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, September 2, 2014

The UP Fighting Maroons' Ronnie Magsanoc & Henry Asilum: Riding & surviving the ikot (toki) jeep to success

This appears in

Ronnie Magsanoc & Henry Asilum: Riding & surviving the ikot (toki) jeep to success
by rick olivares

Ronnie Magsanoc knows what Henry Asilum is feeling. Especially when the losses pile up. The two are in the UP Gym for a video shoot for Gatorade’s new legacy campaign.

Back in 1983, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons started off the UAAP season with four consecutive losses. That had Magsanoc, a rookie at that time, rethinking things. “Back in high school in San Beda, marami na yung dalawang talo,” recalled Magsanoc. “I wasn’t that mature yet in my thinking but if I gave in to my emotions, I would have left. Luckily, I was patient enough because not only did we start to win but I began to understand life more. Kung baga, nagmulat ang mata ko sa mas malawak na buhay. And basketball wasn’t the only reason why I went to college.”

When Magsanoc went to UP (his other choice for college was UST), the goals were very modest: land a spot on the team and gain that badly needed scholarship (since his family wasn’t exactly well off) and to become either a doctor or a teacher. “At that time, my only thought was to survive. I heard it was hard in UP but how hard I had no idea. Our teachers never cut us slack. So kung may game sabay ng class, absent kami. It was up to us to make up for it. But there were no special considerations. Most of my teachers didn’t even know we had a basketball team.”

“Going to the PBA was the farthest thing from my mind,”” asserted Magsanoc who graduated with a degree in Philosophy. “Especially at that time, a career in the PBA wasn’t that easy. And being a young student, I had my immediate concerns.”

Asilum came from a winning program in Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu. One of the biggest adjustments outside being away from his family was not just the losing but also surviving. “After a game, kung masakit na talo, you had to put that out of your mind because there’s class or a test. If you fail that test, you will feel even worse.”

When Magsanoc looks at the current plight of the Maroons that have been underwhelming for years now, he knows that it will all eventually turn around. “They (UP) have good players. You see them naman fighting up to the very end. And that is our trademark style of basketball. Fight to the end. They just lack that missing piece in the middle.”

Magsanoc and company’s own missing piece to the puzzle arrived in 1986 in the form of Benjie Paras.  “For the first time,” recounted Magsanoc of that fateful move of the King Red Cub from Mendiola to Diliman, “We had a blue chip center who was strong and mature enough to battle any of the country’s best.”

The Maroons struggled against the college power at that time that was the University of the East. Although the Warriors lost gunner Allan Caidic to graduation but they still had bull-strong center Jerry Codinera and a cast of veteran reliables.

In two elimination round matches, UE got the better for UP. But come the finals, fate, destiny, timing – “and that good old mantra of ‘UP Fight’ – helped us overcome the Warriors dynasty and win one for UP” as Magsanoc put it.

That championship changed not only Magsanoc’s life but that of his teammates as it opened doors to the national team and eventually to the professional ranks.

When one talks about UP, one of the most ubiquitous symbols is the Ikot (or now the Toki) jeep that helps a student get around the massive campus. It’s so mundane. Simple and seemingly unconsequential yet when one is able to examine things in hindsight or from a distance, that Ikot jeep sort of resembles the cycle of life with its ups and downs.

Magsanoc agrees. “Sometimes, I make bad decisions. It is like getting off at the wrong spot. You just hop on back and make sure you get off the right place next time.”

When Magsanoc graduated from San Beda High School, he wanted to join his friends in UST. But when told that they had an abundance of point guards, Magsanoc took the Ikot Jeep to the UP Gym where Coach Joe Lipa entrusted the Fighting Maroons’ backcourt to a 5’6” point guard and his combo buddy, Eric Altamirano.

“For a while, I  thought about going back to San Beda. But I never got off that Ikot jeep so that when I graduated from college, I had three options laid out for me – to either become a teacher, a doctor, or even as professional basketball player.”

“When Benjie Paras arrived, I hopped on that Ikot Jeep to a UAAP title.”

And that championship changed their lives forever providing what Magsanoc calls “a positive domino effect for him and his teammates as well as the university”.

Recalled Magsanoc, “At that time, there was no way I could be on the national team with the NCC team in place. But after EDSA, things changed so I got called up. That exposed me all the more. In the basketball sense, before 1985, players were hired directly from colleges and commercial teams to pro clubs. The pioneers of the PBA were still around and there weren’t too many slots open for us aspiring players. In a non-basketball sense, I remember sitting down watching a demonstration outside the College of Arts and Sciences (after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino) and someone saying to me, ‘Kapatid, makibaka at huwag matakot.’ Again, I didn’t come from a rich family and I was hungry at that time. I asked, ‘May pagkain ba diyan?’ and they answered, ‘Meron.’ So I went. And that opened me more to things outside my immediate life as a student trying to make it with a struggling college team.”

And now Magsanoc looks across the gym to Asilum. The point guard from Davao by way of Cebu who admits to getting irked at how some former teammates would still be smiling and joking after a terrible loss or a losing streak.

Magsanoc knows the kid is on the Ikot jeep (or Toki jeep as today’s generation call it). He was a senior when his Fighting Maroons won a championship. Asilum is a junior with two playing years left. Thought Ronnie Magsanoc: “That cycle of life? When fate, destiny, and timing all align – they might get their own blue chip center. And maybe this campus will go crazy again.”

How did Ronnie Magsanoc become a very good shooter? By shooting at this particular  backboard-less hoop at the old UP Gym.

Look at Ronnie Magsanoc's old jersey from the 1986 championship season.  Yes, he was that small as he has grown quite since.

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