sweet dish of the game to a streaking Mike Baldos (who put in the right amount of body English for the shot to trickle in) off a foul by Nocom.

After the game mercifully ended, the two teams congratulated one another. A relieved Norman Black thanked his team. “I’m proud of our boys because they didn’t back down and instead of retaliating (to JRU’s roughhousing tactics), they just went out and played good basketball.”

Outside by the players’ entrance, University Athletics Director Ricky Palou shared a smoke and some small talk with the coaching staff and other supporters. “Pare, that was some win,” said the proud yet relieved former Blue Eagle.

Against an old foe with a penchant for rough play.

Some things never change.

Notes: In last year’s champions league, JRU was a wild card entry who knocked out then newly crowned UAAP champ UST on their homecourt and NCAA fourth seed Mapua on their way to a final four match with San Beda who barely knocked them out. This year, they couldn’t work their Cinderella magic on Ateneo that was missing the services of Jobe Nkemakolam and Zion Laterre.

The Blue Eagles will play UST in the Champions League Final Four on Monday, November 26, at 4pm in The Arena. Support the team. Go Ateneo!

Ateneo 81 – Arao 18, Tiu 16, Barracoso 12, Baclao 11, Baldos 7, Long 6, Reyes 4, Escueta 3, Salamat 2, Al-Husseini 2, Austria 0, Sumalinog 0

JRU 71 – Wilson 26, Pradas 13, Sena 10, Nocom 10, Bulangis 6, Se 4, Hayes 2, Cagoco 0, Kabigting 0, Lituania 0

My Last Word on the UP Coaching Issue

Joe Lipa was finally banned from entering the UP Gym yesterday, November 21. He actually received a letter this time.

I have nothing against Dean Callanta (who I sat beside with today during lunch; we had a very interesting discussion on hoops as he also shared his experiences in the PBA), Ronnie Magsanoc, or any other prospective coach.

I thought that what was done to Joe was totally unfair. If he really had to be replaced, it should have been done in a more tasteful manner.

Everyone seems to be confused -- even the prospective coaches -- about the situation. In that respect, the College of Human Kinetics erred. They didn't act at all with regard for others and they sure didn't act decisively.

I heard that Ronnie has taken himself out of the running. Some said that this early, pinapakialaman na siya. Other sources say, that he didn't want to enter in this kind of mess.

Some now even say that Joey Guanio has thrown his name in the hat. Whether true or not, some even said that the other team sponsors will not support him. To borrow Ron Simmons catchphrase, "Damn!"

Look whoever it is. Support that coach. Be patient and be very supportive. And most of all, be respectful. This is after all a school "event" or function. Or whatever the hell you want to call it. Watch out what you're teaching the kids and the students.

I'm out of this issue like a light.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The World’s A Ball for Three Fil-Ams

This also appears in the Thursday, November 22 issue of Business Mirror.

There’s traveling in basketball. Just ask Amira Quintanilla Abou Issa. All six feet and two inches of her.

Amira, as she asks to be called, hails from Jacksonville, North Carolina, a coastal city by the Atlantic Ocean. “We don’t have beaches like they have in California, but it’s still pretty much a fun place to go to,” she related during an interview at the Regalia Towers in Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City. Issa is billeted there along with fellow Fil-Americans Melissa Jacob and Vicki Brick who will be joining the Philippine Women’s Basketball Team to the Bangkok Southeast Asian Games this December. “I tried to take up surfing until I got hit by a board on the head. I guess that was it for me and surfing because I concentrated on tennis and basketball from there.”

She was born to a Filipina mother and Syrian father in the United States and played Division III hoops for Meredith College from 2002-06. “I enrolled in Meredith and actually played two sports – tennis and basketball,” she recounted of her affinity to sports, but my height sort of pushed me towards hoops.”

After graduation (Amira took up International Business and Spanish), she took part in a couple of training camps in the Women’s National Basketball Association but instead she found herself playing in Bulgaria. “I actually never got to play because the club I went to released me because of sponsorship problems,” she recalled of the unfortunate incident. “I found out that this often happens to American players who try to play overseas. So instead I put in my time teaching English and Spanish to Bulgarians. I got my certification and could actually use it to find a job later on.”

Like her fellow Fil-Americans Brick and Jacob, Amira received an invitation via email from Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas Chairman Patrick Gregorio (Brick was discovered via google). “I was thinking of going to law school, but I couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity,” she gleefully relates.

Jacob who went to the University of California-Irvine says that she was likewise excited about the opportunity to play for the Philippines. “An opportunity is an opportunity,” says the girl from Orange County. “MJ” as she is nicknamed, was born in the United States but her parents hail from Alaminos, Pangasinan. “Dad just loved to cook those traditional Filipino dishes."

She will share point guard duties on the Fritz Gaston-mentored team with Joan Grajales, Emelia Vega, and Brick. “She can shoot,” marveled national team center Cassy Tioseco of Jacob. Tioseco who is on her second tour of duty wearing the national colors, says that the inclusion of the Fil-Ams will hopefully augur well for RP Women’s basketball. “In the last SEABA, the other countries didn’t know what to expect from us. After we beat Thailand in the opening game everyone began to play us hard. We don’t know about their reinforcements, but neither do they know about us.”

Vicki Brick, the former Maryland Lady Terrapin point guard (she played from 1999-2004) who caught the women’s basketball world by surprise with her inclusion in the Philippine line-up concurs. “I heard that every team has beefed up their line-ups. We’re not just thinking about getting back at one team but playing everyone equally hard.”

Brick, who played recently with the Sydney Flames in Australia and idolizes former Houston Comet Cynthia Cooper and Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, is not a stranger to hard work. Growing up in Baltimore where she knew current Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, Brick was a gym rat. “I played serious tennis and nearly went to the Chris Evert Tennis Academy. I enjoyed soccer too and if I had any time away from sports, my parents would say, ‘let’s hit the gym.’ So that’s me – a fitness freak."

But by the time she was graduating from high school, letters of interest from colleges began pouring in. “I eventually decided that I’d have more fun in basketball,” she smiles.

Basketball has allowed the three girls to reconnect with their Filipino roots. While in Bulgaria, Amira alone and far from the comfort zone of family and friends was advised to go to the nearest local Catholic Church. “That’s where I’d find other Filipinos,” she says with a laugh. “Even back in North Carolina, I was exposed to the traditional cultural dances. I even learned how to dance the tinikling.”

Now that they’re playing for Team Philippines they are hoping that the media attention they and women’s basketball receives will help the game grow in the country. “Every bit of help for the game will mean well for us and for the sport,” says Brick.

And when it comes to Philippine women’s basketball, “In the SEABA a gold would have been really really great, but a silver – when you consider the country’s history in the sport – isn’t so bad. Now hopefully, we’ll do it one better this time now that MJ and Amira are with us,” sums up Brick who is clearly enjoying her stay and stint with the country.

“After all it’s an opportunity and I get to travel,” concludes Issa.

Muchos gracias to good friend Robin Tong for setting up the interview and the coffee.

Rivalry? What rivalry?

The other day, I sat down with some fellow Ateneo alumni and while talking the time away, one said that there was nothing quite like the atmosphere of an Ateneo-La Salle game. I said, "yer kidding me."

The looked at me like I was nuts and I continued, "Obviously ya'll never been to a football match. No, not the local games, but the European ones..."

So I told them in 2005 UEFA Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool FC, the Merseyside supporters were cheering and rocking the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey -- two hours prior to the match and all the way until its glorious end.

And speaking of Turkey, two of its clubs, Fenerbahce (which now has in their line-up one of my fave footballers in free kick specialist Roberto Carlos) and Galatasaray have a heated rivalry like our Ateneo-La Salle. But the atmosphere is totally totally different. And that is a goddam understatement. Check out these vids to see what I mean. The vid showing a match between the two teams is from a game last October 2007. Bloody hell!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ateneo vs San Sebastian highlights in 1st Round of CCL

Football News

Word is Peter Crouch will leave Liverpool for either Aston Villa or Manchester City this coming January 2008. He simply will not thrive in Rafa Benitez' platoon system. It's lost on Bentiez that in 23 caps for crouch, he has scored 13 times and in those matches, England won every one of them. I thought in the last UEFA Champions League finals rematch with AC Milan, Benitez brought him in too late to make an impact. I'd love to see Crouchy finish his career with the Reds, but if it's going to be the best for his career, then I wish him the best.

But it's gonna be tough seeing him in another kit. Just ike it it with Robbie Fowler.

On the other hands, after this season, it is expected that Sir Alex Ferguson will be moved to a front office job with manchester United while... Jose Mourinho will replace him as chief gaffer. Hokey Smokes, Didier! What are you gonna say now?

The launch for the new Predator football shoe went well in London. We'll try to get pix of that.

Support the candidacy of Ed Formoso for Philippine Football Federation President! This guy's heart is in the right place. When the Azkals' games in the ASEAN Cup Qualifiers were shown on Solar Sports, it was Ed who personally raised the money needed for the games to be shown. No BS with this, dude. He'll help get football in this country off the ground.

Escape to Victory

I was reading an excerpt from S.L. Price’s excellent book, Far Afield the other day and there was a part where he was reminiscing with Michael Jordan about their days at the University of North Carolina. Despite his fame and his accomplishments, Jordan’s secret refuge was those days before he became a global icon. And Price told of how Jordan would talk of those good old days.

Many people try to escape or forget their past for various reasons. I myself wish to bury more than quite a few of those relics and memories. But there are many precious and golden that even when I’m fighting those bouts of unhappiness I retreat to them.

Just last night while I was fighting off the effects of food poisoning, I was watching Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror. It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but Rodriguez never intended it to be an art film or something akin to even Saving Private Ryan – a masterful film cut across the swath of death and destruction of war. Planet Terror is nothing more than a 1970’s zombie flick that’s meant to pass the time by. The 70’s weren’t so innocent and much of it I didn’t like since disco ruled during the decade’s end. But aside from Marvel Superheroes, Saturday morning cartoons, fantasizing about Cheryl Tiegs in that famous fishnet swimsuit, and Farrah Fawcett-Majors flashing those dazzling pearly-whites in a bikini, I loved football. I loved the mud on my face and my spikes. I loved the sweat from heat of the sun and the incandescent celebration that exploded from a goal.

The 70's -- here I am speaking like some ancient dinosaur -- was decades removed from cable television and the internet. The only access I had to the New York Cosmos was when I was at my grandparent’s place. Watching Rodriguez’ retro film made me think about a couple of films: One on One starring Robbie Benson and Escape to Victory starring Sly Stallone, Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow, and Pele. Now since I have the DVD of Escape to Victory (I bought it at Best Buy in East 86th and Lex), I ejected the zombie flick and plopped Victory in.

Then as it is now, it’s a treat to watch a film about football set during World War II (military adventure and football are two of my favorite genres). The story is about when the Germans played Allied prisoners in a friendly match in occupied France. Unknown to German intelligence, the Allies and the French underground hatched a plan to spring the players in a mass escape. I never knew it back then but the film was inspired by a true story when the Germans played Ukrainian prisoners who once played for Dynamo Kiev before the war. The Germans lost handily every time out and the sore losing Master Race sent the Ukrainians to labor camps where many of them perished.

The film directed by John Huston received a great deal of attention for its stars and the football players it featured. There was Tottenham great Osvaldo Ardilles, West Ham and Manchester United’s Bobby Moore (although he was more heavy set since he was well past his playing days in the film), Mike Summerbee of Manchester City, Werner Roth, Pele’s teammate with the Cosmos, Co Prins of Ajax Amsterdam, Hallvar Thorensen of PSV Eindhoven, and several players from Ipswich FC, Anderlecht, and Manchester City.

Football plays an integral part of the film. The prisoners of war are coached and represented by John Colby (Michael Caine) who agrees to play an exhibition match against a German team, only to find themselves involved in a Nazi propaganda tournament. In the end, the POWs can leave the Nazi camp only to play the match; they are supposed to return to the camp after the game. During the match, despite the match officials being heavily biased towards the Nazis, a draw is achieved after great performances from Terry Brady (played by Bobby Moore), Luis Fernandez (portrayed by Pelé), Carlos Rey (portrayed by Osvaldo Ardiles) and Arthur Hayes (portrayed by John Wark). American soldier Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plays goalkeeper and makes excellent saves including one last save on a penalty kick as time expires to deny the Nazis the win, drawing the game 4-4. Although, the POWs scored a goal which was called offside by the referee, that should have made the score 5-4, the crowd began to chant "Victora!"

Some team members plan to escape at halftime (led by Hatch) but the rest of the team (led by Russell Osman saying "but we can win this") want to carry on with the game despite being behind at halftime. They manage to escape at the end of the game amidst the confusion caused by the crowd storming the field after Hatch preserves the draw.

Les Shannon, ex-Burnley F.C. player, choreographed the actual game presented in the film while Pelé designed of plays. Gordon Banks, England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper, coached Sylvester Stallone. The game was filmed in the Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor in Budapest, Hungary.

Watching it again for the nth time the other night while battling a fever, I enjoyed it just as I did back then. That was a time when Pele’s bicycle kick was one of the most incredible sights I thought I’d ever see. There aren’t many football movies I like. Kuno Becker’s Goal I & II are okay, but Escape to Victory is still my fave.