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, May 4, 2015

Aric Del Rosario: Old blood and guts still has it.

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Aric Del Rosario: Old blood and guts still has it.
by rick olivares

Aric Del Rosario sat on Commissioners’ Row along with that other noted local sports icon Ato Badolato for a match between the high school squads of La Salle Greenhills and National University. Through the expected protests of coaches, players, and fans regarding the officiating and who looked to the seated commissioners for succor or explanation, both Badolato and Del Rosario remained impassive. Years, no, decades in the game of basketball, as well as age, have taught them to keep their emotions in check.

An hour and half later, Del Rosario took his seat this time across the court next to the University of Perpetual Help Altas who were going to play the visiting Cebuano team of the University of San Jose Recoletos Jaguars.

The transformation of Del Rosario was instant. At 75 years of age, he may look like someone who has hung around the game too long. Someone living off old glory; over five decades to be exact. But the sound of leather on the hardcourt, the squeak of six thousand peso sneakers, and the shrill whistle of a game about to start fired up the synapses. The blood and fire returned to his frame. And Aric Del Rosario was once more in his element.

This year’s Altas were missing Justine Alano, Jong Baloria, and Harold Arboleda, three of his undersized Fantastic Four (the other being Most Valuable Player Scottie Earl Thompson who was unavailable due to national team duty) who flaunted the largest of fighting hearts. They defeated taller and deeper teams and made a serious run only to fall in the Final Four of the NCAAs.

That fighting spirit is what Del Rosario was known for. He played at a time when 6’1” players were centers. He was a small forward for UST and went up against the likes of UP’s Joe Lipa and this strapping strong kid who liked to barrel into the lane, a rookie from the University of the East named Sonny Jaworski. “Malakas yun,” Del Rosario remembered of his UAAP days in the 1960s. “Rookie pa lang siya pero parang mama kung maglaro.”

But Del Rosario, who played for coaching great Fely Fajardo, played during an era where fights were routine and tough players were abound. “Hindi ka pwede umatras sa court. Parang hindi ka lalake kung ganun. Laban lang. Sa depensa lalo nang patayan. Walang bigayan.”

That philosophy, shaped by experience and winning a championship for UST in those turbulent 60s, is still in full effect for all to see.

During their recent Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup debut, the Altas looked shaky in the early goings against USJR and that got Del Rosario up from his seat. “Atakihin mo!” he bellowed to his players. He was more involved than usual.

“Deny! Deny! (insert expletive here). Deny!”

“Labanan mo yung mga pick!” (insert expletive right to punctuate the command)

Coach Aric to guard Gerald Dizon: “May puso ka ba? Pakita mo sa akin kung nasaan yung puso mo.”
Dizon (points to his chest area where the heart is located): Dito coach.
Coach Aric: Meron ka pala, eh. (insert expletive here) Bakit hindi mo pinapakita sa court!”

And there’s more with some choice words thrown in for effect.

If the image of the coach for the 1990s generation is fiery mentor who coached the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers to four consecutive titles in the UAAP as well as the inaugural Metropolitan Basketball Association championship with the Pampanga Dragons it is well deserved. One time, during a practice for UST, he got on star player Dennis Espino’s case for loafing and being standoffish. Coach got in his star center’s face and growled for the whole gym to hear, “Akala mo ikaw ang siga dito? Star ka na kaya pwede kang tatamad-tamad? Kung gusto mo suntukan tayo!”

He kept Espino longer on the bench in favor of Chris Cantonjos and when the former felt that he was falling out of favor, humbled, he returned sans the coasting and played hard.

For all of his butting heads with Espino, the center remains the best player that he ever coached. In fact, Del Rosario named Espino, Edmund Reyes, Rey Evangelista, Udoy Belmonte, and Gerard Francisco as the five best players he ever coached at UST. No Pido Jarencio? No Julian Rabbi Tomacruz? No Alfrancis Chua? No Bong Hawkins? He coached them all while at UST.

“Nung mag-coach ako ng UST in the early 1980s, established players na sila,” explained Del Rosario. “Sila Espino at iba, nakuha ko eh hilaw pa yung iba. Yung iba nga hindi marunong. Kailangan turuan.”

And teach them he did. Eleven years after his glorious coaching run with UST, ending one of the longest coaching stints in Philippine sports history, Del Rosario now on his fourth season patrolling the sidelines of Perpetual Help Altas.

Since taking over a squad that was hounded by player eligibility problems, the Altas have taken off. The intensity is there. They jack up treys like there’s no tomorrow. And the mercilessly hound foes with that full court pressure defense. “Aric magic,” sportswriters describe the turn-around.

Del Rosario dispels it. “Basketbol lang,” he deadpans.

This season, he knows he doesn’t have the firepower that he had last year with the departure of Baloria and Arboleda to the pros. He has a young, mostly inexperienced squad with a lot of spunk in them. Aside from Thompson and Dizon, he has Ric Gallardo, Gab Daganon, Flash Sadiwa, and Bright Akhuetie to count on. This year, Del Rosario has a little more ceiling.

While San Beda is the team to beat once more in the NCAAs, this early, Del Rosario is crafting ways to beat them. He isn’t ready to concede the title to the Red Lions no matter if they still retain the championship core from seasons past. “Kung walang lalaban, eh iabot na natin yung trophy na ganitong kaaga pa lang at wag na tayo magaksaya ng oras at pera. Pero hindi ganun. Bilog yung bola. Malay mo makasungkit tayo ng panalo.”

The dream to is win one for Perpetual Help. And should his old alma mater in UST come calling, he wouldn’t hesitate to come back for one last tour of duty.

After he left in 2004, a number of UAAP teams asked for his services. While flattered, he turned them down. “Hindi ko kayang harapin yung dati kong team (UST). Mabuti pa kung mag-coach ako, sa ibang liga.”

It was like that for him in the pros. He was one of Bogs Adornado’s coaching staff holdovers when he joined Tim Cone’s staff. And that partnership made for an even better 1990s. Not only was he the hottest coach around winning UAAP and MBA titles but also he was part of a winning and dynastic Alaska squad in the PBA.

When he moved over to Mobiline/Talk ‘N Text, he found himself troubled facing Alaska. “Siguro kasi, loyal ako,” he surmised. “Sobrang loyal ako. Hindi ko kayang humarap sa dati kong koponan.”

And that brings us back to the Perpetual Help Altas.

In their second Filoil match, this time against a Letran squad with some holdovers from its failed back-to-back championship teams of a few years ago, his young Altas, still without Thompson, handily defeated the Knights, a team with a fearsome reputation for toughness.  He knows this augurs well for his young squad as they learn to fend for themselves. It’s a character-building win for Perpetual Help.

The match over, he did a Bruce Banner.

The color left his face and his features softened. The veteran coach smiled as he shook hands and offered some good words to both his players and foes alike. Ten he shuffled off the court with a little gait. And if you didn’t know that he was a basketball coach, he’d be like everyone’s favorite grandpa, a jolly good fellow with a yarn or two to tell.

He took off his Perpetual Help Altas t-shirt and traded it for the Filoil shirt worn by the staff running the tournament. He took his customary seat next to Badolato and Pepe Sanchez and sat. Impassive and emotionless. Attendant to the game as commissioner. The blood and fire waiting to erupt for another day.

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