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 14, 2009

A Magnificent Statement

I think this was a nice sporting gesture by the Green Archers (notwithstanding Joshua Webb's smirk and oh by the way, I am writing a cool Webb story). So do not take anything more from the shot. Justin Chua was so pumped up before this. I have the whole sequence of shots leading up to this.

A Magnificent Statement

Ateneo 74 vs. FEU 70

Happy Sesquicentennial, Ateneo. The Blue Eagles cap a stellar season with a PCCL victory for a rare Grand Slam.

words and pic by rick olivares


In 1989, twenty years ago, Norman Black as head coach, steered San Miguel Beer to a Grand Slam in the Philippine Basketball Association. It was the third in league history and the three that year brought his total to five at that point (he eventually finished with 9 for the Beermen and added one more with Sta. Lucia).

In 2009, twenty years later, the product of a Jesuit school in the United States, gave the Ateneo de Manila a fitting birthday present when the undermanned Blue Eagles beat the Far Eastern University Tamaraws 74-70 for its second national title in the last three years and third in the last three months after the UAAP and University Games for a unprecedented Grand Slam. And if anyone has been counting, that is Norman’s seventh trophy with Ateneo. And he’s not yet done.


The whole point of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League is to determine what school has the best basketball team in the land. If that isn’t a statement then you’re probably one of those who pooh pooh the tournament with the excuse that this isn’t an important (they probably belong to a school that doesn’t know how to win).

Do you think that the first ever matches by the Basketball Association of America were deemed important? Apparently not then because back then there was already the American Basketball League and the National Basketball League. Today, the BAA games incidentally are considered the first ever games organized by the National Basketball Association.

So in these nascent years of the Champions League, one can say that these are statement games. And maybe one day soon, it will be the biggest and best basketball competition in the land pro ball included.

Far Eastern University wanted to make a statement for several reasons: one, they thought it would be redemption for the disappointing UAAP campaign; two, if they won then it would validate their removal of former starting playmaker Mark Barroca after game fixing allegations; and three, they wanted to win it for their Coach Glenn Capacio whose father passed away the day before Game 3. Lastly, they had an opportunity to repeat La Salle’s feat from last year when they knocked out the NCAA Champion, San Beda, and UAAP Champion, Ateneo, en route to their first national title. The Tamaraws scuttled this year’s NCAA titlists San Sebastian and upended Ateneo 75-70 in Game 1.

For Ateneo, they wanted to keep their run going while they still could. It would make a fitting parting gift for Jai Reyes and Nonoy Baclao in their final game for the blue and white. It would cap a dream season after winning the UAAP and Uni-Games to complete a Grand Slam in the Ateneo’s Sesquicentennial. And they wanted to show everyone that the team wasn’t all about Rabeh Al-Hussaini who opted out of the tournament.

Although next year’s Blue Eagles will be without their Big Three, the entire tournament has been showcasing a team with some new yet old weapons.


Conventional wisdom has it that a coach matches up big for big then try to exploit mismatches somewhere along the way. While Ateneo’s bigs didn’t particularly fare well in Game One of the Best-of-Three title series with the Tamaraws, the Blue Eagles nearly pulled off the win but a series of miscues in the endgame cost them the one game advantage.

They tried as much in Game Two but when they went with a smaller squib line-up, they ran FEU to the ground.

In Game 3, FEU started their amazing guard RR Garcia on Reyes that seemed like a fulltime job just to contain the Blue Eagles’ chief outside gunner. With Garcia busy, the Tamaraws’ bigs scored eight straight points all on jumpers to open the scoring. Ateneo on the other hand, had Frank Golla and Nonoy Baclao going strong inside 8-6 for the Tams.

In this season, no matter what the tournament, Ateneo’s bench has proved better than any of their foes. With Baclao whistled for two quick fouls, it was up to the second unit to douse fire on the hot shooting Tams.

Ryan Buenafe went in and immediately induced a three-point play from Garcia. And Oping Sumalinog more than made up for the big hole inside that was vacated by Al-Hussaini.

In addition to 11 points, he pulled down 9 boards and blocked 3 shots. He drove the lane, posted up foes, and played smothering defense. It was like having two Baclaos on the floor at the same time. And it was a statement that he was a player to look out for in the next UAAP season.

With Eric Salamat wreaking havoc on the perimeter with his taps and steals, Ateneo raced to a 16-point lead early in the 3rd quarter 51-35. With Ateneo threatening to break the dam open, the Tams sued for time and tightened up their 2-3 zone to prevent flashes inside the lane.

On the successive Ateneo possessions, the Tams swiped away at the ball and converted into fastbreak layups, the easiest shots they had all game long in the face of the face of the withering D put up by the men in blue.

As Garcia began to wax hot from the outside, it stretched Ateneo defense, leaving second guard Chris Exciminiano free for a pair of layups after cutting from the right corner.

The momentum had swung FEU’s way and were breathing down Ateneo’s neck at 61-59.

A Sumalinog bucket momentarily stemmed the tide 63-59 and a defensive stop saw the Eagles go down court when FEU guard clotheslined Reyes. The third year guard from Ateneo de Zamboanga who had gained a reputation for rough play was whistled for a deliberate foul but Reyes was only able to convert one free throw. Incredibly, the two were once teammates on Team Reyes in the Ateneo Basketball League. In Knuttel’s first conference in the ABL, he took a shot at former Blue Eagle Bajjie del Rosario, himself another rough player. Del Rosario was incensed and he picked on the younger player all match long.

Knuttel’s foul underscored the intensity and bearing of the game no doubt warming the hearts of the tournament’s organizers who craved for the league’s legitimacy and recognition. Ateneo playing in three straight finals augured well for ticket sales and some advertising pesos.

For the two teams, the cared none for that but simply taking home the last big prize in college basketball for the year.

If anyone was hoping that FEU would fall apart after Knuttel’s WWE move, it instead gave them more focus. And unfortunately for Ateneo, FEU’s gunners – Paul Sanga and Ric Cawaling began to find their range.

Cawaling, a player of immense talent but maddeningly inconsistent gave his side the lead with an and-one off Sumalinog. Although he failed to convert the bonus, the Tams had the 68-67 lead, their first since 10-9 in the 1st Quarter. Cawaling, who played an incredible Game 2 hit another big time bucket to make it 70-67 with time down to 2:35.

With Ateneo groping for points without Al-Hussaini and Salamat who went down with cramps, Reyes, showed why he was the motor that got the Blue Eagles’ engine running. He worked the two man-game with Baclao and stroked a dead-eye trey to notch the count at 70-all time down to 2:24.

From thereon, it was a defensive battle. Sumalinog blocked Sanga’s three-point attempt. And Ryan Buenafe, after losing the ball to Cawaling in the post made up for his boo boo by corralling a huge defensive board. And that set up Sumalinog for a lay up that gave the lead to Ateneo 72-70.

There was a chance for FEU to send the game into overtime but Reil Cervantes missed an undergoal stab with pressure from Baclao. It was the second time that Cervantes muffed a crucial basket against Ateneo in the dying seconds with the last one coming from the two team's second round tiff of Season 72.

Buenafe closed out the scoring with two pressure packed free throws that sealed the deal and gave Ateneo its third title of the season to complete their Grand Slam.


Reyes for his superb efforts all tournament long was named to the Mythical Five Selection along with backcourt mate Eric Salamat, San Beda College’s Bam Bam Gamalinda, and FEU’s Aldrech Ramos and RR Garcia. And as a fitting end to his career, he was named tournament MVP.

His father, Len, who worked countless hours with his son honing his shooting and challenging him to reach deep inside for that One Big Fight, slumped against the wall. As people went over to shake his hand, he didn’t say a word but simply nodded and smiled back. As the crowd eventually thinned out, he simply noted, “Fulfilled yung dream.”

Ryan Buenafe, the wondrous rookie who has won championships in the last five years looked tired. As well wishers congratulated him for standing tall in the game’s final moments, he could only say, “Salamat. Happy ako na nakakatulong tayo. Sana tuloy tuloy pa ‘to.”

As the media jostled for position for a center-perfect shot of the victorious Ateneo team, Norman Black wore a huge smile on his face. With the victory, his seventh in a two-year span and the single biggest haul for an Ateneo team (maybe even a college squad), he had unknowingly become the finest coach in the land today with massive success on both the professional and collegiate level.

He gave the thumbs up and broke out into an even wider grin.

“All I can say is this is gratifying for me as a coach to be given this opportunity. I’d say this is a nice birthday gift for the Ateneo.” he said.

Then the University President, Fr. Benvienido Nebres S.J. came over and said thanks.

“This is a nice Blue Christmas,” pronounced one of the team’s staunchest supporters. And they posed for more photos at center court.

Ateneo 74Salamat 19, Reyes 17, Sumalinog 11, Buenafe 8, Golla 4, Chua 4, Baclao 4, Salva 4, Monfort 3, Austria 0, Long 0

FEU 70Sanga 15, Garcia 14, Ramos 10, Cawaling 10, Exciminiano 8, Manalo 5, Cervantes 4, Noundou 4, Knuttel 0

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