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, February 28, 2011

UP’s Aryee to try out for English club

Ayi Nii Aryee (in white) taking aim at the UST goal.

This article appears in the Tuesday March 1, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

UP’s Aryee to try out for English club
by rick olivares with pic by brosi gonzales

When the final whistle of the UAAP Men’s Football Finals match blew to signify the ascension of the University of the Philippines to the summit of college football, it was also the end of the playing years of league Most Valuable Player Stephen Permanes and fellow midfielders Jed Rances and Keith Mordeno. Also unlikely to come back to defend the crown is Jay Eusebio who was unavailable for the finals after suffering an shoulder injury and says he’d now like to move on to the next stage of his life.

Further decimating the talented UP midfield is the possibility that Ghanaian Ayi Nii Aryee might not come back not only to the Fighting Maroons but the Philippines.

“I have gotten an invitation to tryout for an English club,” disclosed Aryee who first got word of the invitation from Italian scout Bonolis Sergio who is based in England.

Aryee, who has scored three goals in the UAAP (and a whole lot more in the University Games) for the Maroons, sought the help of fellow Ghanaian John Mensah who plays central back for English Premier League team Sunderland.

The veteran internationalist, who has been on loan to the English club by French team Olympique Lyon for the past two years, is helping out his countryman land a team in England.

“This is only a trial program,” wrote Sergio to Aryee last February. “It is no way an assurance of a place in a team. Each player will be judged by his skills, techniques, and his ability with the ball on the field of play.”

If the tryout materializes, Aryee will have an opportunity to try out for Southend United FC,  a League Two eleven based in Essex.

The Seasiders, as the team is known fondly by, were League One champions during the 2005-06 season.

Aryee, before joining the Maroons, was once known for having been stranded at the terminal of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport for four months in late 2006 after a failed attempt to join an African team in the Singapore S-League. The Ghanaian, a former striker for his country’s Under-16 national team was also a former player for Union FC in the United Football League.

Business Mirror first reported his saga locally that was in turn mentioned in British football publication FourFourTwo.

Aryee also once received an invitation to try out for French Ligue 1 squad AS Nancy but the youthful striker was prevailed upon by his parents to finish his education at UP before making one last try in the world of professional football.

“I knew about the invitation towards the end of the second round,” revealed Aryee who has one more year of eligibility in the UAAP. “But I could not tell my teammates because it would jeopardize our focus and our mission. Now the coaches know about it and with the season over, we will see if I have a shot. It is every footballer’s dream to get an opportunity to play.”

Philippines to host the Suzuki Cup?

This article appears in the Tuesday March 1, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Philippines to host the Suzuki Cup?
By rick olivares

With the successful staging of the home match by the Philippines in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in Bacolod last February against visiting Mongolia, it is possible that the suddenly football-mad country may yet get an opportunity to host an even bigger tournament.

In a fax letter to Philippine Football Federation Mariano V. Araneta last February 23, Ian Mathie, Vice President of World Sports Group, the organization behind the Asean Football Federation Championship said, “We are very much in favor of the Philippines hosting the 2012 or 2014 versions of the Suzuki Cup should you qualify or be selected.”

During an interview with Araneta, the PFF President said, “Hosting will not only be an honor but it will show the world that we have arrived as a footballing nation. With solid crowd support, who knows what our national team can achieve?”

But Mathie, in that same letter, mentioned that there are strict criteria that should be followed for any potential host country. “Not only is (the Suzuki Cup) it Southeast Asia’s premier football event, it is also the standard bearer for all sporting events in the region.”

Added Mathie, “We are willing to assist the PFF in identifying a suitable stadium that will undoubtedly require upgrades and renovations to meet the aforementioned criteria.”

The PFF is currently looking at utilizing the property in Tambo, Parañaque donated by El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde as a new training facility and possibly the site of a world-class football stadium. The 4.5-hectare area will be leased for 25 years to the PFF. “It is a very generous offer considering it is rent free,” said Araneta. “Things are really looking up for Philippine football.”

Ronaldinho's still got his mojo

In the crowd at Panaad (thanks to Simon Greatwich for the pic)

The "white section" of the grandstand of Panaad Stadium. I'm wearing yellow somewheres in the upper right. To my left is Hans Smit and Rudy del Rosario (Onie Patulin cannot be seen. Stand up!). Nice shot, Simon! At this point, some bozos were firing (at least trying to) t-shirts to the crowd. That was the bad comedy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #249 The ties that bind

This appears in the Monday February 28, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

The ties that bind
by rick olivares

There’s love in this house.

The morning brings a flurry of activity in the Clarino household in Antipolo. There’s the smell of breakfast wafting from the kitchen. The voices – animated ones – and laughter carries throughout. One by one, the children fly down the wooden stairs. All 11 of them. Thirteen if you count mom and dad. Fourteen would have been the final count until God called back one son after he was on earth for 40 days.

It’s off to Mass they go.

Some families are bound by the obvious bloodlines. Some by tragedy. Some by necessity.

As for the Clarino family… well, first, there are the parents Randy and Maien (Ma-yen). Then there’s prayer where they make it a point to go to Church and pray the rosary together. And then there’s football.

Save for one sibling – Anna – who prefers dance (although she briefly tried her hand at goalkeeping) and who now works as a stewardess at Philippine Airlines, the other ten children – Ginnie, Aljoe, Paolo, Mikki, Calai, Ojay, Gino, Ian, and Miggy – are bound by the beautiful game.

Raising a brood of 11 kids is no mean feat. “We didn’t plan our family,” says Maien who worked early on before deciding to care for their huge family. “It was our way of sharing our love and not limiting ourselves due to economics.”

In order to make do with a lack of resources, the kids were trained to do house chores while fending off for themselves while their parents were away at work. “This really helped us in our character formation because it taught us so many values,” explained Anna.

“We worked our way around their talents,” added Randy who is in the retail business. “We paid our pre-need insurance to take care of our children’s education but we also encouraged them to take up sports and the arts as a means of obtaining a scholarship in school. Our first five kids did just that and when the time came to use up the insurance, we cascaded that down to the younger ones.

Getting the Clarino kids into sports was mostly easy especially the boys who were filled with boundless energy.

“We’d bring them to the park or to the field in Marist (Marikina) where by some chance, they began to kick around a football,” recounted the father. That soon attracted the attention of a southerner who briefly contemplated life in the seminary. He approached the kids who had put up a football club and began coaching them. “By the way he spoke and taught the game, he knew a lot about it,” recalled Paolo who now coaches in Claret. “That was our introduction to Frank Muescan.”

Ojay, who is currently the star striker for the UST Growling Tigers football team recalls needing no prodding to follow his older siblings into the game. “I saw them play the game and I somehow I just followed.”

It isn’t only the boys who are into the game but even the sisters. Ginnie, the eldest of the siblings who now works in Singapore played varsity ball with the UST women’s team like most everyone else in the family. Mikki played for Miriam College while Maica had a measure of success playing the game also in UST.

“Football is an asset to me because I can always say that my training made me a better person when it comes to working in the real world,” wrote Ginnie in an email letter. “It’s too bad that during my time, football wasn’t as popular as it is now. But I still find time here in Singapore to join my friends in playing the game that I love.”

When the UEFA Champions League or the World Cup is on, the living room is like a sports bar. Everyone stays up to watch and they all wear kits and hold up flags.

With all the football players in the house, there are a bunch of awards and trophies but only one sits in the family living room. In October of 2010, the family competed in a men’s seven-a-side competition in UST. Since there are only six boys, Mikki suited up. Team Clarino won the tournament. “I am not as athletic like my brothers and they had me playing up front,” related Mikki. “Their passes were perfect and I would miss my shots but they would always encourage me kahit panget yung tira ko.”

“The trophy,” describes Maien. “Is special because it was not won by a team or a school but by our family.

Most of the brood (including the parents) went to UST. A few like Paolo who went to UP and the College of Saint Benilde, Mikki who went to Miriam College, Calai to the University of Asia & the Pacific, Gino who is at the Ateneo High School, and Miggy who is at PAREF Northfield. “We tease each other at times,” laughs Anna. “Especially during the UAAP season. But we all like being together with one another.”

When the family goes to Mass, they always occupy two pews. When they go out for meals, they always have to reserve in advance. When people see them all together, they are asked, “Mag-barkada ba kayo?”

Their home in Cainta is always a flurry of activity. “Our neighbors once wonder if we were a boarding house kasi ang daming tao and the lights are on at all times of the day,” said Mikki who now works as a pre-school teacher in PAREF Rosehill in Antipolo.

“Once pa nga, some people thought that our old home in Marikina was an orphanage,” joked Maien.

Two Sundays ago, the UST Tigers played Ateneo at 10AM in the final match of the elimination round that would determine the cast for the UAAP Football Finals the following weekend. Call time at UST was at 7am and Ojay got up a little earlier to make the long trip to España. His father told him that he could to Mass in the afternoon, but Ojay said, he’d attend the 6am service. “Mass first before football,” he said.

The Tigers buried Ateneo 5-nil with Clarino notching his seventh goal of the season to book the last seat of the finals cast. Five of his siblings watched the match along with the parents.

“These are the ties that bind us,” said Randy as his family cheered on Ojay’s team.

For the Clarinos who let me into their home and their world.

UP wins UAAP Men’s Football Championship

This appears in the Monday, February 28, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror. In the picture above, graduating UP midfielder Stephen Permanes rejoices after leading the Fighting Maroons to a second title in three years.

UP wins UAAP Men’s Football Championship
by rick olivares with pics by brosi gonzales

The University of the Philippines reclaimed the summit of UAAP college football with a masterful 2-1 win over the University of Santo Tomas with a 2-1 win in the Season 73 Men’s Football Finals at the Ateneo football field yesterday.

The Fighting Maroons, heavy favorites at the beginning of the tournament, gave the Growling Tigers a different look when they immediately went on the offensive on the very first play. “Rather than play defensively, we wanted to put pressure on them right away,” UP head coach Frank Muescan said afterwards.

However after five minutes of play, the Tigers found their groove and put the Maroons back on their heels. That is until the 30th minute when midfielder Stephen Permanes blew by UST defender Noel Francisco after which he threaded the ball to Jinggoy Valmayor who was outside the box. With David Basa and Ronald Batisla-Ong preventing him from turning and firing away, Valmayor found teammate Ayi Nii Aryee unmarked from 25 yards out. The Ghanaian player, whose specialty is long-range shots, volleyed a wicked shot that darted away from Tigers keeper Ramon Borigas for the opening score.

"That was a play that we talked about," described the African who confessed to quitting after last year's nightmare of a season when he and a teammate were nabbed for playing in the United Football League at the same time as the UAAP football tournament which is in direct violation of league rules. "Those long range shots are my specialty and that was just an elite goal. To do it in the finals and help UP to a championship are justification for all the hardship I've encountered. It's a dream."

At the half, UST head coach Marjo Allado hoped that a few substitutions would fire up his beleaguered squad. He inserted Kenneth Parao for the ineffective Fidel Kue, John Reginald Caballero for Louie Rodriguez, and Joel Bones for Noel Francisco. But it was UP that stepped up the pressure as a Permanes highball went over Bones and Basa that Valmayor was able to control. The rookie striker fired away for UP’s second goal, his ninth of the tournament for the scoring lead, that gave the Fighting Maroons a nearly insurmountable lead.

A handball inside the UP box by left back Juan Miguel Roy was whistled by referee Emil Balidio for a penalty shot. With 60 minutes gone by, UST striker Ojay Clarino pulled one back with his eighth goal of the tournament.

And with an attack born of desperation, the Tigers found themselves with three chances in the match’s dying minutes to draw level or pip the Maroons. But Christian de Juan, Mar Mungcal, and Clarino muffed their shots.

And after five minutes of added time, Balidio blew the final whistle and UP were champions for the second time in three years.

“It feels good to graduate with another title,” said an ebullient Permanes who was adjudged tournament MVP. Valmayor romped away with the Best Striker and Rookie of the Year Awards. The freshman out of La Salle Greenhills nearly duplicated his feat several years ago when he was also Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in NCAA Juniors football. UST’s Shinmar Felongco was named Best Midfielder while UP’s Segunial was named Best Defender. De La Salle, second runner up for the third straight year had one representative in the post-season individual awards when Patrick Deyto picked up Goal Keeper of the Year.

It was a sorry loss for the Tigers who were bridesmaids for the second consecutive year. In Season 73, despite having the twice-to-beat advantage, they fell to the FEU Tamaraws in two straight. “We had a good year but came up short,” rued Allado. “Ganyan ang football. Hopefully, next year, kami naman.”

In Game One of the Women’s Finals, a best-of-three series between FEU and UST, the Lady Tamaraws beat the Tigresses 2-0 in a match that went into penalties. Maria Aristia Sabanal and Emma Omictin scored for FEU which is one game away from winning their second UAAP Women’s crown.

In the picture below, Ayi Nii Aryee consoles a disconsolate Ojay Clarino whose side was stopped in the finals for a second straight year.

At the UAAP Season 73 Football Finals

 It was tough really siding with any team as I have friends on both sides. But as for Ayi Nii Aryee, I have been covering him since the time he was stranded in the airport. I used to go to him at Clark to keep him company (and to feature his story not only in Solar Sports but also in Business Mirror). I got upset at him last year during the UFL brouhaha but it's all good now. I am happy for the dude. 

With some good friends in Hans Smit and Atty. Rolly Tulay. Last month, Coach Hans went up to me and said, "I hope you don't mind but I just volunteered you." For what, I asked. "To help the NCRFA (National Capital Region Football Association). I laughed and said, "Eh, what can I do you volunteered me na." So anyways, there. I am helping them out.

With Dave Basa of the UST team after the finals match. When he made his debut with the Tigers in 2007, I said that this kid was going to be a good football player. And he has become a really good one. Just some more seasoning and better decision making. But he's all right. It was a tough game for the Tigers but man, I just love their team. They sure are fun to watch. Just need some tweaking in their attack. See you in the national team soon, bud.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

UAAP Men's Football finals preview: Battle Royale

Battle Royale
A Preview of the UAAP Men’s Football Finals between UP and UST
by rick olivares

When the finals of the UAAP Men’s Football tournament between the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas kicks off at 2pm tomorrow February 27, 2011, the odds on favorite to win it all are the Fighting Maroons.

Not only have they an incredible nine-win and one-draw slate that saw them account for 28 points but also they twice beat the Growling Tigers en route to the finals berth.

Even on a bad day, such as their first round meeting when UST thoroughly dominated possession and scoring chances, UP’s defense held and they pounced on one of few mistakes for the game winning goal. And when they were on, such as the second round 2-0 win, the Tigers looked befuddled and lost. The 2-0 win was every bit like the Azkals similar score line against Mongolia in Panaad – they should have added a few more. That’s how dominating they were.

UST hopes for a reverse of fortunes now that they are the underdog. In last season’s finals against FEU, the Tigers had the twice-to-beat advantage, but the Tamaraws took them in two straight. Now they are hoping to return the favor against UP.

But that’s wishful thinking. UST has to play the game of their lives to take what is looking more and more like another title for the Maroons who have become a powerhouse in college football in the last three years.

For the Fighting Maroons, they should be playing for their third straight championship but they sputtered home after huge first round wins were overturned when it was found out that two players had competed in the United Football League that ran concurrent to the UAAP and the league forbids that.

Both squads have championship experience but between the two, the Maroons have quite a few mainstays who played crucial roles in their 2009 title run. As for the Tigers, only one player has won a seniors football title and that is captain David Basa who lifted the trophy while a prodigious freshman on the 2007 champion team.

“It’s a new slate for both teams,” said UST head coach Marjo Allado who is gunning for his second title after leading the Tigers to the 2007 crown. The only remnant from that squad is central back David Basa who is now team captain.

“Sana makapag-graduate na champion ulit,” hoped Basa who was a reserve on the Philippine Men’s National Football Team during the 2010 Suzuki Cup. “Nanalo ako noong freshman ako at sana sa last year ko. Maganda rin regalo yan sa UST sa 400th anniversary ng iskwelahan.”

UP – The Fighting Maroons play a 4-2-3-1 formation that at times changes to a 4-3-3 depending on game situations. The former is an ultra-defensive formation as evidenced by their top-rated defense as they surrendered only two goals all season long. Central backs Deo Segunial and Allen Serna have been rock solid in the back four. Plus they have the height and experience to turn back attacks.

Second year player Ayi Nii Aryee has looked shaky at time at holding midfield but he is fortunate to have Segunial behind him. Aryee has never played at that position as he was a striker for Ghana’s Under-16 national team. But the UP coaching staff likes his defensive instincts that make up for the loss of Andrei Mercader and Francis Liza.

Once the defense has turned back an attack, they are quick to send the ball to the wings where the speed and Octavio and Permanes on the wings on the quick counter have opponents rapidly backpedalling.

Simply put, this is a team that doesn’t make too many mistakes.

As for UST, they have for the most part of the season, played 3-5-2 (they switched to a more conventional 4-4-2 twice). The last time that formation ran to perfection was when FEU used that in 2008 with Jason Cordova as their central back. Basa fits that tall and rangy defender. He’s good and fast enough to go with the league’s top strikers and powerful enough not to go down against the more physical attackers.

But in UST’s second round matches against UP and FEU, Basa made a few mistakes that led to an opponents score (see FEU striker Jesus Melliza).

Allado has put the inconsistent Joel Bones on the bench leaving the freshman Ronald Batisla-Ong to man the right with Noel Francisco on the left. As good as Basa is, the Tigers’ success on repelling counters is also dependent on the game of John Caballero and Ronnel Lagrimas who run up and down the wings because the problem of a 3-5-2 formation is not getting defenders back to help out those lightning attacks.

Advantage: UP

Jinggoy Valmayor has continued his goal-scoring ways in college as he topped the eliminations with eight strikes over FEU’s Jesus Melliza who finished with seven.

Not since Ateneo’s Roger Lastimado has there been a striker of Valmayor’s toughness. He can take a hit inside and finish with the best of them. UST has to worry about him because in both elimination games matches, Valmayor hurt the Tigers real bad.

With Jay Eusebio out of the finals due to an injury, the onus is on Stephen Permanes and Nathan Octavio to provide relief and that through ball for Valmayor to operate on top. The UP coaching staff is hoping that Nathan de Guzman, who returns to the starting unit will spell the savvy of Eusebio who knows a thing or two about dribbling around a defender then making a great pass.

UP scored 14 goals all season with eight coming from Valmayor. They’ve had several 1-nil wins which is proof that they win it with defense and they always find ways to secure the three full points.

However, UST is no slouch on offense as they scored a league best 20 goals with seven different players tallying scores. They have Ojay Clariño who has six goals to his elimination round tally. Clariño has great moves inside the box. He is strong enough to battle the tough defensive backs yet sometimes shows a tendency to go down instead of finishing.

Nine players scored for the Tigers during the season with Clariño getting superb help from rookie Fidel Kue and Ronnel Lagrimas who each have three goals. If Allado can get second year striker Christian de Juan untracked they will have UP’s defense busy all finals long.

De Juan, last year’s Rookie of the Year, has been the missing link (albeit Kue, his fellow Barotacnon has filled in admirably) as he has been in an out of the lineup due to an illness and death in the family. He scored only one goal this year but he would love to add more to put behind last year’s finals flop when he missed the final match owing to two yellow cards.

Advantage: UST

If anyone is worried that there will be any drop off from the Maroons next year when Stephen Permanes, Jed Rances, and Keith Mordeno graduate, all they have to do is watch their final 2-0 win over DLSU. That might be a misnomer as they took on a dispirited La Salle squad that knew they were not going to the finals anymore following UST’s earlier throttling of Ateneo but nevertheless, UP’s Anto Gonzales fielded their second eleven that put up a superb performance. There was no drop off in their defense or even in their attack.

UP has a bevy of players who are technically sound and who have that gift for great passing.

As for UST, Allado can count on three players to provide instant relief – Mar Mungcal, Louie Rodriguez, and Bones. Of the three, it has been Rodriguez who has been fantastic as he can help out on offense where he scored two goals on top of helping midfielder Shinmar Felongco set up the attack.

Mungcal has alternated with John Caballero in starting. If the two have their passing game going and are threats on offense, watch out.

Advantage: UP

Keys to victory:
Patience. UP has shown remarkable patience in setting up their offense with their two-touch passing (through ball then the cross) whereas UST has shown nerves. Against UP (in both matches) and FEU (second round), the Tigers tend to self-destruct when things aren’t going their way. For a team that leads the league in scoring, UST has a tendency to over dribble and overpass when a shot should have been made. When the midfield can’t get their act together, they go to the long ball. Unfortunately for them, UP has some terrific defenders to battle for those high balls.

Playing the full 90 minutes. The UP coaching staff was worried about playing La Salle in the finals. The Green Archers play the full 90 minutes and have gotten goals in stoppage time. UST has an alarming tendency to dig themselves into a hole. If a team scores early against  the Tigers then they go to their thin bench which is what UP wants. The Tigers, save for the second round game against UP, have proven to be a dangerous second half team. But while that is winning time, it’s never easy to dig oneself out of a hole early on.

Coaching. The finals series features two of the top young coaches in the country today in Anto Gonzales/Frank Muescan for UP and Marjo Allado for UST. All three have shown a remarkable ability to make those in-game adjustments. At this point, the teams know what they have to do. The challenge here is to provide that source of wisdom and encouragement to their wards (as Gonzales and Allado are both known screamers) in that battle for the marbles. Muescan, the head coach is no slouch himself as he presents the yang to Gonzales yin.

Whoever imposes their will on the game and is able to sustain their game will come away as a repeat champ.

Prediction: UP over UST.

Mark Custodio
Raymark Fernandez  Deo Segunial  Allen Serna  Juan Miguel Roy
Ayi Nii Aryee  Jed Rances
Nathan Octavio  Stephen Permanes  Nathan de Guzman
Jinggoy Valmayor

Ojay Clarino  Fidel Kue
Ronnel Lagrimas  Shinmar Felongco  Christian de Juan  Nic Palacio  John Caballero
Noel Francisco  Dave Basa  Ronald Batisla-Ong
Ramon Borigas

My Final Season Awards:
Rookie of the Year: Jinggoy Valmayor, UP
Best Midfielder: Stephen Permanes, UP
Best Defender: David Basa, UST
Golden Boot: Jinggoy Valmayor, UP
Best Goal Keeper: Patrick Deyto, DLSU
MVP: Jinggoy Valmayor, UP

Once Brothers

There are just some stories that stick with you. A god friend of mine calls me the “scrapbooky” type. Meaning I save things whether books, magazines, or mementoes over the years. Well, that’s true. I’ve saved hand-me-down stuff such as those original issues of Time and Life magazines about the assassination of JFK. I have those original issues of the X-Men during the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (but for me what was prominent were those Neal Adams issues). I have old school notebooks and textbooks. I even have that old Playboy issue (that came out when I was in Grade 6) that had Farrah Fawcett on the cover and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in a pictorial inside. There's lots more even.

I also have an old issue of Sports Illustrated that featured basketball in the former country of Yugoslavia. That’s SI and you know how they are American-centric in terms of their stories. I am not saying that’s bad but that feature on Balkan hoops really stood out. And I will never forget that picture of a player trying to throw out a flare that was tossed on to the floor. “Like Audie Murphy” described the writer. Wow. Imagine that picture.

I also followed Georgi Glouchkov, the Bulgarian who was the first European to play in the NBA (he suited up for the Phoenix Suns), and later Zarko Paspalj who was with the San Antonio Spurs.

But it took the entry of Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic to really excite me. Well, I already was because there were the up and coming Chicago Bulls, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were still around... 

Vlade. He was an instant hit in Los Angeles and he actually made me watch Laker games. You see, I am an Eastern Conference basketball fan with a disdain for the run and gun West. And the Yugo was superb! Big men who would post up and pass were a dime a dozen. But centers who ran the floor and handled the ball like a point guard? The Yugoslavian player was something else.

This was the pre-internet age and info especially in this country was pretty hard to come by. I relied on local writers like Quinito Henson and Henry Liao for news. But every now and then when I’d travel abroad or even save up some money to buy magazines that were well beyond a schoolboy’s allowance, I’d have first hand access to NBA and European sports stories.

There was that one story in GQ Magazine about Toni Kukoc being Europe’s best basketball player (this was before he joined Chicago) and my interest was piqued. I was overjoyed when he joined the Bulls. To this day, perhaps more than any other NBA jersey that I have (and as much as I am a Scottie Pippen fan), my all time fave NBA jerseys are Kukoc’s #7 and Andres Nocioni’s #5. And shocking as this may sound – considering my dislike for the San Antonio Spurs – Manu Ginobili’s #20. The Kukoc and Ginobili jerseys are authentic meaning their real game jerseys (not replicas) that cost a couple of hundred dollars. However the one jersey that I wanted to have but do not was the one with “Jugoslavija” in front. With this nostalgic moment, I’ll rectify that by purchasing it.

I became a fan of that Yugoslavian team with Divac, Petro, Toni, Dino Radja, Sasha Danilovic, Stojko Vrankovic, Zarko, Arijan  Komazec, and Aleksandar Djordevic to name a few. They were European Hoosiers and were the European equivalent of Showtime. They had Toni who was called “the Waiter” because he served his teammates some easy baskets (but I preferred his other nom de guerre “the Pink Panther”), Komzaec, and Divac who could pass the ball some.

Around the same time that this Golden Generation of Balkan hoopsters were making a name for themselves, there were things stirring in Eastern Europe. I kept close tabs on the fall of communism in the USSR. That meant that the Eastern European countries would follow suit. And boy did it hit Yugoslavia hard.

The frayed friendship between Vlade and Drazen, Toni, and Dino were played out on television screens (mostly Far East Network) and again in Sports Illustrated. I couldn’t believe it when the Croatian team walked out on Serbia in the Euros. Then when Vlade was with Charlotte (after being traded for Kobe Bryant), in one playoff series with the Bull, he threw a sharp elbow at Kukoc that missed. Had it connected who knows? Maybe they would have taken out some Kalashnikovs since the civil war in their country was raging at that time. And again there was a story in Sports Illustrated that featured the two (it was the one issue that I was not able to buy) with Michael Jordan on the cover. "Chicago Fire" read the magazine's cover headline. You have no idea.

Vlade later became a vital cog with the Sacramento Kings where he was teamed up with Jason Williams, Doug Christie, Chris Webber, and Peja Stojakovic. They had Hedo Turkoglu and Bobby Jackson. They were “the Greatest Show on Earth.”

Before that happened, Drazen Petrovic became a star with the New Jersey Nets and was well on his way up as a huge star but was killed in a tragic car accident in Germany. His death cast a pall on Croatia (their basketball team has not achieved the heights scaled in those early days of independence), the Nets, and myself.

Even then, I was aware of the burden carried by Divac about the frayed friendship with Drazen and how it would never be re-made.

I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of athletes who I only once watched on television or read in newspapers and magazines but one of my biggest thrills was meeting Vlade Divac two years ago when he came to Manila as a part of that first wave of legends for the NBA Asia Challenge. We spoke for 15 minutes and later had a chance to chat again. While I asked about his NBA career I had more questions about Yugoslavia, Serbia as well as Drazen and his former teammates. Vlade appreciated it and I thought gave some really incisive answers that I have never really written about.

When I saw the “Once Brothers” feature on ESPN’s 30 on 30, I was so moved by seeing the story told in full and in far greater detail instead of the patchwork pieces that I read and watched through the years. The images are powerful and the words that sear through Divac’s heart and two nations also pierced mine. The part where he goes to Zagreb for the first time since helping the former Yugoslavia win an international title, are painfully revealing as to how Croatians regard him. The scene at Petrovic’s tomb is moving. Not too many words but it says a lot. I’ve seen a lot of sports documentaries but “Once Brothers” is right there at the top.


This is the Sports Illustrated article of 1997 that told of the frayed team. But there is an older one that dates back to the late 1980s. Am still rummaging my old closets for that issue.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chile's U-20 defender Bryan Carrasco is the next up and coming Hollywood actor

And Deron Williams goes to the New Jersey Nets. And with him -- team loyalty and a legacy.

After Deron Williams was traded from the Utah Jazz to the New Jersey Nets, I thought of comparing the rosters of the Dream and Redeem Teams three years after their Olympic stints.

In the roster above -- three years after the US 1992 team's triumphant win in the Barcelona Olympics -- Christian Laettner was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Larry Bird had retired, Clyde Drexler was in his first year with the Houston Rockets, and Magic Johnson was in the midst of his return to the NBA with the LA Lakers. Other than that, there would be no movement for the players until a few years later. So everyone was pretty much set. Scottie Pippen would play for Houston and Portland but he returned to the Bulls for one last season before he retired. Ditto with Chris Mullin who went to Indiana for a few years before returning to his original team in Golden State. Patrick Ewing play most of his career for New York before he joined Seattle. Michael Jordan played two years for the Washington Wizards but he spent most of his time with the Bulls.

For the Redeem Team that won the gold in the Beijing Olympics, the modern-day Stockton-to-Malone in Utah in Deron Williams-to-Carlos Boozer had been broken up. Boozer is now with the Chicago Bulls and Williams with the Nets. LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. And Carmelo Anthony is now a Knick.

What I am trying to point out is not only was the Dream Team older and supposedly more mature but four of them to exact -- Stockton, Bird, Johnson and Robinson -- stayed with the team that drafted them into the NBA. Of course, the jury is still out on the eventual fates of the Redeem Team players but it looks like Kobe Bryant, Michael Redd and Dwight Howard are the remaining hoopsters who could hang up their sneakers with their original squads. That's how free agency has changed the league so much that loyalty is pretty much a thing of the past. 

I thought that lightning struck twice in Utah with Deron to Carlos. But... I guess it didn't work out. And... the Stockton-to-Malone tandem in Utah was and will always be unique.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I can't believe we're having this discussion (the UAAP Women's Football Finals) again!

I AM INSERTING THIS AT 10am of Thursday morning.

I found out that after last year's problem regarding the UAAP Juniors Finals, the UAAP Board decided that should a team be tied in points it is automatic that it is a Best-of-Three Finals. Now if that is the case, then the ruling is correct. Except that prior to the start of the season, the football committee was asked to come up with rules and it included tie-breakers. Now this was reportedly approved as well. Will dig up the info later. But that rule does not make sense at all. It does not help the sport and it is certainly not fair play. Why will you reward a second place team by giving them a better chance to win? When I think of the way the UAAP Board changes and interprets rules to suit their needs, I see the need to place them in (the immortal words of Animal House's Dean Wormer) "double secret probation".

I posted this late Wednesday evening: After two rounds of football, the UAAP Women's Competition ended like this (see the table above). The elimination round ended with FEU and UST on top as they had the same number of points. Based on that, UST should have the twice-to-beat advantage heading into the finals. But there was once more a protest by FEU and surprisingly -- one year after I presented proof that debunked their board room decision to make the Season 72 Juniors Football Finals a Best-of-Three -- they are at it again.

In the picture below, taken from the UAAP Rules & Regulations, it is clear that the league indicates that the tie-breaking system must be used.

However, in the picture below (Championship Series), it is said that the top two teams that are tied in points shall play a best-of-three series.

But also in the UAAP Rules on Tiebreakers, the formula to break the tie is: 1) goal difference, 2) the highest number of goals scored.  On that alone, it is clear that UST should be awarded the twice-to-beat advantage.

You might want to revisit an argument on last year's UAAP Juniors Finals between me and FEU that ultimately saw the board decision reversed. It went from Bleachers' Brew to even Facebook and ultimately the Board Room. Incredibly!!!! Please revisit Season 70 when both Ateneo and FEU's men's teams finished with the same number of points after two rounds. But because FEU had one more goal, they were given the twice-to-beat advantage.

Ateneo Football League jerseys

Here are the final designs for the Ateneo Football League jerseys. Players must choose as a team one white jersey and one blue (for light and dark). Goal keepers have a choice - the bib or the other two designs. The regular shirts are PhP300 each so meaning one blue and one white adds up to PhP600. The keeper's shirts, I will post the cost later. Just a slight difference.

Here is the link to the mechanics/rules and regulations for the Ateneo Football League 2011. Just click on the link. We also have a page in Facebook. Join and like! Most likely we begin registration this Saturday Feb 26. Details later. The league begins this April on weekends Saturdays & Sundays from 230-530pm.

Important notice!!!
For all those participating in the Ateneo Football League, team representatives, kindly send email signifying your interest to participate to (BE SURE THAT YOU HAVE THE SPELLING RIGHT) and we will send you the following forms:
- Registration form for teams
- Uniform Order form
- Quit Claim form