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, October 14, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #342: Ateneo Post-Norman Black and the next flight

This appears in the Monday, October 15, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Next flight
Saying goodbye and moving forward for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
by rick olivares

It could be coincidence. Perfect symmetry even.

I was the at the NBTC-MVPSF Coaches Convention listening to Bo Perasol share his guiding principles to over 300 basketball coaches from all over the country when he spoke of the late and legendary Wizard of Westwood John Wooden.

Wooden was unshakable in his principles regarding enthusiasm for work, cooperation, failure, and character among many others. Of course, the wizard had Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, point out pundits, hence, his greatness was assured.

However, if you dig a little deeper into Wooden’s career, he didn’t win all 10 of his NCAA titles with Alcindor and Walton. Alcindor led the UCLA Bruins to three championships while Walton was there for two titles albeit a year apart. Wooden also won with players like Walt Hazzard and Sidney Wicks.

During Perasol’s Wooden reference, I thought of Norman Black. While he is first and foremost is a basketball coach, but once the dribbling of leather and the squeak of sneakers on the hardcourt are done, he would always remind his players that they were students, first, and athletes, second. He isn’t some educator in the manner that Fr. Ben Nebres, former university president was, but he communicated the value of studying, respecting opponents, and playing the game the right way.

Former forward-center Jason Escueta who played only one year for the Ateneo Blue Eagles and that was during the three-peat year, was balancing playing in the D-League while studying. “He (Norman) told me that the D-League will always be there so I had to make sure I finished my studies and got a diploma. I followed his advice.”

Sometime during the first title run that was in 2008, he told the team to read a story I had written about the NU Bulldogs (their downtrodden facilities and lack of a program) and how the Blue Eagles should not take things for granted and to be thankful for what they had. Chris Tiu and Jobe Nkemakolam told me about coach telling the players to read the article and always respect the opponent.

During Wooden’s amazing championship run in UCLA, Wicks was the bridge between the Alcindor-led squads to the Walton era. Rabeh Al-Hussaini led Ateneo to two UAAP titles before Greg Slaughter came in and accomplished the same. In between, Justin Chua was the center for the Blue Eagles when the three-peat was accomplished.

Last Saturday night, the Ateneo community held another bonfire party at Loyola Heights and a tribute was also given to Norman Black. Watching him on the giant LCD, he looked uncomfortable with the attention. Make no mistake, he was happy but he really doesn’t like calling attention to himself.

After the first of the five consecutive championships, I stood next to him down the altar as supporters and fans milled about asking for photos with the players. He quietly asked me, “I wonder how many people here wanted me out?” That was in reference to his first three years where he was bounced in the Final Four twice by La Salle and once in the Finals by UST before winning it all.

I replied, “You want to know?” to which he answered back, “No, I don’t think I want to.”

Last Thursday night at the Church of the Gesu, after the Thanksgiving Mass following title number five, Black gave a light but heartfelt goodbye to the school where he was a part of for nine years (including his one year as a consultant). Black, the 35th coach in Blue Eagles history, leaves as the longest tenured and most bemedalled one.

Last Saturday night, while the five-peat was celebrated, a lot of talk was centered on what will happen next. There is still a coaching vacancy following Black’s departure for the PBA, and a program that needs rebuilding after the sudden disengagement of team patron, Manuel V. Pangilinan.

On Monday, Bo Perasol will meet with Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J., on whether he will be the 36th head coach of the Blue Eagles. My best guess is that by midweek the new coach will be named. With Chot Reyes and Olsen Racela unavailable, my best guess it will come down to Perasol and Sandy Arespacochaga.

The departure of Black and Pangilinan will most certainly cost Ateneo some recruits for next year or even beyond. That is why it is imperative that the coaching situation and the new program be installed as soon as possible. They will set the tone and define what happens next for Ateneo basketball.

Then there’s the matter of the team that will participate in the University Games in Bacolod by month’s end. The players who are graduating or have used up their eligibility – Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Oping Sumalinog, and Tonino Gonzaga -- will no longer accompany that team. I figure Kiefer Ravena and Ryan Buenafe will not be in that line-up as well. There’s a possibility that forward-center Frank Golla will not be in next year’s lineup as he might migrate abroad. And there’s Buenafe who could also skip his final year and head to the pros (my best guess is that he stays).

So that leaves five to possibly seven slots open. Maybe even one more.

The depth chart could be something like this (with some call-ups from Team B).

Center: JP Erram – Giboy Babilonia - Darwish Bederi
Power forward: Frank Golla -- Kris Porter – Paul Siarot
Small forward: Ryan Buenafe – Chris Newsome – Gwyne Capacio
Shooting guard: Kiefer Ravena – Von Pessumal – Joma Adornado
Point guard: Juami Tiongson – Nico Elorde

If you count all of that, that’s 14 slots. I am leaving two open for some players who could be coming in from high school (but who and from where I cannot say). Team B's John Lasa could be in the mix too.

The Blue Eagles will not have a post-up option as their best post-players will be Buenafe and Ravena. Maybe they’ll be a little more uptempo as they play small ball but they will need their forwards and centers to rebound that ball in order to get out on the break.

Even before Ateneo’s Drive for Five was cemented, opposing teams and analysts were already saying that next year’s title will be disputed by UST, La Salle, and NU. I’d throw in UE in the mix. Plus, one cannot discount UP and Adamson that will only get better.

As for the Blue Eagles, everyone will be aiming to deep-six (it’s a nautical term that means ‘to get rid of something) the defending champs. With the loss of its huge championship core (and I do mean huge as Greg Slaughter moves out), it’s good to fly under the radar. A little less pressure, I suppose. Just a little because every time someone puts on that blue and white, he or she is expected to do his very best. But in the light of things, how far the team goes will be gravy.

And oh, when John Wooden’s UCLA team won its 10 NCAA title in 12 years, Walton was already in the NBA. He won it with players like Dave Meyers, Marques Johnson, Richard Washington, Brett Vroman (the father of former Chicago Bull and Ginebra import Jackson Vroman), and Fil-American Raymond Townsend (who later played for the Golden State Warriors). So who says you can’t win when the franchise center moves on?


Read my thoughts on the entire Five-peat!!!!!

And here are a few from my students:

Q who played for the AHS baseball team

Nikki who is also an athlete in Ateneo but isn't a huge hoops fan

Ara who saw her first Ateneo basketball game

Arna who also saw the light!


  1. Rick, on your Bleacher Girl today : isn't she a one hot M-A-M-A ! sHE'S got a big kid already and still with a B-O-D-Y like that ?

  2. Can bo be a up consultant and head coach at the same time? Although i would like to have a big name coach as it definitely helps with recruiting, i cant help but think where his loyalty will really lie.

  3. Why was Ryan buenafe not at the bonfire?

  4. IMO, it will a good thing (i.e. a good test) if Ravena will not be part of the lineup (I would also say Buenafe, but given his weight issues...). It'll give the bench players opportunities to prove themselves and build up their confidence.

    As for the depth chart, I would swap Adornado and Pessumal in the SG position. For PF, I would swap Siarot and Porter.

  5. Sir Rick, is John Lasa eligible already? He needs 2 years right?

  6. what about Jamike? he might be a good lieutenant to Sandy? or no?
    Guess NB can't wait for his son to step into the seniors division^^

    and yeah, Ryan was not in the bonfire. neither was he in the championship picture. what gives?

    1. Ryan was inside the locker room throwing up. What people do not know is that he played sick. That left him really weak. But what a trooper, huh?

    2. First time I saw a player who was not scoring at all but got the minutes until the end, and deservingly so. The other things he did, marvelous! Hope he gets well soon.

  7. Sir Rick, I wonder, since I'm pretty much impressed with Ace Basas, What's going to stop them calling him up? I mean he plays like Calvin Abueva minus that hooligan streak...