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, January 19, 2014

Bleachers' Brew #377 A high school basketball story

This appears in the Monday, January 20, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

A high school basketball story
This is a true story about a high school team with actual conversations with players and coaches conducted over the last two days.
by rick olivares

There’s this high school basketball team playing in one of the capital’s top leagues. When the school year ends in March they will be losing nine players to graduation. Of the nine, only one of them will move up to their senior team’s basketball team.

The rest? “Bahala na kami sa buhay namin,” tersely said one player from this team. Speaking to a teammate of his, I learn that some will be going back home to their provinces while the Manila-based ones will have to look for their own colleges and ask their parents to pay their way through.

If the “unwanted” feel any envy towards their teammate who has a guaranteed college scholarship they aren’t telling.

This team is playing a pick up game against a squad from another league. Their coach didn’t bother to dress the seniors anymore and instead elevated the aspirants. The holdovers with their recent additions note that that lucky teammate of theirs is watching from the stands. They wave at him. One would later say, “I was his teammate. If he goes on to become a college basketball star or even a PBA player, I can say to my kids that I played with him.”

That player’s time in high school is over. This is their time.

There’s potential in these kids, I tell one assistant coach.

One of them is only in third year high school but already stands at 6’5”. If he is lucky, he’ll grow a few more inches and become more desirable in the eyes of college basketball scouts. What in the world are they feeding this kid, I wonder aloud.

The assistant coach laughs at my remark. “When I was playing,” he recalls. “I was playing power forward. And I am only 5’11”. Iba na talaga ang panahon.” We share a laugh.

His team wins convincingly over their opponent but the assistant concedes, “We are far from becoming a team. We won through individual skills and talent.”

After the game, the player I spoke with earlier confides in the vernacular, “You want to win a championship but at the same time you want to show off your skills to the big schools. Sometimes you cannot help but be selfish.”

He looks almost embarrassed when he adds, “High school is supposed to be fun but at the same time you are also playing for your future.”

Towards the end of the scrimmage, he picks the pocket of the opposing point guard. Clean and fast. He hightails in down the floor. Only a teammate is ahead of him. He doesn’t pass the ball and lays it in instead (he nearly got blocked by his opposite number but his difficult twisting layup finds the bottom of the net).

His coach gets off his seat and roars. “Pasa mo! Swapang ka talaga.”

The player apologizes to his teammate on the court who accepts the fist bump. But later, Mr. Selfish admits to me that he didn’t want to pass the rock. Thus his explanation about “his future.”

As we’re talking post-game, another player, not a teammate of theirs, walks in in casual clothing. He is one of the top recruits coming out of high school. Rumors abound about his being pursued by the top colleges in the country. The rumors, ask this kid I am speaking to, say that he is asking for the moon and the stars. I chuckle by way of admission. “Wow,” the kid or Mr. Selfish gushes. I can see it in his eyes that he is picturing himself in that other players’ shoes.

I tell this kid that the average playing career in the pros is five years. Not every college star goes on to have a stellar pro career. Many go undrafted. If they are drafted they are never guaranteed a slot. Many are of out the pros after a conference or even a year. They instead hold on to their PBA dream by becoming a practice player or toiling in the D-League. Some even try their luck overseas with an ABL team. With the ABL in limbo, the options are fewer. Far fewer.

That is why I reiterate it is important to graduate and get a degree because not because it is a fallback but it is your future. The kid seems puzzled. Basketball is his future, he clarifies. Oo nga naman, I correct myself.

He tells me of his friend who plays for another college but is in the league where his team competes. His friend says he only goes to school for practice. What about his studies, I ask. Home study is the reply.

What the hell. One of the joys of school is interacting with others, learning with others, working with others, and forming bonds of friendship. The strains and pressure of sports that is becoming more high profile by the season has changed the school life and scholastic sports. I tell this kid I am speaking with not to forget his studies. He nods but I am not sure if he fully comprehends. After all, what right do I have to derail him from his single-minded dream of becoming a college star or even a PBA player?

Our conversation is over as his father comes down from the stands to pick his son up.

“Twenty points, anak,” he says beaming. “Kailangan top scorer ka lagi para mapansin ka ng mga ibang team. Wag ka making sa coach mo. Tama yun hindi mo pinasa yung bola.”

I conclude my eavesdropping. I walk away shaking my head.

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