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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

So who cares about the US Open?

Ana in.

Ana out.

Ana-dah US Open without my favorites.


Ateneo vs NU Round Two

The Ghostkillahs
Ateneo 83 vs. NU 58

by rick olivares

Do you believe in signs?

Do you believe in payback?

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you still believe?

Ateneo Blue Eagles assistant coach Gene Afable has seen this before. A juggernaut team on a mission. After all, he played on one too 30 years ago when the blue and white won its second straight UAAP basketball crown with a 13-2 record (they actually won 20 straight games dating back to the previous campaign).

And good teams would want a little payback… in spades. Last year, the Blue Eagles fell to UE in the third game of the tournament and it precipitated a minor skid. The blues slammed the brakes and put on a five game win streak of their own to barge into the second season but not before falling to UE again. This year, the Blue Eagles blanked the Red Warriors in both rounds and have claimed the top spot for about two months now.

But it was the shock overtime loss to NU in the final game of the elimination round that threw a monkey wrench into the Big Blue Machine. And although they bowled over the Bulldogs in succeeding tournaments and in the first round of Season 71, here they were again dancing to the same song. While in public, members of the team and the coaching staff have said that they’ve all moved on, privately, they wanted this game for NU was once more in the spoiler’s role position. And the game presented itself as getting the proverbial money, er, bulldog of their backs.

For NU, it has been another disappointing year. While probably not a Final Four team, they are definitely better than their 2-10 record. And before they call it a season, they’d love nothing better than to claim another title favorite (as they did to FEU earlier in the second round) as a dog bite victim. “Protektahin natin ang bahay natin (the shaded lane),” exhorted NU Coach Manny Dandan to his wards prior to the start of the game. He also reminded his team of their penchant for being giant-killers. “Believe in yourselves,” he concluded.

Dandan had been sick over the last few days after he read his team the riot act after a series of disheartening nuclear meltdowns by his squad that should have very well been wins. What started out as nothing more than a simple case of laryngitis had metastized into an infection. But with their coach back in harness, his team was sure to come out snorting into hungry junkyard dogs.

Ateneo had paid attention to the Bulldogs’ near upset of FEU for a second time (but they fell short 64-60) and they knew they’d be a handful. The Blue Eagles may have five rookies in tow but the veterans have long memories and they remember those ghosts of failures past.

So today, as Jobe Nkemakolam likes to remind his teammates, “is all about taking care of business.”

After Jai Reyes buried a jumper to seemingly put the game beyond reach early on at 21-7 many figured the team was on its way to a merry rout. Instead, the Bulldogs showed their bite.

It began with an innocuous block by Cris De La Cruz on Nonoy Baclao where the overeager Bulldog gave the Atenean a stare down. Baclao smirked at him and it stoked his competitive embers. A couple of plays later, the Ateneo forward smothered De La Cruz and he returned the stare down.

And from thereon, it escalated into a sneak preview of Wrestlemania as the Raymond “Cheesedog” Aguilar* knocked Ryan Buenafe on his ass then planted an elbow drop on the Ateneo rookie that the referees caught for a technical foul. Then Aaron Galapon got it on with Jobe Nkemakolam and Edwin Asoro began planting elbows on just about everybody else.

It seemed for a while the relevant scoring was on cheap shots and taunts rather than baskets. It’s a damned mystery why the referees’ tend to blow their whistle on ticky tacky and even phantom fouls when during the instances they need to clamp down, they’re quiet.

Surprisingly, the Bulldogs found the physical nature of the game more to their liking as they dropped a 22-8 bomb that saw them take the lead 32-31 with four minutes left in the second quarter. After Jay Jahnke gave his side their only taste of the lead, Ateneo showed their mettle by closing out the second quarter with an 18-6 run off a three-point fullisade of three-point bombs (four coming from Chris Tiu, Jai Reyes, and Eric Salamat) for a 49-37 lead. The run gave the Ateneo Lifters the chance to open the halftime cheering with their customary comedy cheering routine.

In the dugout, Norman Black pointed out that his team was getting beat off the dribble. “Stay in front of your man and help each other out,” he reminded his squad. “Play team defense. That’s what got us here.”

In the opposite locker room, Manny Dandan once more stressed the importance of hanging tough in third quarter, the Bulldogs’ bane thus far. And they did as they kept pace by scoring 11 points to Ateneo’s 12 in the third.

And once the fourth quarter began, the Blue Eagles turned the ball over to Vince Burke who is never gun shy and to MVP-candidate Rabeh Al-Hussaini to turn the game into a rout. The Ateneo center scored on a variety of jump hooks, jumpers, and put backs over Aguilar and Asoro to put the game beyond reach at 75-53 at the 5:05 mark. The rest of the game was a formality as Ateneo won its twelfth game in 13 matches 83-58. “Quits na,” nodded Al-Hussaini after the Blue Eagles slew the ghost of last year’s ill-fated drive. “Bawi na. Now it’s time to focus sa Final Four para makapasok sa championship.”

There were two goals when the blueprints for the newfangled Ateneo basketball program was put in place in 1998. The first was to make sure that the recruits would get a good education and a diploma and second, it was to make the Final Four of every year. Anything else including a championship was gravy. For all the changes and modifications, the Ateneo basketball team is not built to win a championship year after year, but as the saying goes, we aim to give it that old college try.

It was a smiling Norman Black who entertained questions about the Blue Eagles’ win that assured itself of the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. Like a kid who has been gifted with an expensive toy set, he allowed himself a smile. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position to make the finals,” he grinned. “But we got a lot of work to do if we want to win the championship because you’re playing the best teams in the league now.”

When one writer pointed out that Ateneo was thus far the best team in Season 71, Black smiled and said, “It’s you guys saying that. Let’s talk again when this is all done."


Ateneo 83Al-Hussaini 20, Tiu 16, Salamat 12, Reyes 11, Buenafe 9, Nkemakolam 4, Baclao 4, Long 3, Salva 2, Burke 2, Gonzaga 0, Chua 0, Baldos 0, Escueta 0

NU 58Asoro 19, Galapon 7, Luy 7, Jahnke 6, Tungcul 4, Aguilar 4, Berry 3, Magat 2, Batac 2, Garcia 2, Catamora 2, Dela Cruz 0, Ponferrada 0

Note: Raymond Aguilar was branded as "cheesedog" by barker Rolly Manlapaz after the Bulldog power forward who asked to be monickered "King Bulldog" instead had a dud of a game.

Regarding the title, it really wasn't inspired by the rap artist but by that Scottish band Simple Minds. Was listening to them a lot while writing this and I kinda love "Ghost Dancing" which is about apartheid in South Africa. There. Now you know.

See you all at

UAAP Game Notes

That was some blunder by UST Coach Pido Jarencio as his ill-advised timeout allowed DLSU to map out a final play that also saw them advance the ball to halfcourt without even trying. Even worse was his man-on defense of LA Revilla.

Jervy Cruz for MVP? You have got to be kidding me. Maybe last year as he towed his team to the Final Four (he had a lot of help from Khasim Mirza who is this year's Official Invisible Man) but this year... he's like Edwin Asoro on a bad NU team. Meaningless numbers that only count as personal stats. But no disrespect, Cruz is a very good player. Notice how he doesn't guard the oppositions' best big man. Even last year. He plays good help defense but man, he couldn't even take Ford Arao in Season 70.

Who is it? If you ask me, it's one of these three guys Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Chris Tiu, or Jayvee Casio. But my money's on Al-Hussaini.

Someone asked me what I thought of Adamson Coach Leo Austria. I replied, "Dude, without Austria, that team would be 0-15." For real.

The same person asked me about NU's Manny Dandan and I said, I think he's a sound coach. Give the man some props. He's made do with hardly anything. It's only now that this team is getting some good support. If they had that support in place last year, they'd be really a force. As it is, he will lose a lot of his players after this season and my best guess is that if the Bulldogs go back to the cellar next year, Junel Baculi could be recalled to coach.

I've always wondered why Edwin Asoro prefers to play outside rather than mix it up inside. Sure he can beat guys off the dribble but he takes too long to make decisions with the ball. My beef with his outside game? It takes away from the offense of Jessey Garcia and Elmer Fabula. If you're prepping for the PBA well, I'd think of my team first because it will boost your stock greatly.

When I asked an FEU official about any conclusion to the Mac Baracael shooting, he had this to say: "Siya (Baracael) lang makakasagot nun." So you take what you want from that quote.

Said by one idiot in green in their game against FEU, "Barroca kriminal!" His fellow alumni shushed him and the Tamaraws guard torched his team silly.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Meet the team!

CCL Power Rankings Week #10

Seven weeks at the top, baby!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This is what happens to whiners

Sideline Slants II

Andriy Shevchenko is back with the Rossoneri after two wasted years at Stamford Bridge. But even in his departure from the English Premier League, Sheva had only good words to say about his time with Chelsea. That's classy, dude.

The New York Yankees' three-game series with the Boston Red Sox will determine if they could avail of a wild card berth in the American League play-offs. If they get knocked out, the streak that began with Buck Showalter and continued magnificently with Joe Torre will come to an end. The Bombers should make their move against Boston which will not have Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett.

Doesn't this remind you of something?

A disgruntled Yankees fan sent NY GM Brian Cashman a pointed email that said, "he was no (Bosox GM) Theo Epstein." Doesn't that remind you of those idiot alumni who are constantly on Norman Black's back? Like that jerk during the UST game who after the Tigers took a lead in the fourth, jumped up and said aloud for all to hear that the team has no heart. But after we won the game, he was cheering the loudest. Someone send this fucker back to the 1950's.

The Philippines will bid for the right to host the FIBA Asia qualifiers this coming 2011. Wow. Here's hoping we get the job done on the court and off it. How many good venues do we have anyway? Thanks for the call, Mr. Noli Eala. See ya next week.

Clarifying some points on Ateneo coaches

I rechecked my notes and cross-referenced it with some official documents, yes, Virgil Villavicencio did not coach the Ateneo Blue Eagles. I should have asked the coach straight up since I know his number anyway. But he did try to pry Richie Ticzon away to go to Taft. Hahahaha. Thanks, Coach Virgil!

Nevertheless, Norman Black remains -- as I previously stated -- the 35th coach in Blue Eagle history as I penciled in someone I previously missed out. Nevertheless, here's that summary:

In 84 years (NCAA/UAAP combined), we've had:

- 6 priests coaching the team (5 American & 1 Filipino). The American Jesuits were Fr. John Hurley, Fr. James Martin, Fr. Matthew Kane, Fr. Joseph Geib, and Fr. Denis Lynch. The Filipino priest was Fr. Cipriano Unson.
- 7 Americans (5 priests and 2 lay of whom both were products of Jesuit schools -- Al Dunbar of USF and Norman Black of St. Joseph's University)
- 1 DLSU Green Archer - Perry Ronquillo who quit with 6 games to go in the season (because of them damned alumni)
- 1 JRC Heavy Bomber - Cris Calilan)
- 1 UP Maroon - Joe Lipa
- 1 Mapua Cardinal Joel Banal
- 21 former Blue Eagles who won titles when they were playing
- 2 who coached the team three different times: Baby Dalupan and Cris Calilan
- 4 who coached the team on two different occasions: Jing Roco, Al Dunbar, Honesto Mayoralgo, and Mark Molina
- 3 who didn't finish their season: Bobby Littaua, Baby Dalupan, and Perry Ronquillo
- 4 who were former team captains: Primitivo Martinez, Bing Ouano, Amador Obordo, and Ogie Narvasa
- 1 who was team captain of a title-winning squad and coach of a title-winning team: Bing Ouano
3 coaches won titles with other schools: Baby Dalupan with UE, Nilo Verona with Letran, and Joe Lipa with UP)
- Rafael Roco and Baby Dalupan are the longest-tenured benchmasters for a total of six years)
- 9 coached in the PBA: Baby Dalupan (Crispa, Great Taste, Purefoods), Bong Go (Great Taste), Ed Ocampo (Toyota and Pepsi Cola), Tony Vasquez (Alaska), Perry Ronquillo (Shell), Joe Lipa (Shell, Air21), Joel Banal (Talk N Text), Chot Reyes (Purefoods, Coca Cola, Magnolia, Talk N Text), and Norman Black (San Miguel and Sta. Lucia)
- 2 played in the PBA -- Matthew "Fritz" Gaston most notably with U-Tex and Crispa and Norman Black, the first ever recipient of the Mr. 100% Award
- Only 1 won a title while coaching the Blue Eaglets, Dodie Agcaoili
- 4 who won a title as a player and as a coach: Primitivo Martinez, Bing Ouano, Nilo Verona, and Matthew Gaston.

Even then, the league (whether the NCAA or the UAAP) was trying to derail Ateneo's campaigns. After winning back-to-back titles in the mid-70's, the NCAA decided not to let coaches in the PBA mentor in the NCAA, so that knocked out Baby Dalupan. The Maestro remember was clobbering everyone with the Crispa Redmanizers. The Blue Eagles, in the off-season wore Crispa's colors where they had for a teammate Bernie Fabiosa who was an almost-Blue Eagle (he opted to go pro).

Two years later, when we moved to the UAAP, several of the team's players opted not to play anymore. So it was tough for Dodie Agcaoili to form a competitive team. But nevertheless, compete they did and they won only a couple of games and finished in the cellar. That team included:
Bambi Kabigting (the only player on this squad to go to the PBA)
Eu Puyat
Edgar Jayme
Mon Cruz
Danny Daez
Dicky Eustaquio
Ogie Narvasa
Rayboy Narvasa
Rene Banzon
Marco Lorenzo
Fred Ortiz
Al Morabe
Kenneth Wendling (who quit the team midway through the campaign)
Edwin Chow

There were no cheerleaders during the games and the only ones watching were family and a few friends. It was so demoralizing for the team that many did not suit up the next season. Bobby Littuau took over the dispirited squad but before he could actually coach before the start of the UAAP season, the board decided too not to let pro coaches on the sidelines. Bobby was an assistant coach in Tanduay in the PBA. Rodolfo Ledesma, the Lady Eagles' WNCAA coach, took over and that only disillusioned the team further. The Blue Eagles finished dead last and went 0-12.

So much for the greener pastures that Fr. Joe Cruz said the UAAP would be, remarked one player who refused to be identified.

When I talk to many players of that era, especially the last NCAA Blue Eagle team, they are all of one mind that they lost the title that year because of infighting. They were no longer one team but a fractured one. Many carry with them that disappointing loss to this day.

The Blue Eagles began to show signs of life a few years later when Chot Reyes and his AHS teammates moved up to the senior ranks.

Watch out for the full-length Norman Black feature that will also come out in the Business Mirror. And there's that shot at the Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Games of Our Lives

The Beijing Olympics was one of the best in a while. From the opening to its closing (Becks, Leona, and Jimmy Page), it was thoroughly enjoyable, creative, and imaginative. Good job, China. Those gymnasts, of course, are something else.

To dream or to redeem?

To dream or to redeem?
by rick olivares

Both teams came into their respective Olympics with real issues.

In 1992, the Dream Team had to deal with the stigma of the ’88 team’s loss to the Russians in Seoul, Korea. Only the USSR was now several fractured republics in the wake of perestroika and glasnost. But it should be noted that the stars of those Soviet teams were Lithuanians Arvydas Sabonis, Arturas Karnisovas, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Valdemaras Chomicius, and Sarunas Marculionis so when they finally had their independence, they were still pretty much a strong squad. And they were hip if only for those Lietuva sweats that were designed by the Grateful Dead (Rooney was a star with Golden State and their coach was Donn Nelson)?

The US National Teams were losing a lot in international competition and quite frankly, the Americans had enough of sending kids to do a man’s job more so when the Europeans were sending their pros.

Yet Chuck Daly’s troops came into the Tournament of the Americas with only a few weeks’ rest and they still walloped the competition en route to their first gold that summer.

Then came Barcelona which was supposed to be the acid test.

After a 46-0 run that sent Angola scampering for cover for the first demolition job of the games, the Dream Team played Croatia in what was seen as a probable preview of the gold medal match. The Baltic country had some very good players in the late Drazen Petrovic (of the New Jersey Nets), Toni Kukoc (Benetton Treviso), Dino Radja (Virtus Roma), Stojko Vrankovic (third string center for the Boston Celtics), and sharp shooter Arijan Komazec (KK Zadar). Still the Croats fell by 33.

Germany with Detlef Schrempf (Indiana Pacers), Uwe Blab (Dallas Mavericks), and Michael Jackel (who was well versed in the American game having played at San Francisco University) was next and they should have stayed home after a 43-point loss.

Brazil had the De Souza brothers Maury and Marcel and the all-time Olympic basketball scoring leader Oscar Schmidt but it did not matter as they were routed by 44 markers.

Spain with its prolific trio of Jordi Villacampa, Andres Jimenez, and Enrique Andreau were at the receiving end of a 41-point butt kicking.

And Puerto Rico which had Piculin Ortiz, Ramon Rivas, Jerome Mincy, Edgar De Leon, and James Carter fell by a mere 38 points.

Lithuania was crushed by 51 before the rematch with Croatia for all the marbles. Yet it is as one wag said before the start of the tournament, “Everyone else is playing for the silver and the bronze.” Croatia fell once more this time by 32; the lowest margin of victory by the Americans.

There were some very good stars on the international arena then and if they weren’t household names in North Americas it was because the US Media just pooh-poohs the foreign leagues as inferior; something they would pay dearly for eventually. To date, that kind of thinking has somewhat dissipated because of the internet, cable, satellite television, and what is now a truism... the world has finally caught up.

But in ’92, for all the great stars outside the confines of the NBA hardcourt, every one still had much catching up to do as the Dream Team averaged 117.3 ppg, 36 rpg, 29.9 apg, 22 spg, and 5.9 bpg.

You might want to read that stat line again. The assists alone… who the hell averages 29.9 assists per game?

The Redeem Team averaged 106.3 ppg, 18.8apg, 12.5 spg, and 3.9 bpg.

Points-wise, Charles Barkley averaged 18 flat, Michael Jordan 14.9, Karl Malone 13 even, Chris Mullin 12.9, and Chris Drexler 10.5 to round out double digit scoring.

Save for Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Christian Laettner, every single player was in their prime.

They ran their foes out of the gym that it didn’t matter if they shot poorly from three-point range (although they nailed the shots that mattered). After they dismantled Croatia in the second game of eliminations where Jordan and Scottie Pippen embarrassed a flustered Toni Kukoc, the former Yugoslav state came back strong in the gold medal game. Remember Charles Barkley’s three-point shot that silenced Croatia after they made a run? He stared down their bench and their crowd and it was all over after that. They played physical (with Barkley, Malone, and Ewing what do you expect) and cribbed a line from Barnum and Bailey as they put on the Greatest Show on Earth.

But they too were with controversy? The Dream Team lost to the Developmental Team lead by Penny Hardaway, Allan Houston, and Grant Hill in one pick up game that when the return match began, Jordan pointed to Houston and said, “He ain’t getting any threes today.” Game over in a few minutes. Remember Barkley nearly caused an international incident when he elbowed an Angolan (the African nation almost declared war on the United States of Alabama after that)? How about the Reebok flap when the Round Mound said he has three million reasons not to wear the competitor’s brand?

While it will be unfair to compare the Redeem Team to the Dream Team’s All-time Greatest Tags only because many of these players’ careers aren’t done by a long shot, this team too faced controversy heading to Beijing. There were the failed campaigns in Athens and FIBA. And the NBA landscape is far different from 1991-92 season that preceded the Olympics. Now foreign players are common and have become franchise players.

But ’92 began the invasion. After the gold medal match, Jordan shook hands with Croatia’s Toni Kukoc and said, “See you in Chicago.” Dino Radja would become the man in the middle in Boston for three-and-a-half years. Arvydas Sabonis would show them a glimpse of his greatness when he was center for Portland. While Schrempf would be a vital part of the 1996 Seattle Supersonics who battled for the NBA title.

The Redeem Team follows the same issue that “the world has caught up to the Americans.” Unfortunately they too have to play Goodwill Ambassadors after that boorish 2004 team in Athens (it was the reverse for the Dream Team for the so-called Dream Team II and their crotch grabbing ways put off everyone in Atlanta in 1996).

Talented, quick, overpowering, the Redeem Team is every bit as relentless as their predecessors. Everyone on this team may be in their prime but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll run the Dream Team out of the gym. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were all but retired up to this point but they contributed in every way (Bird averaged 8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 1.7 apg while the Magic Man added 8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, and 4.1 apg). And speaking of Bird and Magic, the Barcelona team played hurt as Bird (bad back), Johnson (hamstring), John Stockton (broken leg bone), and Patrick Ewing (cut finger) battled an assortment of injuries. So the fascinating thing there is even if they were less than 100%, they still had the √©lan to blow the crap out of everyone pretender.

The Redeem Team more or less has been together for some time now and that familiarity greatly helped them in their play. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosch holding up a thin front line. They blitzed foes with the in-your-face defense and athleticism of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony.

The ’92 Olympians, other than the annual All-Star Game, only got to play with each other a week of practice before the Tournament of the Americas and a month before the Olympics. But they got their act together quickly and outplayed their opponents that said a lot of the team’s character and firepower.

Of course there was that reverence factor in 1992 that isn’t there anymore today. Teams are just raring to completely end American dominance. The legacy of the Dream Team was to introduce the game to more people and Pau and Marc Gasol were among the youngsters who saw them play in Barcelona. Argentina’s Manu Ginobili spent hours watching Jordan’s Come Fly With Me until the tape would no longer play.

But while Spain, China, and Argentina are way more talented than any of their previous national teams, Lithuania’s and Croatia’s are not. Their ’92 counterparts are even better. And in case anyone has been keeping tabs, where’s Serbia?

After the break up of the Yugoslav states, Serbia had a very good team with Vlade Divac, Dejan "White Magic" Bodiroga, Predrag Danilovic, Zarko Paspalj, Zeljko Rebraca, and Dejan Tomasevic but were unable to compete because of UN sanctions owing to the war in Serbia and Montenegro. This was obviously half of the former Yugoslav National Team that featured the mainstays of the Croatian squad.

Given all the circumstance of both squads, it’s almost like comparing apples and oranges. But for the sake of this fanboy debate, which squad is better?

Let then Cuban National Coach Miguel Calderon’s description of the American squad after a 136-57 dismantling in the ’92 Tournament of the Americas be the last word.

You cannot cover the sun with your finger.”

Note: The Developmental Team the Dream Team went up against consisted of:
Duke's Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, Tennessee's Allan Houston, Michigan's Chris Webber, Memphis State's Anfernee Hardaway, Kentucky's Jamaal Mashburn, North Carolina's Eric Montross, and Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers. They were coached by So-Cal's George Raveling and Kansas' Roy Williams. In their first scrimmage with the Olympic Team, the D-Team won 62-54. In the next scrimmage, the young guns were sent packing by over 40 points.

Chuck Daly never called a time out in Barcelona '92.






Magic Johnson


Jason Kidd


Michael Jordan


Kobe Bryant


John Stockton


Chris Paul


Clyde Drexler


Dwyane Wade


Scottie Pippen


Deron Williams


Larry Bird


Michael Redd


Charles Barkley


LeBron James


Karl Malone


Carlos Boozer


Chris Mullin


Carmelo Anthony


Christian Laettner


Tayshaun Prince


Patrick Ewing


Dwight Howard


David Robinson


Chris Bosh

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ateneo vs UP Round Two

The Knockout Artists
Ateneo 79 vs. UP 58

by rick olivares

August 24, 2008
Araneta Coliseum
When asked by the sports media if UP’s physical game bothered Ateneo, Norman Black seemed puzzled. “Oh, I didn’t notice,” he said.

On whether the Maroons’ new black jerseys intimidated the Blue Eagles, the American mentor laughed and brushed it off, “I’m black. My name is Black. Heck, I wear black shirts all the time.”

The last time the UP wore a different jersey was in the 1990’s when alternated their traditional maroon with green – one of their school colors -- for one season. This year, the black variant was planned for a while now but it only arrived a few days ago. If was meant to intimidate their neighbors (after all, they are “the Fighting Maroons), then they were cruising for a bruising.

“I think we tried to deliver the knockout punch early,” sheepishly admitted Black. “But it didn’t fall.”

In the first quarter, the Ateneans touched the ball 21 times and misfired on 15 of them. What had gotten the team to its lofty position is its sleek passing game and spread the wealth offense. For the first time this season, they deviated and players looked for their own shots. “Settle down, fellas,” reeled in Black of his wards who were trying to move one step closer to the crucial twice-to-beat advantage and spare themselves of all complications. “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place.”

The venue for this year’s return bout in the Battle of Katipunan was the Araneta Coliseum. Heading into the match, Ateneo and UP had an identical 3-1 slate at the Big Dome. “We hope she (the Coliseum) can be good for us one more time,” prayed Maroons’ coach Aboy Castro who was also gunning for a wild card berth for the Collegiate Champions League.

A game can be distilled into two aspects: numbers and intangibles. It’s a 40-minute basketball game. In their second round match against their most ancient rival, the Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles gained possession of the ball 82 times. That’s more than two offensive thrusts in a minute. When you consider that there’s a 24 second shot clock that leaves the UP Maroons with fewer than 12 seconds to put points on the board. And the game summary was the Blue Eagles scored 79 points and surrendered 58. So go figure.

But the final numbers don’t begin to even tell of the early struggle.

As it is with La Salle, you can throw out any previous numbers when Ateneo plays UP. Somehow no matter wherever they are in the standings, they hang tough and play tough. And the Maroons, to mask their defensive deficiencies and playing minus Jay Agbayani (down with an injury), UP threw a box-and-one on the Blue Eagles with Mark Lopez chasing Ateneo skipper Chris Tiu all over the court. UP was also banking on the marksmanship of Martin Reyes, Woody Co, Paul Sorongon, and Migs De Asis. Castro was hoping that De Asis would have another good game after he rediscovered his touch and confidence in their recent blowout of Adamson.

But the game at first seemed to have all the makings of a pitched battle complete with flying elbows, hard picks, bodies all over the floor, and trash talking. After a double technical foul call on Arvin Braganza and Rabeh Al-Hussaini, the coaches pulled their troops together to let the earnest game of hoops begin.

Norman Black’s second unit is suspect and at times maligned for their inability to hold any lead or even mount any semblance of offense. Its saving grace is the team’s Man of Steal, Eric Salamat (4 steals but only 3 points on 1-10 shooting including two blown lay-ups) but who doesn’t need any plays called for him.

But this time, they put the clamps on UP and launched a 16-2 blitz at the start of the 4th Quarter for a 70-49 lead. A three-pointer by Chris Tiu (14 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists) and two traditional three-point plays by Al-Hussaini (24 points, 17 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks) and Tonino Gonzaga offset a late burst by the Maroons and ended the game at 79-58. It was the Blue Eagles’ sixth straight victory and put them at a lofty 11-1 record.

“But we’re not out of the woods yet,” cautioned Black. “We have to win one more (against NU or La Salle) to solidify that twice-to-beat advantage. And we haven’t been able to really put other teams away because our bench has been inconsistent. Part of the task is finding minutes for everyone because you’re going to need more weapons in the Final Four. And we need to hone our killer instinct and try and not give anyone a chance to comeback.”

Ateneo 79 – Al-Hussaini 24, Tiu 14, Buenafe 8, Baclao 6, Reyes 6, Baldos 5, Long 4, Salva 3, Gonzaga 3, Escueta 3, Salamat 3, Nkemakolam 0, Chua 0, Burke 0, Sumalinog 0

UP 58 – Sison 10, Co 10, De Asis 7, Dela Victoria 6, Sorongon 6, Lopez 5, Astorga 4, Gamboa 3, Hiploito 3, Braganza 3, Reyes 1, Pajela 0, Marfori 0, Maniego 0

Roll call for the first time this year: Nono, Tony, Aly, me, Martin & Miggy. Go Ateneo!

Note: One Big Fight to whoever did that sign "gRabeh." That is one of the best I've seen since "Sus."

Thanks folks!

The blog was really Mai's idea. I was even hostile to it. So credit her for Brew.

We began keeping track of the stats in August 24, 2007 and we're pleased to release the stats courtesy of Google Analytics for a one year period:

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Top Hits per Country
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Thanks also to whoever nominated us for Best Sports Blog (and for Best Travel Blog) at the 2nd Philippine Blog Awards!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #121 Groundhog Day

(This will appear in my column in the Monday, August 25, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror.)

Groundhog Day
by rick olivares

Do you ever get the feeling that after every major sporting event it’s like Groundhog Day? Surely you must know of that Harold Ramis film about a man (Bill Murray) who finds himself living and repeating the same day over and over again until he reexamines his life and makes amends. Although the movie did not break box office records, it has been listed as one of America’s most culturally important films of all time and the phrase has become a popular expression for a never-ending cycle of unpleasant situations until eventual redemption.

It’s something we should be all too familiar with by now. You know… country sends team to some competition, cash prizes are promised, athletes fail to perform, officials say that we got screwed, there are calls for reorganization, people sound off the development of a grassroots program and training abroad, and others on the opposite spectrum say that we shouldn’t nitpick and instead laud our athletes for their efforts.

It’s like a news wheel only it’s every other year. It’s like that watching Jerry Maguire only it’s a never-ending journey. It’s frustrating because I think we could be better than that.

I did keep tabs on how our athletes fared but was enthralled by the Redeem Team, Lauren Jackson, Michael Phelps, the Argentinean football team, questions about citizenship and age, and the gymnastic and volleyball events. So when it was official that we were going home empty handed, I felt bad for a moment then focused on the bronze medal Women’s Basketball match between Russia and China. I was disaffected by willful separation.

A quick glance at how our neighbors fared in the medal tally (as of Sunday morning) illustrates how we’ve been left behind:

Indonesia 1 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronzes.
Thailand 2 golds and 2 silvers.
Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have a silver each.

Of the four, it is Vietnam that spends much less on their sports program yet they managed to bring home at least one medal. As for us, I wouldn’t even begin to know what the solution is since I am only an outsider looking in. But from what I can tell and see, you have the same people running the show year in and out from the National Sports Associations to the National Leadership and they have no accountability.

Maybe we are deluding ourselves. Maybe we aren’t good enough and should instead concentrate on other things. Sure we bettered local or regional records but a lot of other athletes shattered world records in devastating fashion.

And what’s the solution – to invite Natalie Coughlin to swim for us? To bring in more Fil-foreigners to play for us. Great! While we’re at it, maybe we should ask the Fil-foreigners to run the NSA’s after all, even the dinosaurs in place aren’t doing a good job.

The naturalization issue is a joke and the IOC should seriously look into that. If Becky Hammon is Russian and Chris Kaman German then I’m the heir of an Arch Duke of Spain. If it’s a legalized way of improving one’s athletic standings then I think we should look into it but for long-term commitments rather than one-and-done deals. Yet we should only do so with a solid grassroots program in place.

There’s a cultural difference between us and other nations since sports figures so prominently in their lives. It’s in their blood, their literature, and their national consciousness. As early as their primary schooling years, some know nothing but to train and compete for they have embraced sports as their life.

There’s a bright side however on how sports is perceived here in the country. More and more people are getting involved on various levels. Yet still, outside basketball and boxing, most aren’t even worth a career.

Many question the preponderance towards basketball even if we’ve sent souped-up squads we’re still on the sidelines. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from how America addressed the debacle of 1988 in Olympic Men’s Basketball and see how we can apply it to everything else.

There was a change in the way the American team was formed. The days of amateurs were obviously over and FIBA President Boris Stankovic thought that the competition – including the Olympics -- should be the best versus the best. And once that barrier fell down (they had to wait for the NBA to say yes since they were initially against it) the formation of the team organization had to change. The best American basketball minds were brought in and they all agreed that there would be no need for tryouts. After all, everyone knew what the NBA’s best players could do. The task instead lay in choosing the team. If an All-Star Game is already controversial for some deserving ones being left out, then how much more for a 12-man roster for the Olympics?

The choices entailed two things: a commitment to flag and country and choosing players who can play multiple positions. The problem of the 1988 squad was they only had one shooter in Hersey Hawkins and once he went down with an injury, opponents threw fierce zone defenses that negated the American’s natural athletic talent and the game became one of outside shooting. The evolution of the hoop player with his myriad of skills allowed them to play inside and outside and the NBA had a bevy of them to choose from.

As for the coach, he should have not only pro basketball experience but must have spent considerable time in college ball. Of course, the results and aftermath of the Dream Team have been recounted countless times in various media.

I wonder at times if the teams that we send are truly representative of the best we have to offer. Many do not compete because the lure of more money in professional competition and to play for national pride is debatable and questionable. Some are victims of politics while others are below everyone’s radar. I don’t know everything for I’m just an outside guy looking in. But one thing is clear, things have to truly change or else, well… it’s Groundhog Day.

Towards the end of the film Groundhog Day, Murray’s character, Phil Connors wakes up one day to find out that the world has finally turned on its axis and it’s no longer February 2 – the day that repeats itself time and again until he’s learned his lessons in life. With subdued glee, he pulls close actress Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita, who he’s been trying to court for the longest time and asks, “Do you know what today is?”

“No, what?”

“Today is tomorrow. It happened.”

Right. And it’s high time we got there.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Weekend

Liverpool vs Middlesbrough tonight.

Liverpool isn't the squad that Chelsea or Manchester United is. What will get Rafael Benitez' squad through is their fighting heart and if Fernando Torres stays healthy. Both teams LFC and Boro are coming off wins with the latter more convincing with their strong play. The last time Boro stepped onto Anfield they got their backs handed to them and with the young squad a year older, they'll certainly give the Reds some fits (especially since LFC Captain Steven Gerrard is out of shape).

But look for Liverpool to play hard (even without the injured Sammi Hyppia).


Ateneo vs. University of the Philippines
It's rivalry Sunday at Araneta. It's an unqualified success for the Maroons this year no matter what anyone says. They're just trying to finish strong and avail of the wild card slot for the Champions League and then they blow up that team and call up those in Team B. Both squads are coming off wins and both will have healthy line-ups this Sunday.

No let up, is the Blue Eagles' cry while the Maroons try to play spoiler and bag a real big fish.

Redemption is at hand
USA vs. Spain. The last time these two figured in the gold medal match was 1984. That was 24 years ago and the last time the USA sent a squad of victorious collegians.

I'd like for the Redeem Team to give Spain another royal butt kicking especially Ricky Rubio who whines too much. He may be talented and headed for the NBA but he's gotta learn that he's no golden child. I'd still go for Argentina's Pablo Prigioni.

If anything, Spain would have seen that a 2-3 zone and physical play can throw the USA off their rhythm for a while and that is their window to pounce. But with the gold medal 40 minutes away, no one is going to deny LeBron James and Kobe Bryant because if they lose, they better turn in their passports and seek asylum in Israel.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Grounded Falcons

On my way home from dinner Thursday night with some friends at the Fort (I had a cross-country conference call at 10pm so I had to leave early), I got a call from Coach Leo Austria. We talked at length about the disastrous game they played earlier in the day and other matters. Here's the story.

Grounded Falcons
words by rick olivares
& pix by martin romero

One of the toughest jobs in basketball is building or maybe more appropriately, re-building a program that was wracked and fraught with losing, ineptitude, and infighting. It is tough to inculcate a sense of pride and belonging when the team has not had much.

The year between stints with Adamson may have done harm too for the players relapsed into bad habits even attitudes. The coach knew of it then and realizes it even more now -- it's impossible to put together a team with only two months of preparation. Prior to his ballyhooed return to San Marcelino, the players' dorm well, has been a den of vice. To be very clear, there is nothing about debauchery or cannibalistic rituals going on, but one thing is clear: team discipline and team rules have been broken. And with the seed in place, team management fears it might infect those on Team B or the rookies. In previous years, they had talented line-ups and players who could offset their excess with some great play (although it didn't always mean that they came away with a win). But the new team is raw and unfocused.

Alex Nuyles is from Bicol and he knows nothing of organized basketball. He came to Adamson and asked for a chance to play. You can say that these are his baby steps. Michael Galinato and Marc Agustin earlier went to La Salle but it's hard to imagine good players leaving a solid program for something lesser. Galinato has a tremendous upside and in limited minutes and inconsistent play, he has shown what he can do. Austria claims not be a miracle worker but he knows his hoops and he knows he can teach. "It's in my blood," he says.

Austria admires the Ateneo basketball program not because his son plays for the team but because of the talent, school pride, intelligence, and values about the team. "Norman has done a very good job. College basketball has been good for him," he glowingly says of the Blue Eagles' mentor.

Austria knows that Adamson is not Ateneo or La Salle and he knows he and the school have their work cut out for them.

Earlier, his Falcons were so affected by the benching of Allan Santos, Marc Agustin, and Paul Gonzalgo that even before they stepped onto the court at the Araneta Coliseum they were a beaten team. If one tuned in to the TV or walked right in, they might have wondered if the shot clock was not in use thus Adamson's low score. Only they weren't even close to being the new poster boys for basketball ineptitude, they were a demoralized team. Jing Ruiz, who was a star in Letran with Dong Libed with then NCAA Champion Letran (he also played for Shell with Austria in the pros) stood close to the far end of the bench his arms folded. He hung his head and bit his lip. Gonzalgo, now in his final year and playing the best ball of his career in Adamson wrapped his head in a towel.

Before the start of the season, the coaching staff and the team vets had a long talk. They were to be provided with all the playing time and opportunities to strut their wares. Hopefully, it will translate into another play-off run and from there a productive PBL career and hopefully, the pros where their father carved out their names and deeds on the hardwood. The players were excited but forgot to check their ego and their past times outside the locker room. "The players are terrible at times but only because they are unfocused. Whoever is supposed to be an inspiration has become a distraction."

This early, Austria is talking about the future. When I remind him that he has a game on Sunday, he wonders aloud if any of his players would like to show up. The talent is there. And on any given day, they can upset even the teams with the bigger programs. "That's how good they are," emphasized the coach. "Pero that's also how bad they can be. They do not realize their potential."

With the average shelf life of a pro player now at four years what with the influx of Fil-Ams and domination of imports, players should be doubly aware of their mortality as a player. After former Ateneo Blue Eagle Claiford Arao suffered a second knee injury that for the moment derailed his PBA dreams, he was thankful that he studied and has a diploma. "Buti na lang..," he could only say.

The school management backs up Austria's disciplinary action and have taken steps to ensure that it will never happen again. But as for the team?

We'll find out how they respond on Sunday when they faced a wounded UE Red Warriors team.

On the way home

530pm Ateneo De Manila.

I'm back.

See you at and

Ateneo vs. UE Round Two

The Ripleys
Ateneo 61 vs. UE 57

by rick olivares

August 21, 2008
Araneta Coliseum
Be honest, most of us thought we’d plummet to loss number two. And this time, no one can point any accusing finger at the referees (that’s what happens when Ateneo gets screwed more times than Jenna Jameson) because the game was more or less well officiated.

The fact that the UE Red Warriors went to the free-throw line only three times should be a dubious record of sorts. Yet for all their vaunted inside game, the Warriors were forced to try their luck from outside and from beyond. And while they shot slightly better at a cumulative 34% the Ateneo Blue Eagles scraped their way out of a hole on 29% shooting. And believe it or not, in the last three years, Ateneo is 13-4 in games decided by four points or less thereby gaining a reputation as the Houdinis of the Hardwood. So if there should have been any side that should have chanted, “Ginebra” in honor of the team that embodies the never-say-die spirit, it should have been the one in blue. So it was perhaps an affront to the basketball gods that the red gallery deigned to curry any favor in a venue where less than 24 hours, the darlings of pro basketball won their ninth PBA title. Maybe then you would have noticed some left over confetti floating in the venue during a match that had all the ambiance of a title match.

The Red Warriors threw a constantly shifting zone that discombobulated the Ateneo attack en route to 21 turnovers. From a 2-3 zone the defensive scheme would morph to a 3-2 as forward Hans Thiele would help out on the perimeter then would recover to double team. When Rabeh Al-Hussaini received the ball in the post, UE threw him different combinations. The double team would either come from the weak side on one possession (depending on how far he established himself for a post play) or from the guards who would sag and swipe at the ball. And teams like UE, long and athletic, have always given the Blue Eagles problems.

But believe it not, it was Rabeh Al-Hussaini who continued his sterling MVP-caliber season by throwing down the hammer on his second dunk of his UAAP career instead of UE’s Elmer Espiritu who always seems to raise the roof with some spectacular flush.

Three hours earlier, Espiritu stared down the tunnel in the back of the Araneta Coliseum as his teammates stretched and loosened up in the back. The UP Pep Squad was finishing their halftime show. Along with his teammates, they’ve talked amongst themselves about last year’s stinging loss in the finals and the new season that has turned awry after Ateneo dealt them their first loss in Match #3 for both teams. In the days leading up to game day, UE minder Dindo Pumaren made sure his wards understood the implications of the game. At 6-4, they needed the win to fortify their position for either the third or fourth slots in the Final Four. Although they were two games ahead of UST (with UP having a slim chance of barging in), nothing was to be left to chance. “We have to win every game from here on. Treat it like a championship game,” said the former La Salle guard who has proven to be every bit a good coach as his older brothers.

“Handa kami,” pronounced Espiritu. “Handa kami sa Ateneo.”

The thing about playing UE is the high level of energy they bring to the game. In typical Pumaren-style, they are superbly conditioned and like to play a frenetic full court press where they attack at you in waves. While the Blue Eagle braintrust expected such a tactic (after all, La Salle and UE have been throwing us the same game plan year after year), they too were prepared for an offensive letdown. “We’ve had some pretty good games for awhile now,” said Norman Black who was all grins inside the Press Room after the match. “And they played good defense on us. But I like to think that we play good defense too.”

A quick glance at the game stats will show how almost evenly matched the teams were:

Total rebounds:
Ateneo – 48 (13 offensive)
UE – 46 (13 offensive)

10 each

Ateneo – 3
UE – 4

21 each

Second chance points:
Ateneo – 11
UE – 7

Turnover points:
Ateneo – 6
UE - 12

So with Caloy Loyzaga who’s in town on a two week vacation and in the house to watch the fortunes of his old school foe with his son Chito (who also studied in the Ateneo), what was the big difference?

Leo Austria, who benched his lead players (don’t call them stars to the coach’s face because as far as he’s concerned, they haven’t done anything to deserve that tag) in a massive statement over team discipline, summed it up in one word, “Heart.”

Then he added: “That’s comes from school pride, team discipline, the intelligence of the players, and good values. ‘Yan ang difference.”

But the Blue Eagles were getting flustered. When a rebound scuffle ended in a jumpball with Al-Hussaini and Thiele getting entangled and exchanging dagger looks, the other players jumped in. Eric Salamat and James Martinez swapped sweet nothings and Dindo Pumaren stepped right in earning a technical foul in the process.

As the referees assessed the situation, Elmer Espiritu stood at center court and stared down at the Ateneo side. Recalled the forward-center after the game, “Hindi kami magba-backdown sa kanila. Laro lang.”

The altercation only fired up the Warriors more as they finished the 3rd Quarter with an Espiritu lay-up at the buzzer 42-36.

After Marcy Arellano hit back-to-back baskets to further push UE ahead 46-38, Ateneo skipper Chris Tiu (at that point superbly defended and with only 9 points), buried his team’s first three point shot off his fourth attempt of the game.

Espiritu responded with two more points and the ball was handed over to Ateneo frosh Ryan Buenafe who to make something happen. Buenafe has not played well for quite a spell now. The recruit from San Sebastian has found the college game to be wholly different from what he played in high school. If he was Mr. Triple Double there here he was getting triple-teamed. Foes have learned to prevent him from getting that deceptive first step and to force him to his left. With his outside shot having all but deserted him on UAAP courts, Buenafe got the ball outside the rainbow bridge. He hesitated a moment before he uncorked a spiral that had good form and line towards the bottom of the net. Down to a four-point UE lead and the rook threw a punch in the air and let out a scream.

Back on their end of the court, Espiritu called for isolation, but Nonoy Baclao who engaged him in a fierce defensive battle, forced a turnover. The advantage UE has is almost at anytime they have players who can stick the outside shot. If their foes play man-to-man, they run a series of back-picks to free up either Martinez, Paul Lee, or Paul Zamar who weave to confuse the defense. Ateneo on the other hand runs two back picks for Tiu and with Zamar a second late in giving chase, the captain of the Blue Eagles hit his second trey 48-47 still UE.

And after Hans Thiele gave UE some respite to spot UE a three-point lead, Tiu who occasionally engages his teammates for a game of horse and trick shots nailed an off balance shot with 13.6 seconds left to forge a tie. UE fumbled its throw in thanks to some great defense by Yuri Escueta and although Ateneo was unable to get a decent shot off before overtime, the tide had turned. There was still some Black magic in the air.

Espiritu, in a state of disbelief, looked at the jubilant Ateneo side, shook his head, and headed back to his bench. What does it take to put away these guys, he wondered.

Believe it or not, there’s this old basketball axiom that says if you can’t win it in regulation, then it’s not for you.

With Tiu out of the game with cramps, it was up to Ateneo’s starting frontline of Buenafe and Baclao on the wings and Al-Hussaini in the middle to carry the load.

The Ateneo center responded with six straight points to notch the fifth and final deadlock at 57-all before Buenafe got the ball from 23 feet out and guarded by his ex-Staglets teammate Paul Lee. After he ditched Lee with his patented crossover, he drove in and over the flailing arms of Thiele and Espiritu for the deuce at 59-57. An Arellano turnover and an Espiritu foul on Baclao gave Ateneo’s one-man SWAT team a chance to ice the game with two free throws and the Blue Eagles’ latest escape act and win.

Inside the Press Room, while Norman Black was all smiles over the huge win, Tiu stretched his cramped leg and answered a few questions directed at him. “We never gave up. I think that’s this team’s character and what Coach preaches to us all the time.”

So how about that last trey?

“Yeah we practice that… sometimes. But I just threw it up.”

So Coach Leo, you’re right. It’s about heart but you’ve got to have faith too.

Ateneo 61 - Al-Hussaini 19, Tiu 18, Baclao 10, Buenafe 6, Salamat 6, Baldos 2, Salva 0, Nkemakolam 0, Long 0, Escueta 0, Reyes 0

UE 57 - Zamar 13, Martinez 11, Thiele 10, Espiritu 8, Arellano 8, Llagas 4, Lee 3, Noble 0, Lingganay 0, Bandaying 0, Reyes 0

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Dream Lives

Before the Dream Team's first game in the Tournament of the Americas in the spring of 1992, Michael Jordan gathered the 12 Beatles inside the locker room and along with their coaches, they all prayed "Our Father." After they finished off the job in Barcelona, they said the same prayer inside their locker room.

Chuck Daly may remember that great summer vividly but that one moment aside from the gold medal ceremony stands out.

While listening to Larry Bird on The Dan Patrick Radio Show talk about that 1992 Olympic team, all I can say is that those guys were more than basketball players. They were ambassadors for the sport and rock stars. Aside from the NBA, that team revolutionized and popularized the game as we know it.

That team would have been truly complete had they included Isiah Thomas and/or Dominique Wilkins instead of Christian Laetnner.

I still have my souvenir Tournament of the Americas shirt although I don't think I'll be wearing it anywhere except home and for me, it's a priceless souvenir of that team. I also have the Official Dream Team book as given by Chuck Daly to Lenny Wilkens (and it's autographed too). Here are the pix of that book and how I got that copy is another story. I also have that issue of Sports Illustrated that featured Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, and Jordan on the cover and it remains in plastic although its somewhat worn out from so many people borrowing it (note: I ain't lending it again).

On another note, some have pointed out how the Redeem Team is loved and cheered in Beijing as compared to Athens four years ago. But are you surprised? The Greeks have never been known for hospitality.

NBA Commish has been batting for an NBA China and now he's set his sight on India too. Good luck, Commish and good job.

Who's wearing their stripes?

I've loved APO Hiking Society's music for as long as I can remember and I met them some time ago when my dad was the boss of the local music industry.

Mr. Paredes is here for the next few months to prep for the 40th Anniversary Concert of AHS -- that's the pop group not the Ateneo High School (although they really kept the Ateneo in there). Nice to see you in blue, sir.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Inside the dugout

The Locker Room
The UP Maroons’ locker room at the Philsports Arena is equal parts cinema and sauna. Aboy Castro sits serenely in front of the rectangular room. How he does it is anyone’s guess since the airconditioning unit isn’t working and he looks unperturbed. Either he’s in a zen-like trance or he’s lost in anticipation of the game to come. Almost all the players view highlights of UST, their opponent for the day. A few who sat behind the laptop are tying the laces of their sneakers. There are taped messages of support and belief by their school brethren or news reports in the media on almost every locker. There’s a chair-laden with fruits for anyone to dip into. Hardly a word is said and if there are, they are in whispers. After a few minutes, Castro stands up and discusses the game pan one last time. He asks how the team will defend the Tigers’ Dylan Ababou and he is met with initial silence. Whether the team is unsure of themselves is anyone’s guess, but Paul Sorongon raises his hand to answer. Then Jay Agbayani segues in. Castro then points to the white board located at the back of the room and everyone turns around to look at the pointers.

The UST locker room is a distinct contrast. One player is lost in the music of his ipod. A couple of others are chatting merrily. Swingman Khasim Mirza is dribbling a ball between his legs while seated. Center Jervy Cruz silently surveys his team then exchanges observations with Japs Cuan. Outside the locker room, rookie guard Jeric Fortuna is stretching. The coaches are in conference in one corner. It’s a serious business for them, but when veteran sports photog Tony Lu enters, Coach Pido Jarencio offers a smile and a handshake. Lu goes around and shows his photos of the players all who ask for copies. Fr. Ermito De Sagon, pops in after to bid the team luck. The players seek him out and get his blessings.

The dugout of the National University Bulldogs is a revelation. Manny Dandan’s boys are not going to apologize for first impressions. The players are bright and cheerful. They dissect game strats with almost clinical precision that you have to wonder why that desire and knowledge doesn’t translate on the court. Dandan realizes that and issues a stern warning about sloppy play and he reminds shooting guard Elmer Fabula to be ready. Fabula is a nice but sensitive kid. He can drain treys in succession during practice but when the official whistle blows, he’s a bundle of nerves. He just needs experience, points out Assistant Coach Jeff Napa. Behind those glasses, Napa is constantly calculating. He loves the game of basketball but found himself playing for peanuts in the amateurs. He makes more from coaching and is happy to be helping his alma mater. Graduating players Jay Jahnke and Edwin Asoro are vocal with their encouragements and in the huddle, it is the point guard who leads the team in prayer. And when the players run out, the coach sits for a few moments to finish a smoke.

The Skinny
I cannot understand the boorishness of some UST fans and alumni. Now that the Tigers have started losing, they're calling for Pido Jarencio's head. Seriously, they have not been able to replace Allan Evangelista and Jojo Duncil who were real leaders on that team. Don't even suggest that Mark Canlas or Francis Allera have taken on that role. Is it possible that the team actually overachieved in the last couple of years? So that could mean that Pido got the most out of this team. Cool lang kayo, the pressure does not help the Tigers.

When Jeric Fortuna committed those two turnovers and Clark Bautista decided to take matters into his own hands, sure they looked bad. Fortuna doubled over in his self-inflicted pain as he knew that those boo boos all but ended the Tigers' hopes this season. Let me say this though, Fortuna and Bautista will be killing a lot of foes in the next couple of years.

By the same taken, there is reported unrest in the UP locker room. A disgruntled player or two have been quoted as saying that they are sick and tired of Aboy Castro referring to last year's woes and comparing them to this year. Whether true or not, losing sure brings out the worst in everybody. A couple of players had to be pulled away from each other after an argument inside the locker room. But I pity the team, they've had positive gains this year and it's a shame that some have not redoubled their efforts. I was planning on writing something again about this team but decided against it. Who wants to write about one's diatribe against another?

The only one with no gripes against their coach is DLSU (or are there).

As for the self-serving people in Ateneo sports. You're next on my firing line.