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, March 20, 2009

The SBP-Smart Gilas RP National Team

pics by romy florante & rick

Mac Baracael likes to keep things loose. He ribs his teammates with good-natured jokes. His candor is highly-appreciated in a locker room filled with personalities who previously were foes on the opposite end of the UAAP hardcourt. It helps break the ice and the former FEU cager has some mighty big words, "Second family ko to."

The players join the assembled Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and sports officials, guests and media that have come for the official launch of the Smart Gilas RP National Team at the Promenade Teatro in Greenhills, San Juan.

The lights are on outside as players and coaches are interviewed by television crews and media people.

And just like Baracael likes it, it's a relaxed atmosphere. The players queue for the dinner buffet which has been set up on a small platform at the back of the theater. Baracael takes the opportunity to kid teammate Greg Slaughter who's 6'11" and has to hunch himself lest he scrape the ceiling.

Ford Arao sat in the seat next to me and as always he has an easy smile. He resigned from his job at a computer company last year to pursue a goal. Like many others, it is to play in the PBA. With two ACL injuries in the span of four years, he's thinking that the national team might be his best chance to pursue another goal.

As a tall youngster out of Alaminos, Pangasinan, he never thought he'd play for a big school let alone the national team. The ultimate goal by all here is to help the Philippines Qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. It remains far-fetched but anything is posibble.

He still feels some pain in his knees but you'll hardly notice as he willingly bangs his body on the court as he pursues loose balls and rebounds. While he was never known for his explosiveness, that has been a weapon as he has a deceptive first step that allows him to get to the basket. Playing against shotblockers like Aldrech Ramos and Jason Ballesteros in practice helps because he is also tasked to play center sometimes.

All the players express extreme confidence and profound admiration for Head Coach Rajko Toroman. The Serbian has been under scrutiny and criticism by a sensitive coaches association but the players will have none of that. "Ang galing," says Baracael shaking his head. "Ang daming alam at ang sarap matuto. Kita mo na lang sa PBA game, kaya namin makipagsabayan. Nakakataas ng kumpiyansa."

Dylan Ababou walks over to say hi. He still remembers the piece we wrote about the UST Tigers. He's excited about the whole team and the SBP's plans. Like his teammates, they look forward to some tune-up games in Serbia where they will be heading by month's end.

When talk about leadership comes up, Baracael and Ababou both point in the direction of Chris Tiu who is seated in the back beside Jayvee Casio and Rey Guevarra. "Sino pa nga ba?" says Ababou. "He's the man!" Then he laughs.

When I arrived, I shook hands with SBP Executive Director Noli Eala who says, "I thought you weren't coming when you didn't reply to my text." My phone hasn't been working right the past three weeks with the texting feature kayoed. If I need to talk or reply to anyone I've been forced to call them and it has killed my phone bill. But we chatted for a while and later got to hobnob with Nolie Eala, Joey Bautista, Nic Jorge, and Mark Joseph who I last chatted with at great length during the Philippine Football Federation Warehouse Sale at the Discovery Suites.

And there were coaches Eric Altamirano and Vic Ycasiano, my old officemate Val Victa who now works for the Tao Corporation, Coach Chot Reyes who ribbed me about my failure to do a Talk N Text story (Gawd he got me there), PBL Commish Chino Trinidad who never fails to make people laugh with his jokes, and the coaches of the team and the players.

Salamat talaga sa magandang bati ni Coach Allan Gregorio! Hahahaha.

Here is the line-up of the team:
Dylan Ababou
Claiford Arao
Jason Ballesteros
Marnel Baracael
Mark Andy Barroca
Ryan Clarence Buenafe
Joseph Evans Casio
Ricardo Cawaling jr.
Rey Francis Guevarra
Rafael Joey Jazul
Aldrech John Ramos
Magi King Sison
Gregory Slaughter
Christopher John Tiu

Head coach: Rajko Toroman
Assistant Coaches: Djalma Arnedo, Allan Gregorio, Jude Roque
Strength & Conditioning Coaches: Albert Rolle and Jimbo Saret

If you're looking for Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Rico Maierhofer, the former will make his decision in a few months' time as he has to deal with some personal things. The latter, well... it's a no. But they'll have one Fil-Am reinforcement.

One of the press photographers asks me if this line-up can win. I say, look, we didn't win before with an all-pro team, sending them again doesn't guarantee anything. Right now there are no guarantees. It will all boil down into the system and how the team responds. They could spring some surprises.

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