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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Soul Train: CJ Giles and the Road to Redemption

Soul Train
CJ Giles and the Road to Redemption
by rick olivares

Chester Jarrel “CJ” Giles has that NBA pedigree even if it’s only by six degrees of separation.

Slam dunking New York Knick Nate Robinson is a former teammate and current chat buddy.

If only for the mad hops and boatloads of potential, he was predicted to be the next Shawn Kemp. Giles though, does reveal a sense of humor when he deadpans, “I ain’t anyone’s daddy,” a veiled pun at Kemp’s family values.

When his energy level ebbs and he settles down, Giles knows that his redemption begins of all places in the Philippines and Indonesia.

When Giles went down with a knee injury early in the game between the Philippines and Lebanon, many thought he was done for the game and maybe even the remainder of the 20th FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup.

But the 6’10” former Oregon State Beaver in a stunning display of courage came back to help the Smart Gilas Philippine National Team squeak past the Al Riyadi squad.

At least he’s got character,” smiled Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Jose Emmanuel “Noli” Eala in the giddy aftermath of the win.

On the way to the Britama Sports Arena in downtown Jakarta where the tournament was being held, Giles would normally sit in the back row along with teammate Greg Slaughter. Like his teammates before a game, he would sit quietly with his headphones on as he preferred the solitude of his music. But he would always look out of the window as he studied the strange new world around him.

Previously, every time Giles moved around, first from Kansas then to Oregon State, there was a swirl of controversy that followed in his wake. After being signed by the Los Angeles Lakers for the summer leagues, he was let go after four pre-season matches (he averaged 2.0 points and 2.5 boards in all his appearances).

Determined to turn around his basketball career, the Seattle, Washington native looked to the shores beyond the United States for redemption.

When his agent sent Eala and Gilas Head Coach Rajko Toroman a tape of his skills, the SBP officials did their homework and checked out his background thoroughly by talking to former coaches and people who knew him. He was even scouted by Talk ‘N Text Head Coach Chot Reyes just to give a second opinion on the American player who would be suiting up for the Gilas’ campaign in Jakarta.

He had the skills for sure, but the character…” explained Eala who added that the SBP felt they had found the right reinforcement for the team after sifting through lots of tapes from agents. “That was something we had to find out as we went on. And we’re happy to say that he’s been a very good addition to the team.”

The first time Giles met the Smart Gilas squad was in Las Vegas, Nevada when they were working out at the Joe Abunassar Impact Basketball Camp.

I wasn’t nervous,” said Giles who had the nickname “Big Bird” hung on him by his Filipino teammate Mac Baracael. “I was more concerned about how the team would view me and how I would fit in.”

In the six weeks he’s been with the team, he feels that he’s found a home where he discovered something in himself.

Back in college, I always kept to myself and didn’t say much to others,” he recounted. “Here my coaches and teammates expect me to be a leader; to be vocal. That’s something that crosses over when making the next step. If I get a chance to go to the NBA, do I sit on the bench and do nothing or do I stay abroad where I have a chance to be a part of bigger things?”

Apparently his coaches didn’t expect him to display his huge fighting heart. The day of the Philippines’ second game versus Sangmoo Army Club of Korea, Giles’ injured knee was bothering him. Eala and the others didn’t expect him to play anymore since the team was in the consolation round. Except that Giles gave it a go and scored 16 points while hauling down 16 boards and rejecting 4 errant shots.

His athleticism and willingness to battle inside the alligator wrestling pond -- as former Chicago Bulls coach John Bach used to describe the shaded area -- has given the Philippines a post presence and has helped ignite a running and uptempo game that has made the team such a crowd favorite in Indonesia. His high-flying dunks competed for the crowds’ ooh and ahh meter with another NBA vet Jackson Vroman who strutted his wares for Mahram Iran.

His positive attitude has rubbed off on his teammates and he has good words for his experience in the Philippines: “It’s all good and I’m happy that this is a good first step for me. The goal is always to make it to the NBA – who doesn’t dream about that? What this experience has done is open my eyes. You can say it is expanding my horizons. Definitely. Definitely. Imagine in this time, I’ve been to the Philippines, Indonesia, and now Japan! My career is just getting started but I can say that I’m blessed.”

And those horizons include a ritual that Filipinos can really relate to – praying. Although born a Protestant, Giles carries with him 24 rosaries that were given to him by his grandmother who is a practicing Catholic. He even wears one around his neck when off the court.

While on the team bus in Indonesia, the team’s Operations Manager Butch Antonio asked him about the rosaries, “Yeah, man. I’ve learned to pray.” He flashed an easy grin, “I guess everyone needs it.”

It isn’t only seeking Divine Intervention for Giles, but it’s also a change in attitude.

While In Jakarta one night during the FIBA competition, Giles was at the hotel’s coffee shop chatting with family and friends when he was informed by Gilas Assistant Coach Jude Roque that the team curfew of 11pm was in effect.

Because of the time difference, it was the only time for the American to chat with familiar faces back home. Giles’ face contorted into a frown as he packed his laptop and headed upstairs.

Toroman who was also in the coffee shop noted Giles’ unhappiness. “Why is he bothered? Those are the rules. He knows that.”

The following day, a contrite Giles sought the Serbian and asked permission to stay a little longer than the deadline so he could communicate with his kin back home. Toroman allowed him and when he was done chatting that night, he didn’t need anyone to tell him it was time to hit the sack. Earlier that day, Giles returned to action after hurting his knee to lead the Philippines to an incredible win against Lebanon. Giles had scored 20 points and displayed rare courage for a player who soldiered on even at the cost of aggravating the injury.

I told you, man. This is the real me.

Giles is amazed by the good fortune he’s had since being released by the Lakers. His strong performance in Indonesia had several of the rich Middle Eastern teams inquiring about his services.

Right now, it’s about helping the team and seeing what works best for our futures. Naturalization? We’ll get down to discuss that. But let’s keep it simple; there’s “Pilipinas” on my chest jersey for now, right?”

It’s all a part of his awakening.

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