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.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #301 The boys of summer

This appears in the Monday, March 12, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.
My Mosquito team that went to the Finals twice and came up short. Four of my players went to Ateneo with two playing in the PRADA/PAYA teams.

The boys of summer
by rick olivares

It’s a rite of summer as well as a rite of passage. With summer setting in and the school year done, young kids get ready to play in the basketball leagues that will be played in subdivisions, barangays, and cities across the country.

The local tailoring shops will make a killing with all the uniforms to be made and the shoe stores will see a spike in sales. These days are golden and they will forever be etched in the minds of the young as they hit adolescence and learn many things that come with winning and losing.

Years ago, I had a chance to coach the neighborhood “midgets” and “mosquito” basketball teams. The boys in my neighborhood visited me at home to ask me if I could coach them. I have to admit that it was an interesting and complex proposition so I asked them to come back the following day so I could mull it over.

I was both excited and nervous about it after all, what did I know? I was a late bloomer to the game as I spent my school years playing football and baseball. In between, I did watch a lot of hoops though whether it was the UAAP, PBA or NBA. I wore out a lot of those betamax tapes watching Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and all those superstars of that generation. And being a voracious reader, I thought that I had just enough knowledge to pull it off. After all, it was just an inter-subdivision league, right?

So I convinced myself that it was and I decided to take the job and channel my inner Phil Jackson. But no sooner that I said yes to the “midgets” team then the local “mosquito” team asked me to handle them as well. Now I was in a quandary. How do I manage my time with my work and coaching? I just had to. In the same manner that I used my vacation leaves for watching Ateneo basketball during those lean 1990s, I used them for days when we had afternoon games.

Being a stickler for organization and discipline, I ran the teams in the only way I knew – in varsity fashion. We ran three plays with multiple options, we practiced our defense and our ultimate weapon – a full court press.

Play “One” was a variation of the most basic of the plays of the triple-post offense. In our set, the ball went down to the post where the center was. The first cut came from the right corner and a split second after his flash towards the baseline, the small forward cut in the middle of the lane. The center either went inside or he handed it off to his two options. He could also kick it out where we had a shooter waiting.

Play “Two” called for a double baseline screen to free up our shooters with the point guard atop the three-point arc having the option where to pass the ball. The shooters, depending on what the defense gave them had the option to drop the ball or run a pick and roll.

Play “Three” was a situational one that we ran when we needed a three-point bucket.

I have to admit that it wasn’t easy teaching a system. I had to be doubly patient. While I had a few players who competed in the PRADA (Private Schools Athletic Development Association) and Philippine Athletic Youth Association (PAYA) leagues most had only played in these inter-subdivision tournaments. Being of diverse backgrounds made it only more challenging. One of my kids, Carlo, was extremely sensitive and prone to violent outbursts. He had learned that he was adopted and was in a most rebellious phase. He clashed with everyone myself included. But I worked hard at winning him over and he soon cooperated and found himself an integral part of our offense with his booming triples.

Looking back on these days, this is where I figured I had an aptitude for instructing the young; something that I drew on these past two years while teaching in Ateneo. It was extremely gratifying to know that the boys picked the system and we ran our sets with clinical precision.

And we were a hit. My teams began to demolish our opponents in frightening fashion. In the Industrial Valley Subdivision basketball courts, we became the huge draw as we outworked our foes and played an entertaining brand of basketball. Between my two teams, it was the “mosquito” squad that was markedly better but both teams made the finals of their respective decisions.

In the finals of the “mosquito team”, we faced a team that was just as good as us only deeper. With my starters tired from playing long minutes, we imploded in the game’s final minute as we botched a final play. We had lost. I felt so drained and sat on the bench shocked more than anything. My team disappeared and I remained on the bench unable to follow them as my “midgets” team had their finals immediately after.

Because of my inexperience and the disappointment of the earlier loss, our team started off rather badly. This particular team had a tougher time running our sets because my two centers, Christian and Anthony, would oft get lost with all the movement and passing.

With the game entering the final half of play, we went to our full court press that we did not run all game long. In a crucial timeout, I placed Alex, one of my tougher defenders on the opposing point guard. And the strategy worked. They succumbed to a series of turnovers that saw us chop down that lead in no time. They sued for time hoping to stall our momentum but to no avail. We won this running away.

It was a sweet victory however it wasn’t fully satisfying because of the other loss. All throughout the summer, my teams’ former coaches would give me stick for the system I ran (the teams in my neighborhood often won). I ignored their stinging criticism and stuck to my guns. After the win, they went up to me and shook my hand. “Good job, coach,” they said and that was a great moment.

I found my mosquito team waiting for me outside my home. They were in tears and apologetic about the loss. I was surprised. I thought that it was I who failed them. Maybe if I gave my bench players a chance in the early fourth quarter, my starters would have been fresh for the endgame. I told them that I was proud of them and that we had gone farther than anyone would have expected.

The following summer, we won one tournament where we played against older teams. My mosquito team had gone up to the midgets division where we played great basketball only to lose once more in the championship. In the final seconds of the game and to the same team that beat us a year ago. It was devastating for all of us.

I went on to coach one more summer (we missed the playoffs because of the quotient system – we only lost one game) before I called it quits. I left for the United States then and didn’t think I’d come back.

My players stayed at home right up to the moment I left. They were in tears. Carlo sobbed uncontrollably. As if leaving my children was already unbearable then my players my it even more difficult. So I left with a heavy heart.

When I came home, much had changed. My players were now older and done with school. Carlo was gone. He took his life after a bout with depression. And just the other day, I buried my team captain, Mark, who died a few days earlier following a motorcycle accident. Their loses somewhat cast a pall of gloom in our neighborhood basketball teams.

These are the dog days of March and already in the neighboring subdivisions of Industrial Valley in Marikina, kids are excited about the summer leagues. The sound of basketballs dribbling on the street by kids going to the court are almost non-stop on weekends. And I’m thinking back to those years, three years that were some of the best of my life. This time, I’ll be on the sidelines cheering the younger ones and my former wards (now in the seniors division) on. And maybe there’ll be good memories out of this.


For Carlo Cainglet and Mark Galsim. My gunner and my captain. Rest in peace.

Winning the Best Coach Award. Haha. Got two of these trophies. The other one in the SMC-BIBATO League where my DZRH team won the Division II title. With my team that won a summer invitational tournament (where we were up against older teams). In the bottom picture, you'll see me guarding the guy taking the jumpshot (#7).

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