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.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Bleachers' Brew #88 A Hard Court Challenge

(This appears in my column is today's issue of the Business Mirror.)
by rick olivares

John Patrick Gregorio remembers two games very distinctly. There is the closed-door championship between Ateneo and San Beda in 1978 and the 1980 PBA championship where the U-Tex Wranglers rallied from a four-point deficit in the last 16 seconds to forge overtime and ultimately defeat a star-studded Toyota team. It isn’t so much as the games that stand out to Gregorio. But despite his very young age when the games were played, it was what happened on the side that made a huge impression on him. For the NCAA title match between the ancient rivals, it was how the country was riveted to their televisions sets never mind if they never matriculated in Loyola Heights or Mendiola. In the chaos that followed U-Tex’s miraculous comeback where disappointed Toyota fans pelted the court with debris, it was seeing one lady fan get busted open after being hit by one of those old but big one-peso coins. Despite the blood flowing freely, she refused to be taken away and she stayed to watch the final outcome of the match.

It was a gruesome sight for the young Pato (who was a diehard Tanduay fan) but it spoke volumes of the passion that the game stirs the Filipino’s soul. And it is that same passion that drives Gregorio now as Executive Director of the BAP-SBP.

In the days since an article came out in the Philippine Star about Gregorio’s proposal for a possible UAAP-NCAA merger for next college basketball season which is coincidentally the University of the Philippines’ centennial anniversary (Pato is a State U alum), it is perhaps the hottest national hoops topic since the FIBA Asia campaign and has drawn its fair share of critics and supporters.

“The idea is nothing new,” agreed Gregorio. “Rey Gamboa and Joe Lipa floated this idea a couple of years ago. When I met with them and they told me that they were rebuffed because they were an outside party, I wondered ‘what if the request is made by a member school?’ We consulted a lot of people – to use MVP’s (PLDT Chairman and President Manuel V. Pangilinan) terms – ‘to socialize the idea’ and everyone said to go for it.”

“Now if Ateneo which will be celebrating its 150th year in 2009 makes a similar request and then San Beda or La Salle who will also be celebrating their anniversaries after that also make similar requests, then why not? Then tuloy tuloy na ‘to. It doesn’t simply benefit UP; it helps everyone else. I understand that every school receives a certain amount from sponsorships and revenue. Then think of it this way… a united league will not only be more exciting and will elevate the quality of the game, but it will increase each school’s revenue. And that should really help their other programs. Of course there are considerations from rules to eligibility to the scheduling. Then I say address it. If the parties concerned can put together an ad hoc committee to oversee the possibility of playing together. It’s keeping an open mind and heart not going into it na hindi pa nasusubukan, eh ayaw na.”

Gregorio admitted he could have used that bit of advice when he was younger. He played two years of JV ball in UPIS before moving up to the senior ranks. On his way to the tryouts for the Maroons (then coached by Lipa), Pato took one look at the names at the back of the jerseys who were competing for his “guard” position – they were a couple of fellas by the name of Magsanoc and Altamirano – and he decided “mag-aaral na lang ako at mag-cheer para sa team.”

But even while working as a marketing person and later president for a hotel chain, basketball never strayed far from Gregorio’s heart. He spent 10 years of his life in Davao and Cebu and there he learned to appreciate hoops from a different perspective. “Kulang sa support,” he pronounced. “Unlike in Manila na mas marami. I know their frustrations so people shouldn’t view the proposal for a joint venture between the UAAP and the NCAA as being too Manila-centric. We put up national training centers in those regions and have consulted the Champions League Group of Coach Lipa and Mr. Gamboa and FilOil-Flying V Sports’ Virgil Villavicencio and Dave Dualan to develop a similar program for competition for the other regions. We want to bring that kind of excitement everywhere. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel all the time. It is part of our directive to tap existing structures, improving them, and supporting them for a common goal and that is to create a great program.”

One of the decisions has been to appoint De La Salle University’s multi-titled mentor and former national player Franz Pumaren as its youth coach. “Some people have lambasted me for giving La Salle room to recruit these players,” said Gregorio who manages to temper his school pride in favor of putting the country’s interests first. “Have they not considered that I’m from UP and if I wanted to help my school then I would have appointed a fellow alumnus to handle the team? Don’t you think that MVP would have pushed for an Atenean as the head coach to help his alma mater? The fact of the matter is Franz Pumaren is an excellent coach. Now helping him out are (Ateneo’s) Sandy Arespacochaga and (San Beda’s) Ato Badolato… that’s veteran stewardship and up-and-coming talent. Besides, this move has the blessing of people upstairs. ”

One of the SBP’s projects is to bring quality coaching clinics to every corner of the country. Most recently, the SBP licensed some 700 coaches to preach the fundamentals and science of the game to this basketball-mad archipelago. And this early, there’s a glimmer of hope. Arnold De Guzman of Roxas, Isabela texted Gregorio a couple of days ago: “Dahil po sa coaching clinic niyo for the first time nagchampion and town namin. Maraming salamat po.”

In the last FIBA Asia, FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann took Gregorio aside during the championship that was won by Iran. “Look at these Iranians,” marveled Baumann. “They won their age group when they were 15. They won it again by the time they were 18. And now at 22 years of age, they are champions of Asia. That is what the Philippines should put together… a comprehensive, unified, and coherent program. Only then can you regain your lost stature in basketball.”

Gregorio is a tourism graduate of UP yet he is a self-avowed history buff. The lessons of the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association aren’t lost on him. He refuses to use the words “failures” or “mistakes” when discussing the learnings of going regional. “I prefer to call them challenges,” he enthused. “And our efforts for basketball are simply to instill pride in our country and pride when people put on the national jersey. I am a man of limitations and can only use the help of some of the great minds such as Coach Lipa, Pumaren, Badolato, and movers like MVP to name but a few.”

It’s 10:30 pm on a Saturday night and Gregorio, Dualan, and myself are having coffee in Starbucks Katipunan talking about basketball’s positives, problems, and what it can do for the rest of the country. It isn’t so much about the game but the passion that it stirs within us all.


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