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.
This column appears in the November 1, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror.
by rick olivares
My two sons and I let out a loud whoop after Jermain Lens blasted a close range shot against the hapless Feyenoord goalkeeper to give PSV Eindhoven an incredible 10-0 lead in a Dutch Eredivisie match. We kind of forgot that it was late in the evening and that we were not at home but in a hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
I was half waiting for the hotel concierge to call and tell us to keep the racket down when there was a knock on the door. It was our neighbor in the room next to us. His eyes were bulging not out of anger but more out of a state of disbelief and horror. “I think you’re watching the same massacre as me, ja?” he said in a German accent. “This is a dark day for Feyenoord football.”
I nodded and answered a meek “yeah”. The German threw up his hands and made a face. “Sorry to disturb you but what a goal, ja?” I smiled in agreement. He patted me on the shoulder, grunted a “good night” then sauntered back to his room. Bullet dodged, ja?
Football does bring the world together.
It was a priceless moment on a cold night in Hong Kong watching a football match on television with my two sons while sharing a mega bag of Calbee Hot ‘n Spicy potato chips with some sodas and a can of Coffee House.
My kids were on semestral break and a break is what I sorely needed from work. Right before we left, a few of my friends called up. I thought they wanted to talk about how Cain Velasquez whipped Brock Lesnar. I was close. They wanted me to purchase for them a copy of the November issue of Playboy that featured UFC Octagon Girl Arianny Celeste. Ten orders to be exact.
If customs in Manila saw Hef’s mags in my bag, I’d be honest and declare, “Well, Arianny Celeste is hot.”
Why stop there? Maybe I should ask why Cebu Pacific stopped their dancing stewardesses from making air travel safety precautions more interesting. I thought that in our flight back home, we had some really pretty and vivacious flight attendants.
Ahem. I am going overboard with all these raging hormones. This was after all a Parental Guidance trip.
I have traveled a lot and far often. As for my children, I realized that bringing them along at a very young age isn’t exactly the most fun thing to do. For one, you have to constantly mind them and it takes some of the fun out of going around. And two, all they wanted back then was to buy their toys and go back to the hotel because they really don’t care for historical landmarks or other tourist spots.
So I decided to only more bring them along when they were old enough to appreciate different cultures. And I was right because when we went to Singapore last summer, the trip was even more enjoyable. Traveling has given them a greater awareness of the world around them. Literally expanding their horizons has given way to ambition.
And now we were in Hong Kong. With all the sight seeing, the Disneyland trip (they enjoyed Universal Studios in Singapore more), eating Vietnamese and Mediterranean cuisine, and shopping, they marveled at the attention that sports was getting in all forms of media.
My two boys love football. The eldest roots for AC Milan while the youngest favors Arsenal. Being in a country where the global game was the number one sport was not lost on them. From the magazine stands to what was shown on television to what was sold in the malls, they enjoyed the change of pace.
“This is great, dad.” gushed my youngest son inside the giant adidas store in Tsim Sha Tsui. “Now I’m not sure what to get anymore.” The store was stocked with football kits of over two-dozen different clubs.
They were surprised at the sports pages of a couple of English-language dailies that I buy when I’m abroad. Over four pages of stories, stats, and information. No ads.
I’ve used their burgeoning interest in sports to expand their reading habits especially apart from the computer. I’ve also learned to use things they enjoy and are familiar with in explaining new concepts to them.
Such as “diversification.” I pointed out why the menus of say fastfood stores like KFC have items on the menu that you cannot find in other countries like the Japanese Curry Packet that my youngest son instantly loved in Hong Kong. “You have to speak to the local market in terms and conditions that they can understand and digest. In this case, it’s food that fits their taste and culture.”
Switching channels in our hotel room, we were just in time for Game One of the World Series.
“You mean like this one?” quizzed my youngest son.
I was shocked, flabbergasted, and upset.
The game – the duel between pitching aces Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers and Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants – was being broadcast in Mandarin.
“Yes, like that one.”
Here's that game between PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord Rotterdam
There were 14.7 seconds left in the game when San Miguel Beer head coach Ato Agustin put the ball in Alex Cabagnot’s hands. “I have faith in him,” Agustin would later say.
A minute earlier, Cabagnot the six-foot guard out of Hawaii, missed a shot in the lane that could have given the Beermen the lead. “I was telling myself, ‘sayang!’ All I wanted was another chance to make that shot.”
A few days earlier, he sank the Alaska Aces with a game winner and now here he was again with a chance to win the game Peter June Simon hit a triple off a broken B-Meg Derby Ace play to notch the count at 83-all.
The play had several options all depending on what the defense gave him. If they crowded him, he could drop the pass to any of his teammates inside the lane. If the Llamados shut down the lane, then he could throw the ball out on the kick out. Or he could take the shot himself. “I have faith in him,” Agustin would say not once but twice later on.
Fronting Cabagnot was the tough Roger Yap. The Llamados wanted him to go right which wasn’t his strong side. With teammate Arwind Santos and Dondon Hontiveros positioned around the arc, the Llamados had no choice but to cover them. Danny Seigle was lurking along the baseline for a drop pass while Danny Ildefonso was on the free throw line to set a pick if need be.
Now everyone needed to play their part.
“I have faith in my teammates,” said Cabagnot outside the San Miguel dugout after the match. “They know what they need to do.”
After taking the inbound, Cabangnot waited for the seconds to tick away to prevent B-Meg from a last attempt should San Miguel misplay the offensive. Then Ildefonso ran out and Llamado center Rommel Adducul followed to guard against the pick and roll. With the lane somewhat clear, the SMB point guard went to his weak side before shifting to his left leaving Yap behind. With Seigle still lurking, B-Meg’s Rico Maierhofer had a split second to decide whether to commit to the help defense or not.
The lanky and shot blocking six-foot-six forward extended and forced Cabagnot to reach deep for a playground scoop shot that swooped over the arms of Yap and Maierhofer before settling into the net and a second consecutive escape act at the buzzer for a 85-83 win.
“It wasn’t supposed to be that way,” Cabangnot said. “I would have wanted us to win by 10, 20, maybe more. But a win is a win. I’ll take it. We’ll take it.”
Not only did the Beermen take the game, but the had to forcibly wrench it from the hands of a hard-fighting B-Meg team that came charging back from a 16-point deficit late in the second period.
Without the injured Rafi Reavis, Kerby Raymundo, and Marc Pingris, the Llamados have been forced to go small and play a tougher brand of basketball as led by Jondan Salvador, Don Allado, Jerwin Gaco, Roger Yap, and Adducul. The tough play distracted the Beermen and in succession, they lost their focus, their lead, and Jay Washington.
As the third quarter began, Salvador literally began throwing his weight around. And Beermen Washington, Dorian Peña, and Mick Pennisi took the bait and retaliated. As it is oft the case with retaliatory strikes, they are the ones oft caught by the officials. Barely two minutes into the third quarter and the lead down to nine at 51-42, Washington was thrown out for throwing the ball at Allado.
As the Best Player of last year’s Fiesta Conference walked towards the locker room, Allado, who was to take the technical free throw slapped on Washington, pointed to his temple to indicate playing smart. Washington looked back and uttered a few choice words before departing.
Each time, the Llamados made a run, San Miguel point guard corps of Cabagnot, Olsen Racela, and Dennis Miranda rescued them with sterling play. In the first half, Racela was responsible for orchestrating the Beermen’s lead.
With B-Meg nipping at their heels, Miranda checked in at the start of the fourth a scored seven points to restore San Miguel’s lead 73-67 following a triple from an Ildefonso kick out.
After Simon’s triple, it was Cabagnot’s turn to lead the Beermen in the face of B-Meg’s searing endgame rally.
“I’ve never been in this situation in the PBA where my coach is giving me the ball in crunchtime to see what I can do with it. I have to justify his faith in me. I’m just glad to be a part of this.”
The win put SMB on top of the 10-team standings with a 5-1 record and the league’s first four-game win streak. Incidentally, it was the Beermen’s fourth straight win since Agustin took over the head coaching duties. “I cannot claim too much credit,” he graciously offered outside a joyous locker room post-game. “We have good directors here (Cabagnot, Racela, and Miranda). They are responsible for executing our game because I can no longer do that.”
“Pero what a shot ha? Wala ako masabi.” Agustin reenacted the shot, shook his head, and entered the locker room.
San Miguel 85 – Hontiveros 14, Seigle 11, Yeo 10, Ildefonso 10, Cabagnot 9, Santos 8, Miranda 7, Washington 4, Racela 4, Peña 4, Artadi 2, Pennisi 2
B-Meg Derby Ace 83 – Yap James 21, Villanueva 11, Salvador 10, Simon 9, Allado 9, Gaco 7, Yap Roger 6, Acuña 5, Maierhofer 5, Canaleta 0, Adducul 0
Just wanted to say am having a blast writing about the 36th Season of the PBA.
Meralco suffers power failure vs. Pure Energy fueled Powerade
Powerade 81 vs. Meralco 66
by rick olivares
October 30, 2010
The Meralco Bolts may be the new team on the block but they are actually a collection of players who are in the twilight of their career, discards from other squads, league newcomers, and one legit superstar.
When Mark Cardona called for time early in the second quarter, the scoring ace crumpled to the floor and clutched his ankle. When he was brought to the dugout, Meralco’s game followed him but went out the south gate.
At the half and the Powerade Tigers up 44-33, the Bolts’ coaching staff led by Ryan Gregorio huddled outside to talk about what happened. The first thing Gregorio asked was about Cardona.
“I think he’s done,” said assistant Ronnie Magsanoc.
After a quick exchange of notes, the coaching staff went in. Cardona had his right ankle soaked in ice and was in pain.
“Let’s show some pride,” urged Gregorio. “We are not a one-man show.” The three-time champion coach drew up some formations on the white board on how they were to change up their defense at the start of the third quarter. “I need you all to focus on what we need to do here. I need you to commit to what our plan is.”
His team nodded. The plan called for the Bolts to play man-to-man and when the Tigers made their second pass, they were to switch to a zone to prevent the drive especially from the spitfirish Gary David.
Powerade Coach Bo Perasol’s players had made 17 trips to the free throw line where they canned 12 shots. Powerade’s plan was to attack the slow transition of Meralco and their older bigs like Asi Taulava and Marlou Aquino. To compound matters, forwards Nelbert Omolon and Gabby Espinas drifted in an out of focus.
But the plan backfired. Whether because the sudden space opened up the floor for Powerade’s outside gunners or the lack of commitment to the defensive plan, the Tigers’ Mark Macapagal and David immediately launched triples to devastating effect. The 11-point deficit had gone up to 16.
With Powerade pushing the ball upcourt as quick as they could, Meralco countered with a three-guard lineup of Chris Ross, Pong Escobal, and rookie Shawn Weinstein.
But it was the Tigers’ cat-quick Chico Lanete who answered the challenge by lofting a floater over the 6’9” Aquino and scoring on a layup for a 60-42 lead with 3:24 to play in the third.
The Bolts came no further than 11 as David continued to torch the Bolts from inside and out. The player dubbed “Mr. Pure Energy” scored eight points in the fourth quarter to help his side pull out a 81-66 win. David was the lone Tiger in double figures with 31 points that eclipsed the previous conference high of 27 held by several players including San Miguel Beer’s Arwind Santos, Dondon Hontiveros, and Jay Washington; Meralco’s Cardona; Talk ‘N Text’s Jimmy Alapag, and David himself who scored that number in a losing effort against Barangay Ginebra.
By the time the Bolts entered their dugout, Cardona had been brought to Medical City for tests. The loss was their fourth in six matches and a pall of gloom set hung on the players. A disconsolate Gregorio didn’t mince his words. “I am a sore loser.” he said. He called out the lack of consistency by Omolon, Gabby Espinas, and forward Beau Belga.
Addressing Espinas, Gregorio said that he thought that the former PCU Dolphin who was with his fifth PBA ballclub was a talented player who could be a star in the pro league. But his lack of consistency and bad habits kept him from reaching his true potential.
“Guys, I need you all to dig in deep.” asked the visibly irked head coach. “We still have a chance (Meralco has eight more matches to go) but you all have to dig in deep.”
Without Cardona’s 19.4 points (prior to the game against Powerade), digging deep is an understatement and more. Their next opponents are San Miguel and Alaska.
Powerade 81 – David 31, Lanete 9, Macapagal 9, Espino 7, Reyes Rob 6, Ritualo 6, Gonzales 5, Antonio 5, Rizada 3, Reyes Jai 0, Calimag 0, Laure 0, Mendoza 0
Meralco 66 – Escobal 17, Espinas 12, Menor 8, Weinstein 6, Ross 6, Daa 6, Taulava 5, Cardona 4, Aquino 2, Arao 0, Belga 0, Aljamal 0, Omolon 0
My notes:When Gregorio dressed down Espinas, it was for his blowing hot and cold. As for Belga, it was about his propensity for playing out of control and throwing cheap shots that do not help Meralco’s cause one bit. When the coaching staff entered the dugout after the game, all the players had taken of bits and pieces if not all their game clothing. Save for one. The only one in full uniform was Asi Taulava. The Fil-Tongan played 18 minutes and scored five points, pulled down four rebounds, had one block, and three turnovers. He was stewing about the loss. If anyone thinks that he’s no longer passionate about the game, then they have another thought coming. While the coaches were in their post-game huddle outside, it was Taulava who led the discussion among the players inside. The Bolts are actually a fascinating team to follow for many reasons some of which I stated in my opening paragraph. For sure, I’ll be writing about this team even more.
Barangay Ginebra head coach Jong Uichico thinks so.
The Kings thrashed the struggling Rain or Shine Elasto Painters 90-73 in the main game of the Friday night double header at the Big Dome that was devoid of any drama that prevented the normally pro-Ginebra crowd from chanting their usual “Gi-ne-bra” to get their team rolling.
For the fourth time in six matches, the Kings posted a lead of over 20 points as they just dropped a barrage of points from inside and outside to flummox a sluggish Rain or Shine squad.
The Elasto Painters actually started out well – even if only for two minutes – as they moved the ball around to stretch Ginebra’s defense for an early 7-0 lead.
Uichico quickly called for time and in two minutes, the Kings not only equalized but also took the lead for good following a Willie Miller jumper 11-9, Ginebra.
All 10 Ginebra players used by Uichico scored while counterpart Caloy Garcia had to go deep into his bench to find something, anything that could click for his beleaguered side.
“Many of our players used to get more than 30 minutes a game with their previous teams,” explained the Ginebra mentor of his team’s success. “I think they’ve become genuinely happy for each other’s success on the court. When one scores, they cheer the other on.”
The Kings’ star-studded roster boasts of players who have made the mythical selections and have been named most valuable player, defensive player, and others that the pro league has been handing out through the years. Perhaps the sole player in the line-up who can best be considered a role player is their do-it all forward Willy Wilson who played a similar role when he was in college with De La Salle.
The prevailing theory is that all-star line-ups do not win championships, but if Uichico, a former PBA Coach of the Year in 2000 will tell you, anything is possible. Even without Eric Menk and JC Intal in the line-up.
The former is listed as day-to-day with a nagging hamstring injury while the latter fractured his right foot during their last game against the B-Meg Derby Ace Llamados. Incredibly, Intal managed to finish that game en route to scoring 10 points. Uichico said the slam-dunking forward could be back in two weeks.
The Kings moved the ball around for a game high 23 assists (to Rain or Shine’s measly eight). In each of the first two quarters, five Kings scored. In each of the last two periods, seven Ginebra players tacked more points on the board. And it was during that third quarter where the Kings put the game away as they outscored RoS 26-15 for a whopping 69-52 lead.
In the final frame, Ginebra matched their overmatched foes’ 21-point production for a 90-73 win. In their first three-game win streak since the 2010 Fiesta Cup elimination round when they went victorious in four straight matches. “We’re a work in progress,” added Uichico who also said he didn’t see a problem reintegrating Menk and Intal when they return for duty. It’s a problem I’d rather have than not having anyone who can score for us.”
Jayjay Helterbrand, Mark Caguiao, and Ronald Tubid, the trio dubbed “The Fast, the Furious, and the Fearless, and Willie “Thriller” Miller topscored for Ginebra for a combined 62 points while Solomon Mercado and Jay-R Reyes led the Elasto Painters with 10 points each.
Ginebra which has won by an average of 16.3 points in their three consecutive wins went up to 4-2 while the reeling RoS squad fell to 2-4.
Ginebra 90 – Miller 22, Tubid 17, Helterbrand 12, Caguiao 11, Hatfield 8, Aquino 6, Cortez 6, Mamaril 3, Villanueva 3, Wilson 2
The Air21 Express were feeling good about themselves heading into the match against the reeling Barako Bull Energy Boosters. Both teams were heading into opposite directions with the Express having won two consecutive games over last season’s conference champions – B-Meg Derby Ace and Alaska – while the Energy Boosters were trampled on by a pair of double digit loses to Powerade and Barangay Ginebra.
Seven minutes into the first game of the Friday double header of the Philippine Cup at the Araneta Coliseum, Air21 head coach had his hand over his head while several of his starters were on the bench either due to foul trouble or their inability to get their game going.
Following a Ronjay Buenafe bucket that gave Air21 a 15-14 lead at the five minute mark of the first quarter, the Energy Boosters made life difficult for Express guard Josh Urbiztondo to direct the Express’ offense. That simple defensive gem turned the game around for the Energy Boosters as they took over the game from thereon with an 11-3 spurt to take the first quarter 25-18.
“I think there’s some consistency creeping into our system,” explained Barako Head coach Junel Baculi. “We cannot outshine other teams on offense but maybe we can outshine them on defense.” Bold words coming from Baculi whose team has given up an average of 81.5 points in five matches while scoring 72.2 for a 9.3 point differential.
And this despite having Sunday Salvacion in the line-up (15.8 ppg; 8th in scoring) and rookie Hans Thiele who has average 10.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg (one of two rookies to average a double double with the other being Air21’s Rabeh Al-Hussaini who has posted 16.2 ppg and 10.5 rpg in four games).
But one cannot fault Baculi’s troops for trying. After a half of play, they had held Air21’s triumvirate of Wesley Gonzales, Buenafe, and Al-Hussaini to a collective nine points. Barako Bull’s Mark Isip outscored the trio by his lonesome as he put up 17 points on the board as his team took a 46-33 lead.
Instead of turning their game around in the third quarter, Guaio’s boys still came out flat as Barako found more energy from bench player Aris Dimaunahan who quickly pumped in five points before turning the scoring chores over to Salvacion and Isip. The duo who Air21 failed to stop all game long eventually finished with 38 points to pace their team.
Barako Bull’s lead went up to 24, 69-45, following a jumper from the left wing by Salvacion with two to play in the third.
The Express did make a game of it in the fourth as veteran big man Carlo Sharma pumped in 11 points. Buenafe also added eight points of his own with four free throws in the final minute of play to bring the deficit down to eight at 79-87. But with 40 seconds to play, the Express, with other vital cogs shut down all throughout, didn’t have enough weapons to catch up.
“Malas,” uttered a disappointed Buenafe after the match.
“We couldn’t get our rhythm all game long,” offered team manager Johann Ramos.
“It’s just one of those days,” added Guiao.
“They might have been flat, but I think you have to give credit to our defense,” countered Baculi whose team held off a late surge by Air21 to bag its second win of the tournament 89-79. “We just took it to them.”
With the win, Barako Bull avoided a three-game slide that has befallen only B-Meg Derby Ace and Meralco this Philippine Cup. And the victory that put the Energy Boosters at 2-3 was only their fifth win in 23 games dating back to the last tournament.
Anna Kournikova lives! And she's going to give Milla Jovovich a challenge in this 3D issue. And Anna K looks great! As for the Playboy issue (the last I bought was when they had Torrie Wilson on the cover), I read Jason Harper's story on UFC Octagon Girl Arriany Celeste! Oh me God! She's equal parts Italian-Spanish-Filipino. Of course, I read the article. I mean you do read the articles in Playboy, right? And not just look at the pictures. No one believes me right? Anything else I learned from the article? Well, Arianny has a great, ah, she has beautiful eyes.
VIENTIANE, Laos – The Philippines put up a gallant defensive stand to come away with a scoreless draw against Cambodia last night in the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Championship Qualifying event at the National Stadium here.
Needing a draw to advance, the Filipinos got the result they needed with its defense stepping up to hold the desperate Cambodians and leave them at the mercy of the result of the Laos-Timor Leste match.
The RP booters finished with five points, after a 5-0 win over Timor Leste and back-to-back draws to Laos and Cambodia. They failed to qualify in the 2008 tournament, after getting nosed out by Cambodia on goal difference in Phnom Penh.
“It’s very rewarding that the program we started has achieved its target,” said team manager Dan Palami.
“We know it was going to be hard, but the players worked very hard to get to this level.”
The back four of Anton del Rosario, Rob Gier, Aly Borromeo and Ray Jonnson were up to the Cambodian challenge just like RP goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and the Filipinos hung tough to secure the draw.
The Filipinos were forced to make two changes to the side that drew with Laos, 2-2, because of injuries and suspension. Jonnson moved up to the left wing position occupied by the injured Chiefy Caligdong, who managed to play through the pain in the last 40 minutes in place of David Basa.
Army man Roel Gener also made his first start in the tournament, replacing the suspended Jason de Jong. Cedelf Tupas provides live coverage from the Suzuki Cup in Laos. Thanks, buddy!
This year’s UAAP title wasn’t for the Ateneo Blue Eagles to lose; it was theirs to win.
by rick olivares
A few minutes after the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ dismantled the highly fancied Far Eastern University Tamaraws in the Finals of the Season 73 UAAP Men’s Basketball Tournament, the young man who guaranteed a three-peat one year earlier left the frenzied celebration at center court for the sidelines. Ryan Buenafe shook the hands of some friends, put on a championship shirt, then stood up on the now empty Ateneo bench and spread his arms as if to embrace the jubilant blue and white gallery. The newly anointed King Eagle who earlier strapped the Blue Eagles on his back in a virtuoso performance recalled images of Enrico Villanueva eight years earlier when the powerful Ateneo center spread his arms to the teeming blue mass after he helped end a 14-year title drought in Loyola Heights.
The ecstatic crowd showered Buenafe with a thundering ovation that had the venerable and storied venue rocking.
Over by center court, lost in the midst of the chaotic revelry, two men shared a happy embrace. There was the Ateneo head coach Norman Black and his graduating team captain Eric Salamat.
While it was but one of the many hugs of joy being enacted not just throughout the arena but everywhere else in the world where blue hearts and loyalties were sworn. It was a poignant moment unbeknownst to many.
When Norman Augustus Black assumed the mantle of head coach of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in 2005, aside from organizing his coaching staff that had been reshuffled to accommodate him, the American mentor went out to recruit Salamat, a fearless two-guard from San Sebastian College who just came off winning a juniors title for the Staglets in the NCAA. He was a peerless defender; a one-man wrecking crew who pilfered opposing ball carriers’ pockets and en route to a fastbreak bucket. He would be a perfect addition to the kind of hellacious defensive team that Black envisioned.
In Salamat’s rookie year, Ateneo booked its first finals appearance under Black. The Blue Eagles took Game One in arguably the most scintillating championship finish ever when fifth year forward Doug Kramer answered what appeared to be a game winning shot by UST Growling Tiger Allan Evangelista with lay-up right before time expired. But that was the last hurrah as the blue and whites were upended in the final two matches of the series.
The team had to endure one more heartbreak in the following campaign’s Final Four before they finally scaled the summit two years later in Season 71 when they took down defending champion De La Salle in a most memorable finals clash.
The ascent was sweet and arduous and now that the Blue Eagles were on top of the Mount Olympus of Philippine college basketball and they had every intention of staying up there for a considerable while.
And stay they did as they accomplished a feat that no Ateneo team since the nascent days of the NCAA were able to accomplish. Aside from team management and the coaching staff, the one player who had been with Black through the incredible journey from the bottom to the top, was Salamat.
The Anatomy of a Champion
The championship hangover of back-to-back titles (2008-09) had hardly died down when team management sat down one week later to map out the following season’s campaign and title defense. “Our attitude was, ‘we want to build for next year.’” recalled Black. “That shows you right there what the program stands for. What the people behind it are all about. It’s about winning the right way.”
First of all, there was team patron and business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan whose Midas touch has changed the fortunes of many a business property. “MVP” as he is fondly called is viewed than more than a financier for the Ateneo basketball program. “He is like a teammate,” pronounced Blue Eagles point guard Emman Monfort.
“He’s a friend who genuinely cares not only for the school but also the basketball team and what it stands for,” added team manager Paolo Trillo who also came on board with Black in 2005. “He doesn’t like losing but he can accept it if you try hard. But win or lose, the support and guidance that he gives, his presence, generosity, and friendship really lifts this team up.”
Then there was Black who was a winner many times over as a player and as a coach in the PBA. “It is a dream for many a young basketball player to study and play for Ateneo but when you add Norman Black to the equation,” said team chaplain Fr. Nemy Que S.J. “that makes it an even sweeter proposition. He’s not just a basketball coach but also a teaching coach who helps in the formation of young men. That is probably why we have the sons of former players and coaches here because they know how Norman conducts his training.”
The Blue Eagles play anywhere from 65-70 games a year not counting intra-team scrimmages. The bulk of those are played in the summer. The program and the tournaments are meticulously planned with the goal of peaking at the right time during the UAAP tournament.
One of the tournaments that the team regularly participates in is the University Games. Since the Uni-games come after the UAAP season, the graduating players are no longer required to suit up to make way for the holdovers to develop their game. It also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to recruit. Monfort was discovered this way.
While playing for Ateneo de Iloilo, Monfort was easily the star of his team. He once scored back-to-back 50-point games, a feat that did not escape the attention of the Blue Eagle coaching staff. “When we invited him to work out with us we were surprised to see how small he was,” recalled Black with a grin. “But he did very well with our shooting drills that we said, ‘we’ll take him!’”
And there was Kirk Long, the scoring sensation from Faith Academy in Antipolo City by way of Kansas. It helped that Black once played alongside Kirk’s father Jeff in the World Harvest Basketball League during his early years in the Philippines.
In his final year with Faith Academy, the Vanguards, as the school’s varsity teams are known by, played the Staglets of Buenafe. Although the NCAA junior champions won the match, future teammates Long engaged Buenafe in a shootout where both scored at least 40 points each.
There was also the rookie class of Season 71 in former San Beda stalwart Nico Salva, Chang Kai Shek center Justin Chua, and Buenafe.
Buenafe was one of the most sought after players following his storied career with San Sebastian where he led the Staglets to three straight titles. Gushed Trillo: “Just seeing him practice with us while he was in fourth year high school, we knew right away that he is the key to winning a championship or two. While his conditioning has been a question mark, he is just a gifted player with an extremely high basketball IQ. We knew that with many key players from our back-to-back championship gone, it was just his time to shine.”
“In the team’s composition, you will find many who were high school MVPs, mythical five selections, top scorers, or the best players on their team,” explained Black. “This helps us a lot because they know what it’s like to win, what it takes to win, and how to win. Believe it or not, they aren’t very difficult to teach especially when it comes to our defense first approach.”
As the team prepared to achieve a feat the Ateneo has been unable to duplicate for over 70 years, they added a couple of big men to replace former MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao in Jason Escueta, John Paul Erram, and Jeric Estrada.
Escueta was a decent offensive rebounder whose bulk would help against players like FEU’s Reil Cervantes and UP’s Magi Sison who oft tried to take the ball inside against Ateneo. Erram was another shot blocker in the mold of Baclao albeit raw and inexperience. Estrada, was the latest San Sebastian Stag to crack the Blue Eagles line-up. If the three of them along with Chua and Golla could turn the shaded lane into a no-fly zone and haul down those rebounds to fuel the dreaded Ateneo fatsbreak, then the team would be a tough one to beat.
But that remained to be seen. While most basketball analysts, even many among the Ateneo faithful, thought that this was the weakest Blue Eagle team in recent memory and conceded the title to FEU, the team’s brain trust knew that this team was good enough to win it all.
Hints of greatness
In the last four years, the team has gone to the United States during the summer to train in the Joe Abunassar Basketball Camp in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the summer of 2010, the Blue Eagles took a break from their regular stints in the Fil Oil tournament and the Fr. Martin Cup to repair to the Las Vegas camp while adding the Los Angeles camp to their itinerary.
After soundly beating an AAU team in one scrimmage in Las Vegas, the Blue Eagles found themselves the following day up against a team that was beefed up with NBA prospects including Sharron Collins who helped the Kansas Jayhawks to the US NCAA title in 2008 and was the winningest player in his school’s university.
Initially, Collins said that he’d play for five minutes before taking off. The other players also playfully dismissed the Filipinos as pushovers. One even remarked out loud that “there’s a mouse in the house” referring to Monfort’s presence.
Once the game started, Ateneo ran the Americans ragged with a stunning display of team play where the ball seemingly never touched the floor as players hit one basket after another.
Collins, who in now with the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA, was supposed to only play for five minutes, but as the game went on and the level of intensity kicked up several notches higher, the Jayhawk was seen arguing with his coach who tried to substitute him. “I want to play!” yelled the 5’11 guard. “I want to play.”
Although the Blue Eagles eventually ran out of steam and lost the scrimmage, they gained a lot of respect from the Americans. “Do you guys ever lose back in the Philippines?” wondered one impressed coach.
“After the game, all they could ever talk about as well was “the mouse” (Monfort) who was hitting his shots from everywhere on the court,” said a proud Fr. Que of that summer game.
A few weeks later when the team returned for its American sojourn, the team beat old NCAA rival Mapua for the Fr. Martin Cup title.
Putting history in perspective
Winning three straight basketball championships is difficult. Difficult might be an understatement but it is evidently doable as the San Beda Red Lions achieved the feat recently.
The Ateneo was the first to achieve it when the NCAA was in its infancy. Other teams were able to accomplish the feat and even best it over time. The Red Lions ended Ateneo’s string of titles in the 1930’s with one of their own. The UE Red Warriors as coached by former Blue Eagle Baby Dalupan won seven straight in the UAAP. The UST Glowing Goldies of the 1990’s won four consecutive titles. The San Sebastian Stags won five straight and La Salle also pulled off their own four-peat in the UAAP.
The Blue Eagles weren’t without their chances to achieve another hat trick of their own. They had four other opportunities to do so after winning back-to-back titles. But each time they were denied.
History didn’t seem to be on the Ateneo’s side.
“This year, we said that we’d look at this as winning this championship,” explained Arespacochaga. “If you think, ‘Wow, we have to win this so we can get a three-peat’ it becomes a burden.”
“We talked about achieving a three-peat,” confirmed fourth-year swingman Raymond Austria. “Who doesn’t want to accomplish it, right? But like every game, we just have to take it one at a time.”
In the supposed year of parity, almost every team in the league was assessed to be capable of beating anyone on any given day. Perhaps save for the FEU Tamaraws.
The Tamaraws brought back almost their entire crew from the previous year bolstered by key acquisitions. They were tall, athletic, talented, deep, and hungry to snatch that crown atop Ateneo’s head.
The Blue Eagles in the meantime had a gaping hole at center. For the boys in blue to win it all over again in 2010, it would take more than a change in mindset.
It was time to get creative.
One thing was for sure. With a thinner line-up, the coaching staff couldn’t afford to have serious injuries to its key players.
“We would have to invert our strength,” plotted Black of the offensive scheme. Without the dominant big man, the team had to find a way of posting up Salamat, Salva, and Buenafe.
And as terrifying as the Tamaraws were, the coaching staff’s biggest worry was Adamson. “If we could get past Adamson who was the only team bigger than us, we could do It.” theorized Black. “Not only are they more athletic and taller than us but they are well coached.”
The Falcons booted the Blue Eagles out of the Fil Oil Pre-season Invitational as they dominated Ateneo from the perimeter and inside the paint. Adjustments were made: Salamat was inserted at point guard while Long was at the two-guard. Buenafe, with a better work ethic was once more ensconced at the three-spot while former National Youth Team member Frank Golla played the four while Chua manned the slot.
Golla’s inclusion in the starting unit gave the team a different dimension. A banger inside, Golla did the dirty work and didn’t mind banging bodies with opponents. It got so that opposing players didn’t want to bang with him. “He’s our glue man,” crowed Black.
“The off-season isn’t a true gauge of how good the team could be,” cautioned Trillo. “Coach (Norman) plays everyone; gives everyone a chance to play. Now even if we lost some key players, we still had talent. Even without knowing the strength of all the other teams, I knew we were a legitimate contender.
At first, the 6’7” Erram was given the starting slot, but as the UAAP tournament got going, it was evident that he lacked the experience. Black turned once more to third year center Justin Chua who after a sterling Uni-games the year before all but disappeared from the rotation.
During the back-to-back title runs, Chua once asked Black what it would take for him to get playing time. “Justin, it’s not what you are not doing but what Rabeh (Al-Hussaini) is doing correctly.”
When the opportunity came for Chua during the summer before Season 73, Black was unimpressed. Chua was largely unable to adjust his talent to the college game. He repeatedly tried to put the ball down the floor where he oft lost it to opposing guards and forwards. What the team needed was his defense and rebounding. Once he got that right and he began to hit all those outside shots (against UST in the first round), then Chua settled into a groove and into the regular rotation.
Come the UAAP season, the team sets for itself several goals: to make it to the Final Four, to secure the twice-to-beat advantage, to make it to the Finals, and to win.
Normally, a rotation would have been in place following the summer tournaments. But as the team struggled early on, Salva and Erram were inserted into the second and third team respectively, while Buenafe and Chua moved up to the starting unit.
Following a disappointing 2-2 record that included an opening day loss to FEU and an uncharacteristic meltdown against La Salle after spotting them a healthy lead with the game winding down, the Blue Eagles went on a six-game win skein including a double digit demolition of the Green Archers.
The team ended its elimination round assignment the way they began the season – with a 2-2 slate with losses to UE and FEU that mirrored the first round stunners.
What others failed to look at as Ateneo finished with a 10-4 record was how the other teams weren’t exactly pushovers. Some performed better than advertised while others floundered with disappointing performances.
While the loss to UE might seem like “a hiccup” as some players described it, the Red Warriors were on a second round tear beating the top squads save for the rejuvenated National University Bulldogs that eventually finished fifth in the league.
Nevertheless, the loss sent warning signals to maintain the team’s focus.
Recounted Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Benvienido Nebres S.J., “In the 2007 season the Blue Eagles were on their way to win a twice to beat advantage. Then they lost to NU in a poorly played game. MVP remained in his seat after the game, deeply disappointed and pained. At the Gesu mass that closed out the disappointing Season 70 campaign, he said: ‘I do not like to lose.’"
“That signaled that we had to do everything to win the next season. He called a meeting the next week and in that meeting discussed the key recruits for season 2008: Ryan Buenafe, Nico Salva, Justine Chua, Vince Burke. In the teambuilding before the 2008 season, he reminded all: ‘No more NU type losses.’”
Putting the 10-4 elimination round finish, Kirk Long put it succinctly: “I think that people got spoiled by the 13-1 seasons.”
Because of the less than stellar finish, the close shaves to Adamson and UST as well as the two losses to FEU, the Blue Eagles were given a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning a third straight championship.
“What everyone else failed to see was how the team began to play so much better in practice,” said Black. “Against FEU, we tried to win the game of course, but we’re not going to show our hand against them.”
The Eye of the Storm
The Ateneo Blue Eagles aren’t solely powered by a burning desire for glory in this basketball republic. Prayer also fuels the team and a lot of off-court team building.
“From beginning, the players liked each other and that’s quite important,” underscored Fr. Que. “When you’re on court, you know where everybody is. They also knew that they knew they could not depend on any single player to step up because they will all have to step up.”
“It helped that our roles were defined,” added Monfort.
“Everyone from Tonino Gonzaga who made practices even more competitive to Carlo Balmaceda who never hesitated to share his observations with the coaching staff; everyone just contributed because they all had a stake in this.” said Arespacochaga.
“We had this team building session at the Discovery suites before Final Four,” recounted Fr. Que. “It’s a session that evaluates what has happened help us move forward. Each person – coaches and players -- is asked what they thought of the past games and what they think should be done.”
Fr. Nebres and MVP reminded the team that the playoffs were an altogether different season. And the business magnate, who had seen many a an achievement against seemingly impossible odds, underscored one important fact: "FEU can be beaten."
One of those who surprisingly became more vocal as the year went on was Buenafe. In that team building session, he spoke up.
Recalled Fr. Que of the enigmatic forward: “He started to lead and encourage his teammates. Ryan came out as a leader. It was important in the make up of the team and for himself. And though he didn’t score much in the Final Four match against Adamson and in Game One against FEU, he did a little of everything like he did all throughout the season. By Game Two, he was ready.”
And during the practices leading up to the Final Four took a wholly different tone; something that was not lost on team officials. Related Black, "These are the best practices we have had. The scoring was low, but that was because defense was so good."
Taking their game to a higher level, the Blue Eagles blew out Adamson 68-55, only the second time the team won by a lopsided margin of the Norman Black era. The victory was so thorough and convincing that coupled with the 14-year losing streak, one has to wonder what kind of damage was done to the team’s collective psyche.
And thus Ateneo barged into the Finals where FEU awaited them. It was the match up everyone was waiting for. It was supposed to be Season 72’s Finals match-up as well except that the UE Red Warriors had other ideas.
During Season 73’s opening weekend, it was the one white hot match-up. Regardless of the outcome, it was the Finals Preview, many said. And now it was to played out on the grand stage of the Araneta Coliseum. For all the marbles. For pride. And for history.
Motivated by pride, a mission, history, and inspiration from team patron Manuel V. Pangilinan, the blue and whites made mincemeat out of the Tamaraws in Game One in front of a screaming blue gallery as well as a stunned green and gold one. The massacre was also played out on national television and incredibly to even better ratings.
Trillo who had been sick for a number of days prior to the finals told himself before the match that he’d sit down and not react to anything, as he was afraid of suffering a relapse. Once the game started and the Ateneans turned the game into one layup line, Trillo couldn’t control himself as he finally got off from him seat and jumped up and down in excitement. “Never mind if I get a relapse, this is great!”
“We came out with a lot of energy,” said Buenafe. “We heard what everyone said about us and we wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
“After awhile, you could see them just give up.” added Long. “It was only Paul Sanga who kept fighting in there and egging his teammates.”
Following the 72-49 demolition, the Tamaraws, responded as if their manhood was in question. “We will show them (Ateneo) that we are not cowards.,” promised FEU point guard Jens Knuttel.
With many basketball observers still in disbelief, FEU was still favored to level the series. “Disrespect? I’m not sure,” wondered Arespacochaga. “But I do know that this team likes challenges.”
As Game Two began, the Tamaraws tried to serve notice early that the first game’s whitewashing was already a memory. Combined with their physicality, FEU took an early lead. “We met their physicality,” said Long. “and didn’t back down from it. We took their best shot and handled it well. And when we finally overtook them, it was a matter of finishing it off.”
Three for Three
There were 32 seconds left in the game with Ateneo on top by a slim 61-59 lead when Ryan Buenafe got hold of the basketball after a hand off from Nico Salva. The third year forward had been suppressing all sorts of different emotions inside of him over the past three years. After a promising freshman year, he was relegated to the bench. And although he was every bit as integral to the success of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, he chafed at his role. “I’m greedy,” he divulged to a few close friends. “It’s never about the statistics. It was about playing time and with the ball in my hands in the clutch.”
He wanted the responsibility of taking the big shot. If the ball fell in then it was all good. If he missed then he wouldn’t mind taking the flack. It comes with the territory.
Buenafe immediately noticed that it was Tamaraws rookie Carl Cruz in front of him. Cruz checked in earlier for JR Cawaling who Buenafe burned badly on many a post up earlier in the game. Except the move backfired because Buenafe was out in the perimeter. The Blue Eagle quickly waved off his teammates away for an isolation play. Thinking he was going to drive to the basket, Tamaraws center Al Ramos positioned himself behind Cruz to protect against the drive.
Only Buenafe wasn’t taking it to the rack.
With the shot clock winding down to five seconds, Buenafe instead threw up a trey. “I was really going to take that three-point shot. When it left my hands, it felt good. I knew I was going to make it,” said the third year forward who was named Finals MVP after.
“Ryan has been shooting seven percent from three-point land,” said a victorious Black afterwards with a raised eyebrow. “I didn’t stop him, but I didn’t encourage it either. He had a lot of confidence that he can take that shot.”
“We’ve seen it happen before,” added Trillo. “We knew he was going to take that shot.”
Arespacochaga has his own version of Buenafe’s shot: “I was going, ‘Oh no, Ryan, what are you doing… yes!!!’”
The form and follow through was perfect. And the shot -- and what a big time shot it was – swished right through the net as bedlam erupted from three-fourths of the Araneta Coliseum. It was three for three. The first modern three-peat for Ateneo had been accomplished.
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Ateneo is the first team to accomplish a three-peat in both the NCAA and the UAAP.
All three titles during the three-peat were accomplished on a Thursday.
This was Ateneo’s sixth win in nine finals appearances in the UAAP and first title win outside the victories against UE and DLSU in the UAAP Finals.
Eric Salamat is the first Blue Eagle since Bing Ouano to play in four finals series. Ouano played in the Ateneo’s three-peat team of 1931-33 and in 1934 when the blue and whites lost to San Beda College.
Norman Black is not only the longest tenured coach of the Blue Eagles since Baby Dalupan in the 1970’s but he is the winningest coach in Ateneo history with a collective record of 79-23.
Salamat also shares Black’s record and is thus, the winningest Blue Eagle ever.
When asked what was better for Norman Black – the Grand Slam he accomplished as the coach of the San Miguel Beermen in the PBA or the three-peat with Ateneo – the sixth-year mentor of the Blue Eagles didn’t miss a beat: “This one with Ateneo because this is more meaningful because it’s for an entire community.”
I also write regularly for Business Mirror; philstar.com; abs-cbnnews.com, and rappler.com. I am also the editor-in-chief of PBA Life, the Official Lifestyle Magazine of the Philippine Basketball Association as well as Season 40 edition of Hardcourt, the season-in-review.
I am also currently the media officer for the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup and the National Basketball Training Center.
I do PR consultancy for a variety of clients that I do not want to divulge.
I used to teach journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University hand have given lectures about journalism, new media, marketing, and public relations at the Ateneo, UP Diliman, UST, San Beda, Immaculate Conception Academy, Miriam College, Mindanao State University, FIFA seminars, and a few other schools and organizations.
I used to write for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines Free Press, and Maxim Philippines. I have also contributed to FHM, Men's Health, Tower Sports NBA, Rebound, and a few other sports, interior design, and lifestyle magazines as well.
My blog, Bleachers' Brew, serves as a hub for many of my writings (but not all as there are some that are exclusive).
When I have free time, I listen to my collection of over 5,000 CDs, read, watch DVDs, or walk my dog around the subdivision.
My all-time favorite football team. I bleed Liverpool Red.
Books in my collection: I Am A Hero
CDs in my collection: Open Season by British Sea Power
My fave bands/musicians
British Sea Power, Rancid, Pearl Jam, Tool, Broken Social Scene, Dave Matthews Band, U2, the Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, Reel Big Fish, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Ra Ra Riot, Foo Fighters, Sigur Ros, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Clash, Death Cab for Cutie, X, Eyes Set to Kill, Mastodon, the Gaslight Anthem, Interpol, The Boxer Rebellion, Up Dharma Down, Taken By Cars, Techy Romantics, Stars, Deftones, Ivy, Seapony, Cocteau Twins, My Sad Captains, Ballet School, the Smiths, and New Order.