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.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Here's something I wrote a long time ago about Ateneo Team B

This is something I wrote back in 2004. A good friend of mine, Joseph Nocos asked me if I wanted to watch a game of Team B and since I had nothing better to do, I said yes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote this (and began a series about them) and almost overnight, a huge outpouring of support came in for the team. And this began an unofficial partnership 'managing' the team for over a year. A group I formed with other friends began something that culminated in a huge assembly among all the Ateneo varsity teams and how each booster group will help. These are some of my best experiences ever. And I've formed lasting friendships with all these people.

Hardcore Basketball: Ateneo Team B
by rick olivares
They play in gyms that make the Blue Eagle Gym look like a state-of-the-art arena. The locker room or what passes for one, is nothing more than a storage room. There are no Gatorade bottles or water cups, instead, the players bring small Colemans and share swigs between substitutions or timeouts. You know its hardcore basketball when the coach is the one lugging the basketballs.
Welcome to the world of Ateneo Team B basketball.

There are no cheerleaders to greet them as they take the floor. No eight-beat from an impressive array of drums to get the adrenaline flowing. Instead, it’s mom and pop in the stands and the few hardcore basketball fans who love the relative anonymity of division two hoops who cheer them on. It’s them living their own version of Hicksville hoops. Small time game played by players who toil in a soupcon of alphabet leagues that barely make the newswires let alone the chat rooms and fora. But still they dream the ever-fleeting dream of making it to Team A basketball. To the promised land of UAAP glory and ultimately hoops immortality.

Today, Team B is playing their Letran counterpart at the Arellano Gym in Legarda. Half the team took the LRT Line III to get to the venue. They have to sprint several blocks in the pouring rain just to make it to the safe confines of the school with its sooty walls. Here the security guards search their bags. “Maybe they think we’re terrorists,” one player quips. And when they enter the gym, the crowd which has packed the sweltering wooden building momentarily forgets the ongoing JRU-UST game. The players wonder if they had just been caught with their drawers down. By the time the players change into their uniforms and take to the floor, the old barn is rocking you’d swear the game was being played at Loyola. Center Juergen Estanislao rattles the boards with a couple of powerful slams that the Letran players pause from their round robin just to see what death-defying slam he'd do next. A fellow Atenean seated beside me, tugs at my sleeve and concludes, “You know, they (Letran) already know they’ve lost this game.”

University belt students jockey for position behind the Ateneo bench. And just like that, the benches behind the team are the most coveted. Why I could have given up my seat for a hundred bucks and still find takers. A few seats away from me, a fight breaks out – between two Arellano U students who want to sit behind point guard Jeff De Guzman. Incredibly, several students pull out their cell phones to take pictures and videos of the players even with their backs turned! Fr. Nemy Que S.J. can’t help but smile, “Consuelo na lang ‘to for the players kahit wala sila sa Team A.”

Former Blue Eagle Gabby Severino, who is coaching this team, issues a few simple instructions then turns it over to the boys for a short prayer. They break the huddle with a solid, “One Big Fight!” And the crowd erupts into cheers.

In the opening minutes of the game, the Letran Knights play it tough, pressing and playing a swarming man-zone. Estanislao is triple-teamed yet still manages to power his way through. One Letran player begins throwing elbows and landing cheap shots, setting the tone for the game. But this time the refs call them. But Ateneo leads, 12-11, at the end of the first quarter.

By the second quarter, forwards Mike Baldos and Zion Laterre and guards Miggy Solitaria and Gino Villame take charge. Miggy despite his superb range can’t buy a shot. Incredibly neither can anyone from either team. The basket is a tad higher; the ring just a little smaller making it somewhat deceptive and difficult to shoot at. The backboard is so unyielding that there are hardly any friendly bounces. So everyone starts to take it to the hole.

Zion is a human fly swatter. He rejects a powerful drive by a Letran Knight sending the ball into the seats. Harry Hipolito (who came from one of the southern Ateneo schools) and former San Beda Red Cub Mike Baldos control the boards.

Baldos is just superb inside the paint. With a plethora of moves that twist his defenders into pretzels, he dumps in a chockfull of points.

Villame, who as a senior for LSGH made the NCAA Juniors Mythical Five Selection makes them pay with the only outside shot so far by either team in the first half. It’s a trey that hits nothing but net. The shot is huge and propels Ateneo to a 12-point half time lead. Severino pumps his fist as the bench jumps up to celebrate. Guard Eman Nazareno does an M.L. Carr by waving his towel and cheering his teammates on. A standout with the Blue Eaglets, Nazareno's enthusiasm is contagious. The crowd cheers the Ateneo team on.

There is no locker room for the boys to retreat to during the intermission which lasts a measly five minutes. Severino calmly draws the boys together and tells them to make the quick pass inside and to shore up their defense. Letran has bled for its points, smothered time and again by the Eagles' suffocating pressure defense.

The crowd incredibly knows the names of the Ateneo players. The cheer and shriek each time Zion, Miggy, Jeff, and Gino touch the ball. Some in the audience bother a spectator who people have managed to make out as an Ateneo supporter. “Kuya, anong pangalan ng number 10?” The Atenean can only shake his head. “Fangirls,” he mutters.

By the second half, Letran, behind their rough play rallies bringing down the lead to three. Estanislao, despite his three fouls, is still a force. But not wanting to lose his bigman, Coach Gabby digs deep into his bench. Chester Chavez, Eman Nazareno and Mox Badua blitz the Knights with some great offensive rebounding, superb passing and power plays to pad Ateneo’s lead to 17.

With the game slipping out of their grasp, the Knights up the ante. De Guzman is brought down by an elbow to the head. A Knight draws blood from Miggy Solitaria with an elbow to the mouth. All hell is about to break loose. Severino is furious that the refs have temporarily swallowed their whistles. An Atenean supporter stands up to pick a fight as the crowd boos the Letran team. An Atenean alumnus worries, “Wala tayo sa teritoryo natin. Di kaya mapaaway tayo?”

Order is eventually restored. De Guzman, the former Bedan standout, takes matters into his own hands with back-to-back steals for lay-ups that break the backs of the Knights. The buzzer sounds to the roar of an appreciative crowd. Ateneo is now 3-0 in the National Invitational Tournament.

There is no singing the alma mater. Just the players and the few supporters exchanging high fives. Coach Gabby shakes hands and profusely thanks the few who came to watch.

By the room that passes for the locker room, the players change. The crowd makes its way towards the team asking for autographs and posing for pictures. Fr. Nemy declares that from now on, he’s a fan of Team B basketball. Imagine, playing in enemy territory and coming out with a pulsating win with a huge crowd of screaming collegialas behind you. What more could you ask, he says.

You know you’re a hardcore basketball fan when you’re helping Gabby Severino carry the basketballs.


For Gabby Severino. And the boys: Mox Badua, Miggy Solitaria, Eman Nazareno, Jay Gonzales, Harry Hipolito, Arvi Malixi, Leon Hizon, Gino Villame, Chester Chavez, Zion Laterre, Mike Baldos, Jeff De Guzman, Jurgen Estanislao, Zach Estoesta, and Gio Pasion. Three of them went on to play in Team A: Nazareno, Laterre, and Baldos. Several months later, we had Jobe Nkemakolam, Yuri Escueta, Merrill Lazo, and a few others.  Semper fi and OBF!

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