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, August 1, 2014

The passing of the torch: Renren Ritualo & Jeron Teng

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This is a third in a series of seven articles. Part 1 was Danny Ildefonso & Gelo Alolino of NU. Part 2 was Wesley Gonzales & Von Pessumal of Ateneo.

The passing of the torch: Renren Ritualo & Jeron Teng
by rick olivares

What do Renren Ritualo and Jeron Teng have in common? Aside from the fact that both stand 6’2”.

When you look at Ritualo, he isn’t the physical specimen Teng is. Although he’s cat quick and can sure put up points in a hurry. Oh, he did play shooting guard for La Salle.

Teng is like smaller version of LeBron James – muscular, strong, and can get to the hoop anytime he wants. He can take a hit and still finish with aplomb. And he does play the three-spot for these La Salle Green Archers.

So what do they both have in common?

They both went to La Salle when the school wasn’t winning basketball championships.

As freshmen, they tasted defeat. As sophomores, they carried the Green and White back to the Promised Land. As juniors, they were primed to install a dynasty in the country’s premier collegiate league.

Ritualo’s accomplishments were the best by any La Salle cager in the school’s long cage history so much that they retired his jersey number (#4) way ahead of any of their golden age greats. Winning four consecutive championships does that.

“Jeron doesn’t know that!” protested Ritualo with a laugh when bared with that fact during the annual Gatorade Brand Ambassador shoot at the Green Archers’ Taft Avenue campus. “He was still very young. I am showing my age, no?”

Teng smiled back in amusement. But the current Green Archer knows the responsibility that he carries as the school’s highest profile player. For in this day and age of big time recruitment, championships are hard to come by.

For Ritualo, it seemed that winning would never stop. He won a fistful of titles during his high school days at San Beda (along with teammates with Mike Bravo, Xavi Nunag, and Jenkins Messina to name a few). “It got to the point that we were no longer counting championships but by how points we won. No disrespect to our opponents though.”

After losing in the UAAP Finals in his freshman year against Ronald Magtulis’ FEU Tamaraws, he remembered feeling terrible. “I had not lost in a while and it hurt,” recalled Renren. “What more for the school that made the finals every year pero laging talo either sa UST or FEU?”

The following season, Ritualo and company exacted revenge by sweeping FEU in the Finals. A championship that began a streak of four consecutive championships.

When the FedEx Express drafted him in the PBA, Ritualo continued to light up the scoreboard. For his valiant efforts, he was named Rookie and Sixth Man of the Year. Yet the silverware proved to be even harder to come by. Not even a reunion with his college teammate Don Allado (while teaming up with Asi Taulava) at Talk ‘N Text could get them within sniffing range of the title.

That is until the 2008-09 Philippine Cup where the Phone Pals (as the team was then known by) finally put it together to defeat the Alaska Aces.

It took seven long years for Ritualo to win a PBA title that was so elusive that he almost didn’t want to let go of the trophy when it found its way to him.

However, when it seemed that Ritualo was going to go on a roll, he mysteriously got benched. Even when he was traded back to Air21 (as the FedEx team was then known by), he stayed glued to the end of the bench. A move to Bo Perasol’s Powerade squad saw him get a modicum of playing time. But when he traded again – this time to Meralco – he was sent back to the bench. Not even a reunion with his old college coach Franz Pumaren over at Air21 could get him playing time.

“I heard people say that it was because I didn’t play defense,” said Renren who was clearly hurt and bothered by the change in fortunes. “What changed from the time I was playing until the time I got benched? I always gave everything my all.”

Renren’s wife, Margaux said that her husband never once complained about being benched. “I could see he was very much bothered and how much it hurt him,” said Margaux. “But he kept all the pain to himself. Renren’s mature enough to understand things but he wishes that sometimes his coaches would tell him what was wrong so he could try and work on his shortcomings whatever they were in the first place.”

If it were up to Margaux, she’d want her husband to stop playing already. Although she knows he still has something to give to the game but if its only going to be another long season at the end of the bench then maybe it’s time to walk away. Besides, they have a successful pre-school to run. Renren has a budding gig as a sportscaster for the NCAA games and other business interests on the side.

“Sometimes, I know I can help but I am not given a chance. If the team is winning, I can handle it a little better. But when we are losing and I am not playing – it hurts even more. But….” said Ritualo. “I am still grateful – grateful -- for what the game has given me.”

As the son of a former PBA player, Renren took to the game like a fish to water. Even as a young kid, he loved the game so much that he shot paper balls, socks, soda cans through makeshift hoops, old tires, trash bins, and holes in the wall. “I don’t know if that is the secret to being a good shooter,” he laughed at the memory. “Who knows? Maybe it helped.”

When his San Beda Red Cubs played in the old Rizal Memorial Coliseum, Renren snuck into La Salle where he saw the likes of Jason Webb, Mark Telan, and Tyrone Bautista practice. I saw one of their games where they lost to UST in the Finals. Kahit talo, iba yung atmosphere sa school. Sabi ko, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”

“When I was in third year high school, Coach Ato (Badolato, the Red Cubs’ fabled head coach) told me that someone from La Salle was inquiring about me. I didn’t think much about that because we were trying to win championships. But when I got to fourth year, I knew where I was going for college right away.”

And so now, the torch has been passed from one Green Archer great to another. Teng, clearly enthralled, listened to everything Ritualo had to say about his experiences. There is much to be learned especially in this season where the defending UAAP Seniors champions Green Archers stumbled out of the gates losing two matches before righting the ship with two consecutive wins.

“You can stumble,” said Ritualo. “But always stand up. And even if you don’t win, you should hold your head up high as long as you gave it your all. Problems? Part yan ng every basketball player’s career. It’s how you finish is what is important.”

Another thing they have in common? They’re both winners.

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