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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pics from Day 3 of the Mindanao Regionals

With the Blue Haired Fan aka Ebong Joson, fellow Atenean and footballer. He was in Davao for some event and he came over to Agro/Tiongko Field to watch the games for the past two days.

With the victorious Dipolog team after their 7-nil thrashing of North Cotobato. 

Dipolog qualifies for U23 Cup quarters

This appears in the Monday May 2, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Dipolog qualifies for U23 Cup quarters
Cast complete for next stage
by rick olivares

TIONGKO FIELD, Davao City -- Dipolog formalized their entry into the quarterfinals of the PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup with a 3-nil demolition job on hardluck North Cotobato at the Tiongko Field in Davao City.

National team player Jerry Barbaso made a strong case for a return to active duty by putting his imprint on Dipolog’s first three goals that snuffed the fight out of the visitors.

In the 37th minute, Barbaso, moved to central midfield by Dipolog’s English head coach Reginald Jukes in their 7-1 whitewashing of Cagayan de Oro the day before, dispossessed a Cotobato player of the ball. Barbaso pressed forward and found line mate Emerlito Alcalde lingering just outside the box. With two defenders crowding him, Alcalde swung the ball to left-winger Sergio Pellerin who ran up in support. Pellerin lofted a well placed cross inside the box that midfielder Sparke Española headed past North Cotobato keeper James Alloro.

Three minutes later, Barbaso’s set piece from 30 yards out curled around the wall and veered right back in. The ball dipped and Alloro, caught flat-footed, had no chance. Two-nil Dipolog.

And with two minutes left before the half and North Cotobato sorely needing the respite, Dipolog was awarded another free kick. Wary of another direct kick, the  North Cotobato wall stretched to deny Barbaso of another Roberto Carlos-type goal. But instead, the Azkal sent the ball in the middle of the box that striker Michael Tulang headed in.

Dipolog took a commanding 3-nil lead into the half.

Come the second half, Jukes’ troops stepped up their attacks as they tacked on four more to make it 7-0. Michael Chua scored a brace (‘72, ‘76) while Tulang closed his regionals campaign with his third goal (’74) in as many games. Midfielder substitute Clifford Daypuyat added a most unlikely goal in the 85th minute when his cross, intended for a teammate, sailed right in.

It was the second straight match where Dipolog scored seven goals.

Dipolog joined Davao which qualified a day earlier by virtue of its pair of 3-nil wins over Dipolog and North Cotobato. The home side drew with upset-minded Cagayan de Oro 2-2 to close out the Mindanao Regionals. Despite giving up two points in the standings, Davao topped the group with a 2-0-1 record (7 points) while Dipolog finished second with a 2-0-1 slate (6 points).

The quarterfinals of the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup will pit two teams each from Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and NCR in a pair of single round robin group stages in Bacolod and Laguna from May 6-10.

The teams competing in Bacolod will be Bacolod, NCR Team B, Dipolog, and Masbate. The Laguna group stage will include Iloilo, NCR Team A, Dipolog, and the home team.  

The top two teams of each group will play in a crossover semifinals on May 15 and 16 at Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.


My starting XI for the Mindanao Regionals*

Goalkeeper: RS Mantos (Davao)

Back Four: Edwin Giganto (Davao), Mark Anthony Fernandez (Davao), Ninio Ochotorena (Dipolog), Lendor Marcojos (Dipolog)

Midfield: Enrique Romero-Salas (Davao), Jerry Barbaso (Dipolog), Ed Walohan (North Cotobato), Nur Hazzanal Mentang (Davao)

Forwards: Michael Tulang (Dipolog), Juven Benitez (Davao)

Coach: Reginald Jukes (Dipolog)

* These are my thoughts alone and not of the PFF. 

My thanks to Red Avelino, Eilleen Esteban, Coach Erwin Protacio, and Lizette for this trip and everything else.

At the Stadium Sports Lounge at Davao City

Friday, April 29, 2011. We had lunch at Stadium Sports Lounge in Davao City. The Azkals previously had some meals here when they trained in Davao for 10 days prior to tournament in Taiwan. Much of the football decor here in Manchester United so you know that I had a fit. Hahaha. 

In the picture above, I am with the sports lounge owner and Davao FA General Secretary Erwin Protacio. 

In if you want to know the clubs we root for here they are: Dan Palami (Liverpool), Chieffy Caligdong (Liverpool), Red Avelino (Barcelona), Ric Becite (Manchester United), Ian Araneta (Manchester United), Nestor Margarse (Chelsea), Paolo Pascual (Manchester United), Roel Gener (Barcelona), Yanti Bersales (Real Madrid), team PT Wally Javier (Barcelona), team PT Josef Malinay (Real Madrid).

As for the Azkals not present, Chris Greatwich roots for Tottenham, Phil Younghusband roots for Manchester United, and before he joined Fulham, Neil Etheridge rooted for Liverpool.

NCR teams to PFF Suzuki U23 Cup bared

NCR teams to PFF Suzuki U23 Cup bared
by rick olivares

The National Capital Region Football Association announced the lineups to its two squads that will compete in the PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup quarterfinals that kick off simultaneously in Panaad Stadium, Bacolod and the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Laguna from May 6-10, 2011.

Two teams from Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and the NCR will compete in a single round robin affair where only the top two teams advance to the semifinals on May 15 and 16 at Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.

NCR Team A will be coached by De La Salle University’s Hans Smit and Far Eastern University’s Rodolfo Alicante while NCR Team B will be handled by the University of the Philippines’ Anto Gonzales who himself is a former Azkal.

Curiously however, the players from both NCR teams mainly come from the UAAP and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. And UP’s striker, Jinggoy Valmayor who was named Rookie of the Year in the last UAAP Men’s Football Tournament, was struck off the roster because of academics.

According to PFF President Mariano V. Araneta, it is hoped that the best players from this competition, sponsored by Suzuki Philippines, will complement the Under-23 National Team that will play in the Southeast Asian Games this coming November at Palembang, Indonesia.

Teams that have already secured a place in the quarterfinals include NCR Team A and NCR Team B; Bacolod which topped the Visayas Regionals and Iloilo; and Davao, whose two wins so far have guaranteed their spot in the next stage.

The Mindanao and Luzon Regionals wrap up today, Saturday, April 30.

NCR Team A (Bacolod)

Goalkeepers: Patrick Deyto, Ronnie Aguisanda

Defenders: Nathan Octavio, Deo Segunial, David Basa, Allan Serna, Miguel Montelibano

Midfielders: Stephen Permanes, Nathan Alquiros, Nikko Villa, Yannick Tuason, Gerard Pacquiao, Jay Eusebio, Ryan Lerio

Forwards: Ojay Clarino, Jesus Melliza, Don Rabaya

Coach: Hans Smit and Rodolfo Alicante

NCR Team B (Laguna)

Goalkeepers: Stephen Custodio Tyrone Caballes

Defenders: Gregory Norman Manzano Yang, Romnick Echin, Miguel Tuason, Rainier Perales, Kamanlee Suleiman

Midfielders: Michael Simms, Michael Mabanag, Enzo Bonoan, Mikko Manglapus, Jed Rances, Mateo Yuchico, Nazer Talento, Lester Madia, Dexter Chio,

Forwards Anton Amistoso Arturo Enriquez,

Coach: Anto Gonzales

Friday, April 29, 2011

Laguna Regionals for PFF Suzuki U23 Cup as of April 29

April 28, 2011
Masbate beat Baguio 3-1 while Laguna beat Mindoro 4-0.

April 29, 2011
Baguio trounced Mindoro 7-1 while Laguna and Masbate drew at 3-3 

Davao enters Suzuki Cup Q’finals

Davao enters Suzuki Cup Q’finals
by rick olivares

After two days of intense competition, host team Davao was the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals of the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup.

Although clearly the better side, Davao led by a slim 1-nil match against a desperate North Cotobato side following a 21st minute goal by Jemor Acedo. North Cotobato needed to win to stay in the running for the two slots in the Mindanao Regionals after their draw with Cagayan De Oro the previous day.

Placing high pressure on the North Cotobato with a 433 formation, the visiting team had trouble keeping possession of the ball let alone mounting a proper attack. With former De La Salle Green Booter Enrique Romero-Salas controlling midfield action and Joey Arobo wreaking havoc on the defenders, NC head coach Nicolas Gempelan’s boys turned into a disorganized lot.

At one point, North Cotobato keeper James Alloro dropped a ball that Davao striker Joey Arobo nearly tapped in for a brace. North Cotobato defender Rajifeb Kullano angrily bumped Alloro and the two teammates briefly traded angry words.

“Alam na namin na sira na yung laro nila kasi sa pressure defense namin,” remarked Davao head coach Ramoncito Carreon. “I instructed yung mga bata na tuloy tuloy lang and to take advantage of their mistakes. Na i-force namin sila into errors tapos mag-counter kami.”

True enough, in the 71st minute, Alloro once more failed to control a powerful volley by Al Dinn Tiboron who came in as a second half substitute for Arobo who failed to finish on three separate occasions including one where all he had to do was slot in the ball into an empty net. “Dapat 4-0 na kami after the first half,” said Carreon who was worried that the missed chances would bite his team in the second half. Tiboron was faster to the ball and this time, his aim was true for Davao’s second goal. As the home side celebrated what was now a sure entry into the next stage of the national tournament, an upset Alloro pounded the grass in disgust.

And for good measure and deep into stoppage time, Davao midfielder Jestoni Felipe, another late substitute by Carreon, beat North Cotobato defender Wexford Marasigan on the right flank and drilled a powerful shot at the far post that eluded a diving Alloro.

It was Davao three. North Cotobato nil in full time.

The victorious team from Davao after the match with North Cotobato.

Starting Elevens

Jeffrey Albon
Mark Fernandez  Edwin Giganto Jr.  Abdulsalam Mamadali  Renelle Pino
Al Dinn Tiboron  Noel Fred Napuran  Enrique Romero-Salas
Jomar Acedo  Nur Mentang  Joey Arobo

North Cotobato
Eric John Araojo  Emerlito Alcalde
Frenell Ian Olalo  Rigor Pedrosa  Ed Meril Walohan  Gian Limos
Jason Lagimento  Tamon Rodeje  Rajifeb Kullano  Wexford Marasigan
James Alloro

Scenes from an Azkals motorcade in Davao City

This is the third motorcade during the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup. The first was at Laguna, the second at Dumaguete and the third here in Davao City. This by far was the longest. And the heat was real stifling. I got sunburned! In the pic above, I am with Suzuki's Eilleen Esteban and the Azkals' Paolo Pascual. Right before we took off. Some 100 riders joined us in addition to several motorcycle cops. One Team Suzuki guy was doing all sorts of motorcycle tricks that amazed us no end. Wish I got that on video.

Riding shotgun with da Chief. It was real hard taking pics but I managed some. This was a better motorcade than the one in Dumaguete. I figure it was the route. Here people recognized them. As we past one street, there were about a dozen kids chanting "Azkals! Azkals!" and they were going nuts. I took a photo of construction workers high up on a building cheering and waving. Incredible.

Nope it's not some motorcycle gang. It's the Azkals on wheels. So move of Mad Dogs. Hahaha. Anyways, the 30-minute motorcade was taxing. And when we arrived at Agro Field, for a spell, no one was watching the game as people crowded the guys for photos and autographs. I wish I took more photos of that but I was trying to concentrate on an exciting game between North Cotobato and Davao. The home team won 3-nil. Short story later.

Dipolog back on track for Suzuki U23 Cup Quarterfinals

 Jerry Barbaso, national player and midfielder for Dipolog, ditched two defenders to go one-on-one with the CDO keeper for a nifty fake and goal.

Dipolog back on track for Suzuki U23 Cup Quarterfinals
story and pic by rick olivares

Dipolog bounced back in a big way when it thrashed Cagayan de Oro 6-0 on the second day of the Mindanao Regionals of the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup at the Agro Field in Davao.

After being thoroughly outplayed the day before by Davao which won 3-0 to take the early lead in the four-team elimination round, Dipolog coach Reginald Jukes moved former national player Jerry Barbaso from the back four into a central midfield position. The switch galvanized Dipolog as Barbaso repeatedly dispossessed Cagayan’s midfielders while feeding striker Michael Tulang who scored four goals in the first half including a brilliant set piece from 30 yards out that grazed the crossbar and bounced right in.

Tulang is the older brother of Morris John Tulang who plays for Dumaguete.

Cagayan de Oro which drew with North Cotobato 1-1 the day earlier fell into a bind as they will face powerhouse Davao on Saturday, the final day of the Mindanao Regionals.

Only two teams will advance from the Mindanao group to participate in the quarterfinals that will simultaneously take place from May 6-10 in Laguna and Bacolod. Two teams from Visayas, Luzon, and the National Capital Region will join them in the single round knockout affair to determine the four semi-finalists.

The top four teams will clash in the semis on May 15 and 16 at Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.

Barbaso, who was relegated to the Azkals’ training pool prior to the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in Myanmar last month sent a powerful cross inside the Cagayan box in the 10th minute. Cagayan’s defenders Marco David Popranciano and keeper Charles Villarta had two chances to clear the ball but their shoddy work landed right in front of Tulang who simply tapped it in for the first goal.

Eight minutes later, Tulang beat the slow-footed Cagayan central defenders to head the ball over an onrushing Villarta.

Tulang reprised his earlier effort when he chipped the ball over Villarta in the 30th minute to put Dipolog up 3-nil.

The elder Tulang matched his younger brother’s four goals against Leyte in the Visayas Regionals with his set piece strike.

In the second half, Barbaso showed his speed and dribbling skills when he beat Familiano Mabales and Jeffrey Miaco in succession to go one-on-one with Villarta who had no chance. 5-nil Dipolog.

Dipolog nearly doubled their first half output when LT Marcojos and Ranando Mantua Jr. added a spot kick and a poacher’s goal in the 67th and the 78th minute to make it 7-0.

Cagayan de Oro’s Mico John Palarca pulled back one in the 85th minute when he drove through the suddenly lax Dipolog defense but it was a little too late.


With Dipolog coach Reginald Jukes and utility player Jerry Barbaso.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Terminal blues (Or on to Davao with the members of the Philippine Men's Football National Team)

Terminal blues
Flying to Davao for the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup turns out to be a reunion among old friends.
by rick olivares

I hate delayed flights. The worst I ever experienced was a five-hour delay. That was in JFK in New York. Actually what happened was it was really a one-hour delay and then we got stuck at the tarmac for four miserable hours because a snowstorm slammed the Big Apple. By the time I disembarked hours and hours later I was ready to kill the first cretin to piss me off.

Our flight to Davao was delayed by almost an hour. Only I didn’t seem to notice. If I was alone I’d be restless and a tad pissed. But on this flight, I was with members of the Philippine Men’s Football National Team. We were on our way to Davao for the Mindanao Regionals of the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup.

The last time I was with these guys in an airport I got left behind owing to a defective passport (I did leave the following day). No such bad luck today maybe save for the delay.

But it did afford me the chance to really catch up with many of these guys. Although we did in Panaad, it seems like a lifetime ago.

We reminisced about Vietnam, Indonesia, and Panaad.

We talked about the trips I missed – Japan, Mongolia and Myanmar. What stories I could have told had I been there (I was sick during prior to the Myanmar trip so I didn’t make it)? I should pick up the slack in the next trip.

We talked about the newbies from Angel Guirado (on how he makes football so easy) to the Fil-Germans even to coach Michael Weiss (being a stickler for order and discipline and his efforts to whip the team into superb shape).

Some of the guys field calls from fans. Incredible isn’t it? Some try to catch up on their sleep. And team security officer Richard Pacana keeps our fellow passengers in stitches with his magic tricks. One Air Philippines official let out a yelp when Chaddy turned a P20 bill into a Ninoy Aquino.

Hungry, we each slurp a Lucky Me Supreme bowl.

What has changed in the lives of these men?

Lots. Nestor Margarse quips that he’s going to open a new account because he’s got 5,000 fans – at the bank. Thought it was Facebook, huh? Yep.

Nestor (to fan): So nag-aaral ka pa?
Fan: Oo. First year med school. Sa UP Manila.
Nestor: Wow. Ang galing. (pauses) Ano ang med school? 

The military guys are now recognizable. Even generals salute them and they feel somewhat sheepish by that fact. The biggest benefit for these military guys – no more red tape when it comes to securing their release for national duty. Before it took a couple of weeks.

Yanti Bersales tells me that at the time of the Azkals’ loss to Mongolia, the online chatter became so nasty that even his son was waging war with these people online. “Wag mo na lang pansinin,” he cautioned. “Wala naman tayo magagawa diyan.”

The chatter tonight is about the coming training camp in Germany as the team preps for the coming World Cup Qualifying match with Sri Lanka. There’s the thrill of crossing borders on the travel sense as well as in football. “We have a chance of advancing,” says Ian Araneta. His words are laced with confidence not false bravado.

When he scored against Bangladesh that broke an 11-match drought where his shots hit the cross bar, both sides of the goal or went straight to the keeper. Araneta confided that he was worried about being demoted to the bench. The goal in his words was welcome relief. “Parang nabunutan ako ng tinik,” he exhaled.

The end of the road on national duty is something they all know will come someday. There is no shortage of players wanting to tryout and play for the national side now. The team no longer toils in anonymity. Every move is a news event. The beautiful game, even if played all over the archipelago, was an under the radar sport. Now it’s so popular.

The Ayala Malls Events Group is considering doing a football clinic in its malls. The Ateneo Football Center has been around for almost two decades. If it has long a popular camp for kids the current summer figure shows that registration has doubled.

The misconception about the Ateneo Football League (that I organized with a good friend) is that it was an offshoot of the success of the national squad. Not exactly true. For one, it has been in the pipeline for three years now. It was really scheduled for this summer. The fact that we have 33 teams and some 500-plus players competing is no surprise. Ateneans after all, are passionate about their sports. The Ateneo Basketball League alone has over 200 teams. That is way more than any other school-based alumni league (and to think that Ateneo has a smaller population than most universities.

“At least sikat na ang football,” remarked Bersales as the bored folk began to recognize the Pinoy football players.

Then at a few minutes past 730pm, we boarded Air Philippines 2P 987 bound for Davao.


Dinner at Dencio’s Hilltop
And we’re (Chieffy Caligdong, Ian Araneta, Roel Gener, Yanti Bersales, Nestor Margase, Paolo Pascual, Ric Becite, Chad Pacana, Wally Javier, Josef Malinay, and myself) staying at the Plaza Luna Dormitel where we arrived past midnight.

Music during the flight: The Boxer Rebellion, Pink Floyd, Coheed and Cambria, Broken Social Scene, and 30 Seconds to Mars.

TNT slams Ginebra

TNT slams Ginebra
Talk ‘N Text 102 vs. Ginebra 83
by rick olivares

April 27, 2011
Araneta Coliseum
As Rudy Hatfield made his entrance during the pre-game team introductions of Game 1 of the Commissioner’s Cup Finals, the animated Ginebra forward channeled pro wrestler Triple H by spreading his arms and spraying water from his mouth.

The wrestling reference wasn’t far off as the game was a tough affair with a few skirmishes here and there. When it was all over, the crowd favorites had been body slammed by Talk ‘N Text.

But not without the Gin Kings trying to make a game out of it. Or at least they tried.

At the 3:55 mark of the second quarter, Talk ‘N Text import Paul Harris picked off a pass and ran the middle of a three-on-one fastbreak with only Ginebra guard Rob Labagala on defense. Instead of passing the ball to Larry Fonacier who was ahead on the left or to Jimmy Alapag who was a couple of steps behind on the right wing, Harris opted to go all the way. Except that Labagala played him well and the American botched the drive and he crashed out of the bounds.

What had the makings of a sure two points that would have hiked the lead to 14 instead turned the momentum around for Barangay Ginebra that moments earlier was reeling from the Tropang Texters’ onslaught. The Kings closed out the first half on a 15-2 tear that gave them a one-point lead, 47-46, following a Mark Caguioa trey at the buzzer.

“Turnovers,” pointed out TNT head coach Chot Reyes who was gunning for his seventh overall PBA title and third with the Pangilinan franchise. “We have to take better care of the ball.”

The game plan wasn’t simply hinged on taking care of the ball. It was denying Ginebra reinforcement Nate Brumfield from driving to the basket. TNT noticed that Smart Gilas paid the price for giving the Oklahoma Baptist University guard space to drive. “We wanted to deny him that first step,” said Reyes. “Or else, you can give Ginebra two automatic points.”

Brumfield shot a measly 25% from the field as he was oft forced to pass. When he did get up for a shot, there were one two defenders on him who swatted a couple of shots away.

Early on it was Mike Cortez whose drives inside the lane wreaked havoc on Talk ‘N Text. When the Cool Cat was cooled off it was JC Intal’s turn (until he was wrongly subbed) to try and lead his team. Then it was left to the Man… Mark Caguioa who for long stretches seemed to battle the tournament’s number one seed by his lonesome.

When teammate Billy Mamaril went to the referee to complain, Caguioa shoved him back to concentrate on the game at hand. Because after an exchange of baskets to kick off the third quarter, the Texters had regained their composure and the upper hand.

After another Harris blackhole moment where he opted not to pass and once more turned the ball over, TNT went all-Filipino. As the ball whipped around – from Jason Castro to Ranidel de Ocampo to Ali Peek to Ryan Reyes and to Fonacier – the score was 64-54 and Ginebra had to call for a time out.

As the Texters’ poured it on, the Kings lost their composure. Ginebra coach Jong Uichico was daring the referees to throw him out. Twice he entered the court, the first where he bumped the zebra, and the second to aid an enraged Caguioa who thought that Castro had fouled him on an undergoal stab. The Spark tripped up the Blur and was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul. Although the speedy guard flubbed the two gift shots, it was Talk ‘N Text that was still fired up. The closed out the third frame with a 6-2 run. The score was 73-59.

Barely two minutes into the final quarter, TNT pounded Ginebra with seven more points. Following a De Ocampo trey, the lead was at 20. After Fonacier’s silky jumper hit the bottom of the net to make it 87-66 with 5:19 to play, the crowd began to stream out.

With the yellow vuvuzelas blaring, Reyes’ squad had taken Game 1 102-83. Yet the TNT coach refused to declare that his team was ahead. Mindful of the psychological warfare being waged off the court, Reyes refused to give Uichico’s troops anything to feed on inside the locker room. “They only had two days’ rest while we were a little more rested.”

Rather than talk about the Kings, he noted that their assist to turnover ratio was bad. “We only had 18 assists and 21 turnovers. That should tell you something.”

But TNT mercilessly pounded BGK on the boards. They owned a whopping 63-46 advantage on both sides of the glass that they parlayed into 17 second chance points (Ginebra only had 10). And when team skipper Jimmy Alapag’s jump shot was still on vacation, Ryan Reyes coolly sniped away from the outside. The Cal-State Fullerton guard scored 19 points on 8-15 shooting including three shots from downtown. “That’s how we are. Jimmy was having an off night so we have to pick up that slack. I’m sure they’ll do the same when I’m off.”

“We have to take a long hard look at what happened,” said a visibly unhappy Caguioa after the match. “We have to play better than that or else it will be a short series.”

Talk ‘N Text 102Harris 28, Reyes 19, Castro 15, de Ocampo 10, Williams 9, Fonacier 9, Carey 4, Peek 4, Alapag 3, Oreta 1, Aban 0, Lao 0

Ginebra 83 Caguioa 23, Brumfield 10, Intal 10, Hatfield 10, Cortez 9, Miller 6, Menk 5, Tubid 4, Mamaril 4, Wilson 2, Labagala 0, Aquino 0, de Ocampo 0

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ateneo Blue Eagles vs. Lyceum (FilOil)

This appears in

Scuttling the Pirates
Ateneo 92 vs. Lyceum 77
by rick olivares
photos by brosi gonzales

April 27, 2011
The Arena of San Juan
You know the feeling of coming off a hangover and that there’s the possibility of a headache the following day?

It’s the pre-season. Only it’s not what it once was. The games are now taken seriously. You try hard to win and if one is triumphant then there’s a “imagine that” exclamation. However, if one loses, there’s the excuse, “Yes, it’s the pre-season and we’re experimenting.”


There was that opening day game against San Beda where there was a buzz about the rookies and the meeting of the champions of the different leagues. The turnout for the game was incredible that people had to be turned back from the gates because it was a full house. And there was the win.

And after that there were the Lyceum Pirates. The Intramuros school’s hoops team has had the reputation for being a tough one to play. San Beda ran them roughshod but they there were flashes of San Sebastian in their game.

So the word was “be careful” and “watch out”.

If the Pirates forgot to pack their jumpshot during their match against the Red Lions, they made sure they brought it against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

They led early on as the UAAP champs couldn’t buy a basket. But once they settled down and posted a 22-14 lead, Lyceum coach Bonnie Tan yelled at his wards, “Lumolobo na (yung lamang)!”

Ironically, it was the Blue Eagles’ bench that pushed the lead up to 15 at the half, 48-33. There were the FilOil debuts of Mark Tallo, Von Pessumal, and Gwynne Capacio. Save for Tallo, the latter two were able to put some points on the board.

After a Frank Golla undergoal stab to open the third quarter, the lead was at its highest of 17. But Lyceum’s Floricel Guevarra and Chris Cayabyab combined for 18 third quarter points to cut the deficit to seven, 65-58.

The lead went down to five after John Foronda displayed some fight in him that he didn’t while at Letran and UST. He gamely battled Ateneo slotman Greg Slaughter underneath as he finished with 12 points and 7 boards. But the national player pounded Lyceum inside with a pair of slams and nifty drives.


“Sarap ng feeling na nakakabigay ka ng alley-oop pass sa kakampi mo who can finish it with a dunk or an acrobatic layup,” gushed Kiefer Ravena after the match. “You only see that in international matches, the NBA, or the PBA.”

After a three completed quick strikes to Slaughter, the Phenom, who has been known to put up a highlight with every game, beamed with pride. “It’s something I can tell my parents.”

Go tell it to the mountain.

Or the mountain that Greg Slaughter is. The big man topscored for Ateneo with 17 points, 12 ribbies, 2 assists, and 3 blocks.

“It’s only this week that I began practicing fulltime with the team,” said Ateneo’s tallest ever player as he wiped the beads of sweat the formed in his brow. “I hope to be able to learn the system soon.”

While this new crop of rookies and newbies – Ravena, Slaughter, Pessumal, Tallo, and Capacio – look to perhaps be the largest haul with greatest potential*, it was some old hands who showed them how seniors hoops is done. Nico Salva, exuding bold confidence and a vastly improving game, stoked the mid-range jumper, did the Kirk Long spinneroonie for a pair of layups, and converted an alley-oop layup.

Zags compiled 8 points, 4 caroms, and 3 assists. But the stats don’t begin to tell the story. When Lyceum threatened to once more make a game of it, the Tazmanian Devil himself, Tonino Gonzaga, supplied enough energy to light up the San Juan Arena.

“Energizer,” whispered Ateneo statistician Jover Chavez after Gonzaga helped retain ball possession for the Blue Eagles.

When it was all over, a 92-77 victory for Ateneo in the FilOil Pre-season Tournament, Norman Black’s squad had its second win in as many starts.

The 15-point romp aside, the final numbers didn’t begin to tell the whole story. The Pirates sniped from afar, battled back, and showed no fear. It was by no means an easy win. Ateneo had to earn it.

You know the feeling about hurdling a tough assignment and thinking that the worst is yet to come?

It’s UST on Saturday.

Ateneo 92Slaughter 17, Salva 14, Monfort 12, Ravena 11, Long 8, Gonzaga 8, Erram 8, Chua 7, Golla 2, Tiongson 2, Capacio 2, Pessumal 1, Tallo 0

Lyceum 77Guevarra 20, Cayabyab 17, Foronda 12, Ko 10, Mallari 9, Azores 3, Napiza 3, Laude 2, Lacap 1, Salazar 0, Anacta 0

* The last time a huge batch of rookies and newbies made the Blue Eagles was in 1985 when Jun Reyes, Jet Nieto, Joseph Canlas, Robbie Tanjuatco, Alex Araneta, and Llen Mumar moved up to the seniors squad.

What's going on, San Antonio?

photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Let's quote Marvin Gaye before we begin. "What's goin' on? What's goin on? I say what's goin' on?"

At the risk of prematurely burying the San Antonio Spurs, yes, what exactly is going on? 

I am not going with the argument that the team is aging. Overnight they didn’t just lose it. We heard that accusation levied against teams before. Even the championship Bulls team that was nearly extended to the full route by Utah were accused of such yet they still beat the odds.

Since their last championship season in 2006-07 where they swept Cleveland in the finals, the Spurs were dumped by the Los Angeles Lakers in the ’08 Western Finals, swept in the first round by Dallas in ’09, and ousted in the Western semis by Phoenix with a 4-0 dust-off.

After blitzing the league early in the season, the Spurs stumbled in the homestretch. It began with Manu Ginobili’s injury and even when he returned they didn’t seem that sharp anymore.

For the month of April (up to Game 4 with the Memphis Grizzlies), the Spurs are 5-6. In their last 10 matches of the regular season, they were 4-6. And there was that six match losing streak from March 23-April 1 where they allowed the Chicago Bulls to catch up and although tie them in the win-loss column grab the home court advantage throughout the playoffs by quotient points.

In the regular season, San Antonio went 61-21. They averaged 103.7 points and gave up 98.

In the playoffs, they are averaging 91.2 points while giving up 95.7. In the regular season, they beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their first two meetings at the AT&T Center, but Lionel Hollins’ boys picked up the next two at their homecourt of the FedEx Forum.

During those head-to-head matchups, Greg Popovich’s team won their home games by an average of 6.5 point versus Memphis while the Grizzlies defended their turf by winning by an average of 11.5 points.

During San Antonio’s first regular season victory over Memphis at the AT&T Center, their starting five scored 79 points and the bench added 33. Tim Duncan picked up 13 and 10, Tony Parker topscored with 37 while Manu Ginobili had 15 pts and 9 assists.

In contrast, Memphis’ starters scored an incredible 90 points and their bench added only 16.

In their second meeting, San Antonio’s starters scored 62 points while the bench tallied 33 markers. Manu led the way with 35 points, Tim added 12 and 8 while Tony finished with 2 after an injury.

Memphis’ starters one more outscored their counterparts by putting up 65 points. The bench had a slightly better showing by adding 23 points.

As the season got longer, Memphis (which would finish at 46-36 with a 30-11 home stand record), got stronger. They finished the month of February 8-4 and March 9-5. They sort of stumbled in April with a 4-3 slate losing their final two regular season matches.

But they greet spring with a win over San Antonio at home where their starters once more outscored the Spurs starting unit 69-40 (Parker was out). The Grizzlies’ bench matched SA’s starting production with 40 points of their own.

Zach Randolph picked up 21 and 10 while Marc Gasol had a poor game with 4 points and 3 boards. But Tony Allen (20) and Darrell Arthur (21) picked up the slack.

In their final regular season meeting, Memphis’ starters once more blew their foes apart by scoring 71 points to the 48 by San Antonio. The Grizzlies’ bench put up 42. Zebo and Tony 23 points each.

Without Duncan and a lame Manu Ginobili who only scored one bucket, Tony Parker tried to hold the fort by his lonesome (20 points). The Spurs reserves added 56 points.

The playoffs further clarified the picture. The Spurs simply couldn’t match up with Memphis’ starters. Popovich’s crack unit only outscored Hollins’ starting five once – Game 3 – and that was by a solitary point 64-63 and the Grizzlies still won.

San Antonio has been hobbled by injuries and Memphis found a reservoir of energy in the first round of the playoffs. The weak link of the Spurs has been the play of Richard Jefferson (who Pop worked with in the offseason the previous year) and at the center slot where Antonio McDyess, Dejuan Blair and Tiago Splitter have been the three-headed monster. McDyess since his days in New York to Detroit has reinvented his game from a high-flying aerial artist to a more grounded forward. No way can he guard Randolph or even Gasol on that end. Maybe more than a decade ago he could with his athleticism. Not now.

Take a look at the numbers of the starters and bench.

Zach Randolph, after great years in Portland, did not go the route of Steve Francis who after a trade never got his game going again after leaving Houston. Zebo has been a monster side by side with Marc Gasol. That's like Andrew Bynum and this dude name Pau. Only they are in the Southwest Division. That’s quite some team they’ve got and like their counterparts from Oklahoma, they are an exciting young team.

Who could have figured they’d be where they are at now? Although there’s still Game 5 to play, the window for another Larry O' Brien trophy for this Spurs team in the Tim Duncan era is rapidly closing.