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, September 19, 2011

Adamson-Ateneo-FEU: History, redemption & destiny

This appears in

History, redemption & destiny
Three teams with a shared history battled for a coveted crown. Now two are left.
by rick olivares
photos by raddy mabasa and brosi gonzales

People look for signs. They look for clues, patterns, or precedents that we can latch on to. To give meaning to things. To provide hope. To find an angle to a story. Or maybe it was just a slow news day. Nevertheless, we look for them and try to interpret that.

The Adamson Falcons were grounded. They endured several winless seasons before Leo Austria turned a bunch of underachievers into a team of overachievers. They took that last seat to the Final Four bus that was meant for FEU. Although they lost to Ateneo in one-match, there was a sense that they had arrived.

But they faltered as Austria left for the brief return to the PBA. When he returned, he once more molded the Falcons into a fearsome and competitive unit. They returned to the Final Four in 2010 looking to beat Ateneo but they had their hopes dashed big time.

This season they believed that their first round loss to the Blue Eagles was a fluke and that they got robbed by some bad calls. It’s actually funny because they conveniently forgot that for 14 years they got their butts kicked on a yearly basis whether it was by one point or 11 points.

In order to boost their confidence, the team management feted a dinner for the team with a banner that proclaimed them the season champions. “Destiny” was something the coaches and players talked about all season long.

Nevertheless, the final game of the second round – the return bout with the Blue Eagles – was the one match they eagerly waited for. And in that game, they brought their collective fury and offensive weaponry to bear and ended those long years of frustration with a convincing win. They thought that with that win, they were destined to take the title from the King. Unfortunately, that second round win over Ateneo was their championship.

They had expended themselves greatly that by the time they faced FEU, they were not firing on all cylinders.

The FEU Tamaraws were quite thankful that Adamson did them a favor in beating Ateneo. The stepladder format would have been too much. As team manager and board member Anton Montinola said post-Adamson, “Beating a dominant team three times is a tall tall order. Now we’re on even terms (the best-of-three finals format). 

Montinola ascertains that last year’s finals game was over in the first five minutes of game one. Never has he seen his team look so shell-shocked at the onslaught of the Blue Eagles.

The pain didn’t end when his alma mater ended FEU’s eight-game wining streak in last summer’s Filoil Premier Cup en route to the title. And there were the back-to-back loses that bridged this year’s elimination rounds as Ateneo pulled a Houdini on them.

Now it’s time for redemption.

Before the start of the Tamaraws’ Final Four series with Adamson, Montinola had a chat with some of his former players in Dennis Miranda and Arwind Santos. They talked about Miranda’s missed layup against La Salle that cost them the title. Santos said that he decided not to apply for the PBA Draft following that season and to stay one more year and help FEU to a title. They won in a highly controversial series.

Montinola also asked them about how they beat highly fancied Talk ‘N Text with a depleted Petron lineup. The outspoken FEU board member likened his current team of Tamaraws to the Blaze Boosters’ situation where they lost key members to injury. FEU lost Pippo Noundou, Christian Sentcheu, and JR Cawaling all to knee injuries that curtailed their rotation. Petron was without Jay Washington, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Joseph Yeo for the Governors’ Cup Finals. The Blaze Boosters won an epic battle and denied the Manuel V. Pangilinan-backed Tropang Texters a Grand Slam.

Now his Tams are up against another Pangilinan-supported team in Ateneo.

The signs, he says, are all there for massive redemption.

Last year, Montinola says, the Tams’ ouster of La Salle in the Final Four was their crowning achievement. One that expended their energy for Ateneo. This year after booting Adamson from the tournament, their celebration is tempered. They knew they overly celebrated before the finals and paid for it. Now they are focused.

“Two more weeks,” urged coach Bert Flores. “Two more weeks and you can text your girlfriends all you want. You can party all night and go home the following day. But two weeks more before the finals is all over.”

The Tamaraws believe that the Blue Eagles, weighed down by the pressure of defending three straight titles, are worn down. And now is the time to strike.

Like other quarters, many look to Ateneo’s suddenly unblemished record that put them at 13-1 and likened it to La Salle’s 13-1 collapse to the Blue Eagles in 2002.

The analogy is entirely wrong.

In 2002, La Salle was gunning for a fifth straight title. In 2011, Ateneo is attempting to win its fourth straight championship.

In 2002, Ateneo was on the verge of not being able to make the Final Four when they teetered on the brink with a 4-5 record. The Adamson Falcons or the FEU Tamaraws never sported such records in the second round this season.

In 2002, Ateneo was boosted by a game winning shot by Jec Chia that sent the UE Red Warriors packing and Ateneo into the finals versus La Salle. In 2011, there are no such game winning shots at the buzzer. At least not in the playoffs.

Some continue to point to Ateneo’s  13-1 record that reminds them of La Salle’s 2001 slate where the Blue Eagles upended them on the final elimination round day. Maybe. But they also have conveniently overlooked the fact that Ateneo has previously gone 13-1 three times in its UAAP history and every time they achieved that they went on to win the championship.

No Ateneo team has won four straight. A three-peat was previously accomplished back in those nascent days of the old NCAA.

Only the UE Warriors, UST Glowing Goldies, and La Salle Green Archers have accomplished that. But that those were different times. Recruiting Fil-Ams during the latter’s run was the rage of the day. Now, teams have amped up their recruiting and Africans are like other school’s great equalizer in the absence of big money.

Unfortunately, Ateneo is one throwback. They have refused to line up tall Africans. Their only African is an African-American and he happens to be the Blue Eagles’ head coach. But that is beside the point.

If you sit down with Norman Black, he takes no faith in coincidences, historical references, and signs. He is a practical man who pours religiously over statistics and game tape while working on opponent’s tendencies and his players working hard on defense. 

While by virtue of landing Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena the Blue Eagles were seeded to win a fourth title, no one figured Ateneo would go 13-1. Black’s timeless mantra (like other coaches) is to take it one game at a time. As for the Blue Eagle faithful, they are well aware that no run lasts forever but they would like to keep it going for as long as they can.

To sum it up, Black said, “Unfortunately, no one wins it on paper. You have to go out and play it on the court.”

And this one is going to be a great series.

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