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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A basketball story: The uphill climb of LA Mumar and the LPU Junior Pirates

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The uphill climb of LA Mumar and the LPU Junior Pirates
by rick olivares

With 1:42 left to play in the third period, Lyceum of the Philippines University Junior Pirate point guard Jun Cecilio swiped the ball away from National University’s Mark Ferraras. With two Bulldogs closing down the shaded lane for any possible drives to the basket, Cecilio stopped on a dime and threw up a triple from the top of the arc.


Now, the score was at 66-35… for NU that would score four more points to close out period scoring at 70-35.

Over that the LPU huddle, Junior Pirates coach LA Mumar looked his players in the eye and said, “Guys. Don’t look at the score. Our goal is to improve. The last time we faced the guys they beat us by a hundred. Now 31 lang lamang nila. We outscored them 18-15 in the third period. So play positive. The goal is to improve all the time.”

LPU would outscore NU (that was playing its third team) once more in the final period, 18-16, to peg the final score at 86-53.

The Pirates topped Group F of the National Basketball Training Center tournament’s first round with two wins out of two matches against schools from Pampanga and Cagayan De Oro. In the second round, the Junior Pirates crashed out with a 0-2 record.

Mumar gathered his crestfallen squad outside one of the exits of the Ynares Arena in Pasig for their final pep talk of a long season. They snapped their 59-game losing streak in the NCAA Juniors tournament with a 59-57 win over Emilio Aguinaldo College on the 25th of July 2014. They went on to win three more games to end NCAA Season 90 with a 4-14 record that saw them climb from dead last to seventh in the 10-team field.

In the season-ending 2014-15 NBTC tournament, they tasted another high by winning its two assignments in the first round only to be sent packing in the second day. Even if the team raised their win total for the year getting bowled over in the NBTC still hurt.

Mumar’s graduating players couldn’t hold back their tears and sobs. Mumar offered words of solace but who knew if they found their mark? Clearly, no one was inured to the losing. To the players, it’s more than a game --- it’s playing for a potential college scholarship. Would anyone consider taking any of these kids given their lack of talent and skill?

“My power forward is 5’8” and the point guards we go up against stand 5’9” or taller so you can see our disadvantages,” later said Mumar of his squad.

LA knows all to well what it’s like to struggle to get into the win column. After all, he played for Ateneo during the bleak 1990s when they battled not for a Final Four slot but to stay out of the cellar

So why did Mumar place himself in another position for self-flagellation with LPU when he was fine coaching National University’s Team B that had Alfred Aroga, Pao Javelona and others waiting to move up to Team A? The LPU team that he inherited included some of the players who absorbed a 157-point and a 135-point drubbing by San Beda several years ago.

Said one San Beda coach who was a part of those 100-plus beatdowns, “Syempre, nahihiya na rin kami sa score. Ayaw din naman namin silang ganyanin. Pero ano gagawin namin? Hindi na kami titira? Pagbigyan namin sila maka-layup? Mahirap. Pero trabaho lang.”

Mumar, the son of former PBA player Larry as well as the grandson of college ball legend, Lauro “The Fox” isn’t the patron saint of lost causes. Far from it. “For sure it is a challenge,” he admitted when he first took on the job. “I had to pray over the decision to take the job. I researched about the team and found out that they lost by an average of 67 points! The team I was to inherit lost four of its five starters. If I was to come in I couldn’t recruit because it was already late so you play who you have. To add more players, I had no choice but to go to the inter-barangay tournaments in Cavite. Mga nakuha ko mga raw; sobrang raw; unpolished. I spoke about this extensively with my wife. But you know the saying, ‘When you’re down, the only place you can go, is up.’ So that was part of the challenge. And if you can help kids find their place in the world that is the better reward or accomplishment.”

The immediate goals for Mumar were perhaps, the most doable not to mention realistic -- not to lose by more than 20 points and to give the players confidence.

In this past NCAA season, the Junior Pirates achieved a modicum of success as eight of their loses were in single digits. “However,” admitted Mumar, “the most difficult of them all as it is hard to instill confidence when you’re getting blown out by a hundred.”

Mumar was able to recruit some players but they could suit up for NCAA Season 90 as they served their residency. “It’s part of the process,” he reminded his team in that post-NBTC ouster huddle. “I know it sounds weird but what you have accomplished will pave the way for LPU to get better in years to come.”

NU assistant coach Chico Manabat empathized with LPU. After all, his NU teams were the UAAP doormats not too long ago. Watching the Bullpups decimate the Junior Pirates even while playing with their scrubs, he thought, “Minsan wala ka na masasabi. Sana makahanap din sila ng suporta at success.”

The tears streamed down while the sobs continued. Mumar’s voice cracked as he too fought back the tears. He hugged his graduating players tightly saying nothing more.

“I won a championship when I was in the Juniors (with Ateneo with Rainier Sison, Epok Quimpo, Sonny Tadeo, and Ryan Pamintuan among others). That was a fantastic feeling,” reflected Mumar later. “When I won my first game with LPU (where they snapped the 59-match losing streak) --- to be honest… it felt just a little better than my juniors title with the Blue Eaglets. When I won with the Juniors with Ateneo, we were the favored team. With these kids with LPU? Ginagawa kami na pag-pad ng statistics ng mga kalaban.”

“When the time comes and we compete in the games that will be a great accomplishment. And these boys will have started it all.”

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