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, October 3, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #279 Ateneo Flying High

Kiefer, swoop down on the foe.

This appears in the Monday October 3, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Flying high
by rick olivares photos by me and brosi g

After Ateneo put the finishing touches on an 82-69 masterpiece win over Far Eastern University (FEU) to claim its fourth-straight University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) title, I asked myself how big an accomplishment that was. How good is this team in this age of tycoons backing up college hoops programs, overly aggressive recruiting and African players?

Prior to Ateneo’s four-peat, only University of the East (UE), University of Santo Tomas (UST) and De La Salle have also accomplished that feat (although the Warriors won seven straight) in the UAAP. And over at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), San Sebastian took five straight in the mid-’90s with Rommel Adducul patrolling the paint.

The Warriors accomplished that at a time when the UAAP was young. They had the best coach in former Blue Eagle Baby Dalupan and one rugged center by the name of Robert Jaworski. But the UAAP was only a six-team league then.

The championships of the then UST Glowing Goldies ran parallel to San Sebastian and when the two met in a battle of champions to determine who was the better side, it was the Stags who prevailed.

De La Salle’s feat alone is maybe more incredible considering its team was in the finals almost year after year.

Teams rebuild through their homegrown system and recruiting from the outside. During its ’90s dominance, De La Salle refined it into an art form. They were the first team (even before our national squads began to practice such) to pursue Filipino-Americans who complemented very good local players.

In the new millennium, San Beda opened the floodgates for African players to ply their trade locally when Sam Ekwe led the Red Lions to three consecutive NCAA crowns. It has been a move that instantly turned some teams into contenders virtually overnight.

As for the Blue Eagles, for the longest time they stubbornly clung to their homegrown players sprinkled with a few recruits from here and there (there were a few famous walk-ins like Gerry Verzosa, Eric Reyes and Zion Laterre). It was only after the dry spell of the 1990s (the only decade since the inception of collegiate sports where they failed to win a title) where a program has finally been put in place. And soon they began to aggressively pursue the blue chip high-school players who were not only prized for their skill but also for their basketball IQ.

The question should be rephrased to “how good is this four-peat Ateneo team in this age of tycoon-sponsored schools, big-time recruiting, and African players?” And can this ever be done again?

From the 2008-11 seasons, Ateneo has a combined 61-8 record. It has beaten three different teams—La Salle, UE and FEU (twice). In the UAAP, La Salle and FEU are both powers and since 2000, have five titles between them—the same number as Ateneo.

The only other school that can match Ateneo with regards to dominance in their respective leagues is San Beda as it has had four titles in the past five years. But even so, Ateneo, sans African or American players, have beaten their ancient NCAA foe in other tournaments.

There are those who say that Ateneo should have not won Season 73 as FEU had a far better lineup. But since when did teams ever win it on paper? And no amount of superstar-laden lineups guarantee a win or even a title. Surely the Dallas Mavericks of the last National Basketball Association season come to mind.

Once you look past Ateneo’s top players this year (Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena, Kirk Long and Nico Salva), the bench of Tonino Gonzaga, Raymond Austria, Juami Tiongson, Frank Golla and Justin Chua hardly look the part of world beaters. Starting point guard Emman Monfort was even demoted to Team B four years ago.

Individually they have a few outstanding players who could pour a ton of points anytime. Collectively, they are—bar none—the finest defensive team in college basketball in the last four years. Their 13 titles in a four-year span (including the UAAP, PCCL, Filoil, Fr. Martin Cup, Nike Summer League and University Games) is unheard of.

Some quarters say that Adamson would have given Ateneo a far greater challenge than FEU. And one win over Ateneo in the last 14 years qualifies them as a serious challenger? The same was said two years ago when UE ambushed Ateneo in Game Two of the UAAP Finals. But in Game Three, they were routed big time.

Whether Ateneo squeaked past Adamson in the first round, the fact remains that the Blue Eagles have had the Falcons’ number for quite some time. Last year, with an even better team, it was said that Adamson was ready to leap past Ateneo in the Final Four. Instead they were ran off the Maplewood floor of the Araneta Coliseum. This Season 74, their one shining moment in the second round of the eliminations was a blowout win over Ateneo. Other than that, they’ve lost to FEU and UST. They couldn’t even get past the Tamaraws.

Others have also said that FEU’s three-guard lineup of RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo and Mike Tolomia would give Ateneo fits. But what analysts have not paid attention to is the fact that Ateneo’s guards actually match up well with FEU’s.

At this point, it’s all comparison and speculation. But the fact of the matter is, Ateneo remains the champion. The Blue Eagles have taken all comers and are the last team standing.

The scary thing is they do not look to be done yet.


Norman Black 4-peat interview Part 2

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