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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Five reasons why great champions die hard (or on that second round win over NU)

Five reasons why great champions die hard (or on that second round win over NU)
by rick olivares

After the Ateneo Blue Eagles won the 1988 UAAP Men’s Basketball crown – in effect, a back-to-back championship – the team made a guest appearance on Not So Late Night with Edu (Manzano) on television. The Hail Mary Squad went to the show of the former La Salle Green Archer turned celebrity wearing the championship shirt of the day that read: “Great champions die hard.”

Said the irrepressible Manzano before he put on the Ateneo championship shirt (that then team captain Joseph Canlas made him wear): “Die hard? Sounds like a car battery.”

I think that 24 years later, the message still stands. Great champions do die hard and here are the reasons why:

Dealt a bad hand, it’s time to cowboy up
For the first time since 2004 when Larry Fonacier suffered a season-ending injury, the Ateneo Blue Eagles are heading into the UAAP’s second season not a man down but two men down.

Rookie center Kris Porter was lost to a knee injury while on national duty and well, you all know what happened to backup center JP Erram the other day so that makes it two players who are done for the tournament. While Porter has hardly gotten off the bench, Erram has come on strong of late with his stellar play inside the paint. His loss (especially with Frank Golla in the midst of a wretched season) will be felt.

With Erram out (hence now tall guy to swat bricks headed his way), NU ran a high pick and roll very similar to what UE threw at us in the final play of the Blue Eagles-Red Warrior match the other week.  With Greg Slaughter forced to help out, that left Emmanuel Mbe a brief opening to slide in for a putback or a layup.

Once Ateneo adjusted its perimeter defense, there were fewer lane incursions (and with Ray Parks silenced) for the Bulldogs.

However, early on, NU played superb. And if you felt that uneasy, that the dynasty was teetering on the brink, that we’re going to crash, that we do not have a deep enough bench, that NU was finally going to put the kibosh on us, that the refs were going to kill us, that we were not getting to the line (WTF only two free throw attempts all game long), then you must remember to keep the faith.

Remember the way we responded to the loss to UE in Game Two of the Season 72 Finals with a killer Game Three?

There were the two losses to FEU in the elimination round of Season 73 before we crushed the Tams in the Finals when Ryan Buenafe promised “makaktikim ‘tong mga taga-Morayta”.

There was the late second round defeat to Adamson last year. We returned the favor this year and swept the season series from the birds from San Marcelino that has kicked off a new streak.

The “A” that we see on our letterman jackets stands for “Ateneo” but it could verily be “adversity”. Do know that we respond well to it.

With every game a must win and with five teams battling it out tooth, nail and the kitchen sink, we showed that the champ is still here.

Career interrupted, Oping Sumalinog serves a reminder that he should not be a forgotten man.
How many “name” players are there on the Blue Eagles? Greg Slaughter. Kiefer Ravena. Nico Salva. Justin Chua. Ryan Buenafe. That’s pretty much it. Have we had any big time recruit dress in blue and white the past two years?

Nope. The prospects either went to UST, La Salle, FEU, or NU. Maybe that will hurt us later on but that is not important at the moment.

Having said that, our players do have something better than being tagged a “blue chip recruit” – they wear the colors of blue and white. And there’s that pride, that championship pride and experience that counts.

Now if you have followed Oping through the years then you will know that he is not simply a spot up player or one who will take kickouts. Sure the outside shot has always been a part of his arsenal but he could drive in or even post up some. But he is also a very good defender.

During the 2009 Champions League, Sumalinog picked up the scoring sock and defensive presence that was sorely missing when Rabeh Al-Hussaini opted not to play in the post-UAAP tourney.

Watching him deny Emmanuel Mbe not once but three times (too bad the ref called a foul on Oping during one block attempt that wasn’t a foul) reminded me of that UCL Finals where he teamed up with Nonoy Baclao to turn the shaded area into a no fly zone. In one FEU sequence, Sumalinog not only blocked FEU’s Ramos but he took the ball away as well. Shades of LaPhonso Ellis (if you don’t know who this guy is he is a former Denver Nugget who was an outstanding shot blocker who loved to redirect errant enemy missiles)!

He was supposed to be the next break out star but he was lost to a pre-season knee injury and since his return he has scored sporadically.

Oping has adjusted to his role on this team quite well (sometimes starting sometimes coming off the bench) but his defensive stance in the third really gave Ateneo an adrenaline shot. His stat line against NU doesn’t do him justice: 2 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and 2 turnovers. Close to a perfect symmetry.

In need of a second defensive presence inside to help out Greg Slaughter, Oping Sumalinog gave the team a massive lift that those number don’t do any justice to the effect he had on the game. He’s no JP Erram, but Oping was nonetheless devastating.

The loss to UE could have derailed the team. That happened before during the 2004-5 season where the Blue Eagles swept the first round before losing to UE in the second round’s first game. The loss exposed some cracks within the team and from thereon we were never the same.

Ateneo pulled out a late rabbit against Adamson to arrest the skid. With our roster at times looking mighty deep in some and shockingly wafer thin in others, Sumalinog coming up huge offset the loss of Erram (at least for this game) was telling.

Now here’s to Tonino Gonzaga and Frank Golla coming alive in these next few games.

We adjust well when the tough gets going.
We are the masters of the second half with superb halftime adjustments. Down by a point after one quarter and by a deuce after 20 minutes played, Ateneo adjusted its perimeter and switching defense to put the clamps and arguably best defensive effort on the scoring dynamo that is called Ray Parks. The players who carried NU to its spirited comeback in the past few games – Troy Rosario, Lee Villamor, and Henri Betayene – were shut down in this game.

Now the refs swallowed their whistles (although the match was generally well officiated) when it came to our own lane incursions. Witness the two – yes, the two – free throws awarded to Ateneo. Imagine. We are the team that leads the league in free throw attempts and free throws made and in this game with our inside players were only get two trips to the line!

No matter. We more than made up for that with these:
NU was assessed six 24-second shot clock violations. It should have been seven but the referees mysteriously counted Jeff Javillionar’s buzzer beating trey to end the third quarter when the table officials said it shouldn’t have counted.
They had nine shots blocked. Ten if you include that bogus foul slapped on Sumalinog for his swat of Mbe’s shot.
The Bulldogs had a game high 23 turnovers. Although NU coughs the ball the most with an average of 17.3, the six more TOs hurt. Ateneo was around its average of 15 or 16 for this match.

National U averages at least 73 points per game. They were held to 56 in this match. That’s seventeen points below their average. Ateneo won by 14. Now if Javillionar’s trey were not counted that would be 17. Coincidence but the lows by NU are the product of hard work.

But in another excellent shooting match, Ateneo’s field goal accuracy was 56.9%.

We have responded well to the challenge of NU.
If there is any team that has been tugging on our shirts the past few years it has been NU. I do not need to recount the intense battles since the arrival of Ray Parks in their Sampaloc, Manila campus. Suffice to say that they have knocked us out of the running of three more championships in the past two years. So you know that we have their attention.

The emergence of NU as a basketball power only serves to illustrate the escalation of the recruiting wars in college ball.

They have grown bolder. Even in their cheering. It might come across as annoying but really, you have to be happy for them. I certainly am. They have improved their stock and it’s not just in basketball but academically and in their institution.

Now let’s hope that those self-proclaimed basketball analysts who think that the pre-season is an accurate gauge of a team learn from these Bulldogs. After NU ousted in the summer FilOil tournament, many a sports scribe said that the Bulldogs had the Blue Eagles’ number. NU head coach Eric Altamirano quickly squashed that notion. “This is not the Ateneo team that we will see when it’s the UAAP. They’ll have their game faces on. The UAAP is their focus.”

Now we hope that they were paying attention as the Blue Eagles sent a strong message that we’re on a Drive for Five.

We are the last of the Mohicans.
Almost every college team out there has gotten foreign players to boost their performance. The only teams that have not fielded any foreign players are Ateneo and UE (although they will have some Africans in harness for next season). Does Kirk Long and Vince Burke count? Well, they practically grew up here and were not relocated to this tropical country for the sake of basketball or to become some priest. They lived here, studied here and damn grew up here so they do not count.

STI won NAASCU with NU’s current player Henri Betayene in tow. You’ve seen San Beda lord it over in the NCAA (although they won it all with an all-Filipino crew last year). Ateneo has broken the mold by winning titles left and right with a cast that is wholly Pinoy and homegrown.

Make no mistake about this but I am a fan of Emmanuel Mbe (having seen him grow from a gangly player to one who nearly won the MVP Award two years ago). It was fun to see him and Greg Slaughter go at each other. Dude, it’s like Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla, Mothra, or Charles Barkley.

When was the last time we saw titanic battles between massive centers? I’d say the best time was in the early 1990s when FEU had Vic Pablo, La Salle had Jun Limpot, Adamson had Marlou Aquino and EJ Fiehl, and UST had Dennis Espino. Man! Those were battles where they went at each other with a variety of post moves, dunks, and medium range jumpers.

These Mbe-Slaughter battles IMHO evoke those Nineties’ battles and as a hoops junkie it sure is fun to watch (and you do not have to be an alum or supporter of any side to appreciate it).

Make no mistake however that there is that pride that we have taken on teams with reinforcements and beaten them handily.

Our stance on reinforcements may change in the future but for now, we’re still kings of the Hill and as Edu Manzano learned all those years ago, great champions die hard.

The magic number is one. The 70-56 win earned the Blue Eagles at least a playoff for the twice-to-beat advantage.

Thirteen played and one to go.


Spotted at the Ateneo-NU game: former national team head coach Rajko Toroman, former Smart Gilas players Chris Lutz and Jimmy Alapag, and Talk 'N Text guard Ryan Reyes. 


  1. Correction.
    We have the top recruits from the last 2 years. :)
    Namely: Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, Kris Porter, and Gib Babilonia. All these players are the top of their age group as they played for the national team.

  2. Time was when every school (and yeah, even in the THEN more 'elite' NCAA) had only to make do with whomsoever enrolled in their school and happened to be good in the sport. Heck, up until Ateneo first joined the UAAP, it had to find prospects from the college extra-curricular activity IAC (lol, where Jolas was discovered hehe) and I still dare say, no, Steve Watson doesn't count (that should give you an idea of the era, lol) as a foreigner. Then when La Salle (was it already a University back then?) became enterprising with its Fil-am recruits (Lago brothers, et al) we responded with Alvarez, Kramer and the like. Then San Beda brought it a notch higher (not sure if it was a good trailblazing move or it just opened a can of worms as it were) with Daniel, when SSC had only to rely on an Adducul (yeah pure pinoy) to get their own 5 (was it?) peat.

    Not insinuating anything, but will DLSU and ADMU start looking towards the continent of Africa for their next prize recruits? Seeing as Greg's departure next season will indeed be a big blow and that Norbert (yep, a Fil-Canadian) is fast becoming a "di ma" bear like Ferdinand (yep, a Fil-Indonesian) among the La Sallian community? And UE will start swallowing its 'by owner (Tan) design' All-Filipino thrust huh? So curious...

  3. Sir Olivarez can you please publish an article on how you think NU can improve.