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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Looking back and forward: Where to Ateneo basketball?

Looking back and forward

Where to Ateneo basketball?

words and pictures by rick olivares

If one would take a look at Ateneo basketball history, the Blue Eagles have a tendency to win everything in bunches before dipping to reload for another run.

It would be somewhat wrong to look at the champion teams of yesteryear as the times are different in terms of skill level, recruitment, the size of players, and the quality of competition. So it is best just to keep it to the past decade when the current program was installed. But even that is somewhat inaccurate because in the program’s first five years, the blue and white had three head coaches in Joe Lipa, Joel Banal, and Sandy Arespacochaga; a sorry reminder of Ateneo basketball since it joined the UAAP in 1978.

It also does not exactly reveal how the rabid alumni base is not the authority in who should be coaching the Blue Eagles. After all, if these noisy alumni (who do not even contribute money to the program save for hanging out at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center every chance they get) had their way, Norman Black would not be coaching.

And speaking of the current American mentor of Ateneo, it is amazing to see how his system has taken root in the Blue Eagles’ brand of hoops.

That became obvious in 2006 when an unheralded Ateneo team came within a lay-up of winning the title. There was no star on that squad and the funny thing is prior to that campaign no one expected much from the team. As they began to soundly beat their foes that was when the so-called experts reason out that they had JC Intal, Macky Escalona, and Doug Kramer. What they didn’t realize was how they lost four players prior to that – LA Tenorio, Magnum Membrere, Bajjie Del Rosario and Japeth Aguilar. Of the four, it was Aguilar who was building up into the next dominant big man but he left in the off-season for a US Division 1 school.

The following year, without Intal, Escalona, and Kramer, there were more doubts about who would lead the Blue Eagles. And lo and behold, the team found a solid low-post presence in the previously under-achieving Ford Arao whose development made it easier for the other players to find their space to contribute.

When Arao graduated, who would have known that Rabeh Al-Hussaini would become the most unlikely MVP in league history?

Yet in spite of new players stepping into the breach, the strength of the system lies in the team play as players adapt themselves into the system. On any other college team, Ryan Buenafe would be scoring a double-double, but on Black’s five stick, he is a playmaker par excellence who is still not getting props for his fantastic defense.

After blocking Paul Sanga's last minute attempt, Chris Sumalinog races upcourt for a possible outlet.

And there’s the matter of Oping Sumalinog who was once known as a gunner but is showing a tantalizing display of all-around game. If Nonoy Baclao were to play one more year then think of the possibilities of having two similar players on the same squad? The search for a clone has turned up players like JP Erram who is touted to be the next Baclao. But if anyone saw the former West Negros Mustang play before, he had excellent range. We keep searching when that player in right on the bench. He can drive, post-up, and stroke it from the outside. If you think that’s all he can do, his wingspan allows his to disrupt a foe’s shot and even block his shot. He’s got the hops and can rebound some.

And that’s just Buenafe and Sumalinog. There are others waiting to explode.

Many wondered how the team would compensate for the loss of Chris Tiu but the answer was a three-headed option in Nonoy Baclao-Rabeh Al-Hussaini-Jai Reyes. Reyes in particular has been the deadeye shooter that Ateneo teams have been known for in the mold of Membrere, Larry Fonacier, Tiu, Rainier Sison, Junie Rentosa, Richie Ticzon, Vince Hizon, and Jet Nieto to name a few.

The program is in place as the three Ateneo units from the grade school to the high school all the way to college are in perfect congruence. And in Black and the school’s name and reputation, we have two huge and compelling reasons for one to don the blue and white.

So as the Blue Eagles loss three vital cogs (the single biggest loss in the starting unit since Intal, Kramer, and Escalona), wonder not on our fate for the season to come because in Norman… we trust.

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