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, June 23, 2015

NCAA Season 91 Preview Part 1

This appears on

NCAA Season 91 Preview Part 1
by rick olivares

If the NCAA was watching the finals of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, a shudder must have gone up the spine of every team thinking they have a chance to knock San Beda College a peg or two from its decade of dominance. They crushed La Salle with so much ease, unerring focus, and incredible firepower – despite missing point guard Baser Amer – to pick up their first ever pre-season trophy.

Is this the start of what could be a historic season?

San Beda Red Lions
The road to the NCAA championship will have to go through Mendiola. They are the prohibitive favorite to annex their six straight NCAA title.

They still have plenty of holdovers from their previous title squads to see them through. They might not be as deep as they used to be but they arguably have three of the best starters in the league in Amer in the one-spot, Arthur dela Cruz in the power forward position, and Ola Adeogun at center. The rest are role players who know what to do and how to do it. Frightening combination if you ask me. You can’t even leave Jaypee Mendoza or Michole Sorela alone because they will burn you.

It looks like it’s a lean year for recruits this year as only Ice Reyes, the former Ateneo Blue Eaglet, is new to the squad. In my opinion, their singular biggest addition is head coach Jamike Jarin.

No disrespect to any of the previous coaches but this man is a teacher, motivator, and defensive guru all rolled into one. He will make the Red Lions individually better and bring them as whole. The summer gave the Red Lions a first look at their coach who introduced a whole new set of mind games designed to make them better. They ended the summer firm believers.

Now teams might be able to defeat the Red Lions in a game or two in the elimination round. However, as I have stipulated in previous years – beating them in two straight for the championship is altogether another matter.

Nevertheless, who are the contenders for the NCAA crown?

Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers
They won the Fr. Martin Cup as they took down the University of Santo Tomas and lost in the semis of the Filoil Cup to San Beda. The victory by the Golden State Warriors gives this team hope.

After all, they are the proponents of small ball and bombarding from the outside. In the aforementioned Filoil tourney, JRU hoisted the third most number of triples by a NCAA squad. Tops was Letran with 185 followed by EAC with 178 then JRU with 171.

They play with an undersized line-up sometimes utilizing three combo guards of which they have a plethora – the returning Paolo Pontejos, Teytey Teodoro, Dave Sanchez, and Gio Lasquety. This gives head coach Vergel Meneses flexibility to push the ball and press. They can bombard from the outside because they now have a workhorse underneath in Abdel Poutouchi and the much improved Abdulrazak Abdulwahab who seems to have finally understood what he can do for the team by playing rim protector and rebounding.

They have a pair of fine forwards in Jordan dela Paz and Marco Balagtas. The problem however is everyone tends to stand around while waiting for the guards to figure out what they want to do. The lack of movement hurts and causes them to be stagnant. What they prefer is a quicker type of offense.

But as Coach Vergel Meneses said, if they want to win they have to do it by playing defense (they were the best defensive team of the Filoil tournament).

Perpetual Help Altas
They are contenders because of one man – Nigerian center Bright Akhuetie. Along with Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme, Akhuetie elevates what is otherwise a team that is so-so despite the presence of last year’s Most Valuable Player in Earl Scottie Thompson (they did lose Jong Baloria, Justine Alano, and Harold Arboleda). Akhuetie’s work ethic is impressive and it would do well for others – especially the locals – to emulate. He works hard, never gives up, and is smart. His backup, compatriot Prince Eze is solid on defense but less polished on offense. He isn’t bad though.

The tandem of Akhuetie and Thompson will keep teams honest and that will give others like Crispin Elopre, Ric Gallardo, Gab Daganon, Gerald Dizon, Flash Sadiwa, Kevin Oliviera, and John Ylagan their looks.

If they are angling for a crack at the title then they have to make their move this year as it is Thompson’s last. It isn’t everyday you land a talent like him.

Arellano University Chiefs
How do they follow up a breakout and surprise season where they made the finals (although they were seriously outmatched in the finals)?

By hiding its team and not participating in pre-season tourneys. A mistake if you ask me. It would be nice to be wrong though.

Having written that, I don’t think they will be springing any surprises this year but they will definitely compete with their newfound confidence. They will count on Dioncee Holts, the much improved Jiovani Jalalon who has gained a lot of experience and valuable training with the national team to the SEA Games, Nichole Bangga, and the improving Mark Tano.

If their bench can help the starters then they will be back in the Final Four.

College of Saint Benilde Blazers
No Mark Romero. No Paolo Taha. No chance?

Not at all.

The Blazers will be out there battling all the way utilizing that small ball that they play so well. Even without their graduated stars, CSB still packs lots of firepower in Jonathan Grey, Raphael Nayve, Alfonso Saavedra, Ralph Deles, and the up and coming Carlo Young.

They like to push that ball every chance they get while playing harassing defense. JR Ongteco has improved his skills around the basket and that will give them some offense inside. They’ll match up with a lot of teams when it comes to starting fives but the bench is rather suspect.

However, their coaching staff – despite their manpower losses – are high on this team because of great attitude (which is essential) and high confidence.

If they want to realize their Final Four aspirations then they have to notch some early wins because the second round will be a free-for-all.

For Benilde, they really have to dedicate themselves to playing defense. And they can play defense. In the Filoil Cup, the were in the Top Five in holding teams down in scoring. Their problem? It’s playing the full 40 minutes and not the first 35.

If they can play consistently and four full periods, they have a chance of cracking that Final Four. Anything beyond that is pure gravy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When a bad call changes the complexion of a game

When a bad call changes the complexion of a game
by rick olivares

We all know how referees can alter a course of a game with inadvertent whistles or even biased calls. I thought that the title game of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup played last Sunday, June 14, between La Salle and San Beda was “harmed” by one such call.

With 10.6 seconds left to play in the first half, San Beda led, 32-21, as their quick ball movement punished the Green Archers. Red Lions head coach Jamike Jarin sent in third stringers – Alfred Sedillo, Jayvee Mocon, Amiel Soberano – to complement starters Ice Reyes and Jaypee Mendoza. Reyes picked up La Salle’s Jeron Teng who tried to drive.

Whistle. Foul.

Incredibly, the referee whistled three free throws. Teng was more than a foot inside the arc. He didn’t pull up for the shot until well after Reyes’ foul. The Bedan bench and gallery rose in angry protest at the bad call. Jarin complained so vociferously that he was assessed a technical foul. Center Ola Adeogun kicked a huge cardboard box of popcorn onto the court and was also given a technical foul. The whole mess took several minutes to sort out and to be pacified before Teng hit all five free throws given to him to cut the lead to 32-26. What seemed like a semi-comfortable margin for San Beda now wasn’t anything like it now.

On court, the Bedan gallery rained abuse on the referees as they made their way to the sanctuary of their room. Inside San Beda’s locker room, the team was given three minutes to regain their composure.

“Marami sa amin galit na galit,” recounted Arthur dela Cruz. “Mali kasi yung tawag. Maling mali.”

After the short reprieve, Jarin gathered his team and discussed the game plan and adjustments heading into the second half of play.

The Red Lions team that returned to the court for the third quarter was different. If there was a joy to their game in the late first quarter heading into the second as they tore apart La Salle’s defense with quick ball movement and pinpoint passing, they wore their game faces now. Stoic. Smoldering anger.

In their first offensive, Adeogun pulled down an offensive board and put it back for an and-one. Teng was whistled for an offensive foul after which Thomas Torres turned the ball over. If there was anyone I thought who would play with a chip on his shoulder it was Torres. He played extremely well in the latter stage of the tournament with some incredible shooting and quarterbacking. But he wasn’t going to make the mythical selection for the tournament because others simply had better stats.

That was diffused by San Beda’s second half onslaught.

Dan Sara pressed and filched the ball from Torres. Koga was fouled by Torres who cussed and was levied a technical foul.

Dela Cruz found a cutting Mendoza with a nifty bounce pass for a layup. Adeogun muscled inside for a twinner. The lead was 14, 40-26, when La Salle rookie Andrei Caracut buried a triple.

Dela Cruz found Mendoza again for an undergoal stab. Adeogun used two hands in rejecting a strong Abu Tratter drive then Koga fed Mendoza on the break for a deuce. Caracut drilled another three.

It seemed that San Beda could do no wrong as they finished the period, 59-37. After Caracut’s third period triples, his guns fell silent the rest of the way. But Jeron Teng courageously tried to pick up the slack. But it wasn’t enough.

The Green Archers have a young squad with some seasoned veterans. Whatever their experience, they have never encountered anything like this before with the crowd howling in equal parts disgust and gusto and their opponent cranking up their game several notches higher. They wore their youth and inexperience on their faces. I thought that they recoiled from the ferocity shown by San Beda and save for Teng and in certain instances by Jason Perkins who banged around, they didn’t respond.

The Red Lions didn’t let up on the barrage to finish with a 26-point rout, 79-53, to bag their first Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup.

It is rather unfortunate that a bad call like that spoiled what could have been a grand finals between the two schools that have squared off from the Yolanda benefit game to the last PCCL finals and now two consecutive Filoil Cups. Despite the lead at that time, I didn’t think for one minute that La Salle was out of it. They started out well but San Beda answered with a run of their own. Even with a young team, they have the talent to compete. After all, they made it this far even without Arnold Van Opstal who was playing in the D-League and Prince Rivero who was on national team duty. They had injuries at one time or another to Teng to Kib Montalbo who still cannot play.

If La Salle won, they would have been one step away from the Perpetual Trophy of the Filoil tourney. Pre-season or not, it is something good to have in one’s trophy case.

Hopefully, when the college season tips off, we won’t have many of this terrible calls that affect a team’s performance.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Analyzing JRU’s loss to San Beda in the Filoil Cup semis

This appears in the Monday, June 15, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.

Analyzing JRU’s loss to San Beda in the Filoil Cup semis
by rick olivares

The late rally had tantalized. Given hope. But it ultimately fizzled out. The San Beda Red Lions looked like they would stroll to an easy win over the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers in their match-up in the semifinals of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup.

Up to the early fourth period, JRU had only one meaningful spurt and that wasn’t spurred by its regular scorers like Abdel Poutouchi, Paolo Pontejos or Teytey Teodoro. It was Ghanaian reserve center Abdul Razakwahab who not only swatted two shots (that was the official tally but he looked to have gotten at least one or two more) that led to some easy baskets.

Defense. It is hard to imagine correlate that with these Heavy Bombers. It was their calling card back when they had players like Marvin Hayes, John Wilson, and James Sena to name a few. Since then…. well, they went back to their old bombarding ways. Sniping from the outside with reckless abandon while turning the ball over just as much.

Last year, they were good offensively behind scorers Zam Paniamogan, Jaycee Asuncion, and Michael Mabulac. This year with chemistry still being developed and players blowing hot and cold, their calling card was their defense. And they had the 8-1 record heading into the semifinals match with San Beda to prove it.

The problem with playing San Beda is that opponents want to get the jump on them. Gigil is the word. To show them up. Score on them; taunt them even. But that isn’t the proper game plan. The idea is to stay focused, just play the game, defend and when the opportunity arises, score. All that can be distilled into one word – execution. That’s all there is.

Unfortunately for the Heavy Bombers, on a day where their head coach Vergel Meneses wasn’t available (due to personal reasons it was said), their players made plenty of poor decisions.

The problem with JRU is they live and die with the play of their corps of guards – Pontejos, Teytey Teodoro, Gio Lasquety, Dave Sanchez, and Mark dela Virgen. With Lasquety still out after being knocked to the court two matches ago, the others kept jacking up shots. The problem is they do not take them within the flow of the game. They were looking to score points. The old Heavy Bombers lineup of Cagoco, Hayes, and company liked to pass that ball around. The only one who would have fit right into this current crop of conscience-less Heavy Bombers was Wilson who never met a shot that he didn’t like.

With that mindset, it is hard for them to get teammates into the flow. More on that in a bit as we look at their forwards.

Forward Marco Balagtas is dependent on how, when, and where he gets the ball. Counterpart Jordan dela Paz can play both ends of the court but needs to be more cognizant that he can do more by slashing to the basket as opposed to taking jumpshots. The other forwards, Ervin Gorospe and Kim Aurin who both sometimes start are the same. They are like robots. Aurin has to work on his jumper that is in local parlance, “masyadong matulis.” He needs to follow through on that shot and give it some more spiral to go in.

Aurin and Gorospe started the first and third periods. They both finished with one assist. Their starting Bedan counterparts – Art dela Cruz and Jaypee Mendoza – has 11 assists between them. JRU’s starting guards of Teodoro and Sanchez finished with seven assists; the same as SBC’s Ryusei Koga and Ranbill Tongco. So the forwards were a huge difference.

The starting centers JRU’s Poutouchi and SBC’s Pierre Tankoua both canceled each other out with subpar games. Of the centers who came off the bench, Razakwahab had a bigger impact on the game for JRU than Ola Adeogun did for SBC and that gave the Heavy Bombers a little hope.

San Beda looked like they were going to cruise when they spotted JRU a 16-point lead, 70-54, when Razakwahab inspired another rally. With Teodoro finding the range and then Pontejos draining two treys (4-9 from that zip code), the lead was cut to one, 75-74. But two badly executed possessions with shots taken from Jimmy Alapag range ended any chance of forging overtime or winning the game outright.

Dela Cruz scored on a crucial putback (in addition to a pair of coast-to-coast layups that is unpardonable when you think that the defense was set) and an assist to Adeogun to help put JRU away, 81-77, to enter the finals.

If you look at the basic defensive stats, San Beda, with subpar games from Tankoua and Adeogun grabbed 37 rebounds to JRU’s 30. They had six steals to the Heavy Bombers’ two. JRU came up aces in blocks, 6-1. And here’s the rub – SBC shot 53% to the 41% of JRU. The poor shot selection definitely was a factor.

Why is this massive? You are playing the five-time NCAA champs who are going for a sixth consecutive title. It is theirs to lose at this point.

It’s the pre-season but if the Heavy Bombers want to make serious headway in the upcoming NCAA tourney then they will have to play consistent and better defense and to make smarter decisions in their playmaking and shot selection.

Friday, June 12, 2015

My thoughts on the Azkals 2-1 win over Bahrain

Thoughts on the Azkals 2-1 win over Bahrain
by rick olivares

Here are my thoughts about the Philippines, 2-1, win over Bahrain.

I liked the speed.
This is of course not new. The team over the course of the past four years has become first, more conditioned, then more skilled, and more mentally tough.

One key call up in recent years has been Misagh Bahadoran and last night against Bahrain he was at his usual best. And that means blazing up and down the pitch chasing balls, marauding, being a pest, and scoring goals.

He latched onto a well-placed pass by Phil Younghusband that dropped just behind the Bahrain defender and Bahadoran got a boot on it to send it through.

Speed isn’t just being faster than the opponent. In football, the speed of thought and moving up the ball is just as crucial. I like the faster pace that head coach Thomas Dooley has installed. Again, previous coaches have been trying to improve the composition, defense, talent, and speed of the game. And the Philippines has become entertaining to watch. No more sitting back and parking the MRT in front of the goal. They go on the attack and in methodical patterns.

The faster pace may be fun but it can also lead to recklessness. Now more on that later.

When Bahrain pressed early in the second half, the Azkals countered with passing the ball to the weak side to open up the play and spread Bahrain’s defense. And the result was two early goals that ultimately made the difference.

Phil Younghusband is still darn very good.
For so long, the PMNT has been looking for a player to complement and eventually replace Phil Younghusband when he hangs up his boots. So many have come and gone. And Phil is still right there and will go down as the best player to don a national uniform.

Now, I’d just like to correct a misconception about Phil Younghusband’s play in the middle last night. That wasn’t the first time. He played that role with Chelsea’s youth and reserve teams as well as for Loyola and the Azkals before. If you ask me, he thrives on this. The days of him playing upfront for the national squad might be over as he is oft marked well and roughly tackled putting the fear of God into everyone every time he goes down. Moving him to the back not only makes sense but is also more of a natural move for Phil.

The Captain is a very good passer. An underrated one and a playmaker to boot. He showed that last night with that perfect pass to Bahadoran. And his thundercracker of a shot from 30 yards out that Sayed Mohammad Abbas was barely able to stop.

That goal of Javi Patiño was his second in a national kit. It came at a great time. Now hopefully, he will be able to contribute more.

The team looks mighty good.
On the pitch last night were four veterans from the 2010 Suzuki Cup – Phil, goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defender Rob Gier, and midfielder Manny Ott. That’s not so bad. There’s continuity.

Some of the players who came up soon after that game-changing tourney are back – Stephan Schrock who I said before was one of the more important call ups in recent history, Jerry Lucena who has become a key figure on defense. It is unfortunate that Schrock suffered a knee injury just when he was making his triumphant return to the national side.

And there are those gem of finds in Martin Steuble, Daisuke Sato, and Simone Rota, and now new finds Ian Ramsay and Stephan Palla. On the reserve are Patrick Reichelt who has also been an impact player for the team. Amani Aguinaldo, and Patrick Deyto to name a few.

Am worried about the propensity to concede late goals.
Not to take anything away from this huge World Cup Qualifying win but that late goal troubled me. They switched from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 late in the game to conserve on energy and play better defense. But I do have a problem when you try to hold on and not go on the offense and put them opposing team on the defensive. That opens you up to mistakes.

Consider this.

In last year’s Peace Cup, the Azkals surrendered three late goals (in the last 10 minutes). Thomas Dooley places a premium on the first 15 minutes of play and the last 15 minutes because this is where you make adjustments and where you hold fast.

In that Peace Cup, the PMNT gave up goals to Chinese Taipei and Myanmar that eventually won the trophy.

Against eventual Suzuki Cup champion Thailand, they also conceded another late goal in their semifinals meeting.

Against Bahrain, Abdulwahab Al Malood might have scored the goal of the match when he slalomed through the defense from their side of the middle third passed off once to a teammate before sending a delicate shot that found the back of the net by the far post. He went right through Manny Ott, Jerry Lucena, Juani Guirado, and eventually Neil Etheridge for the goal. That was a 60-yard run!  

In spite of that late goal, it was still a massive win. The new format for World Cup Qualification can give us a chance (well technically, a lot of others as well) to advance deep into the tournament. The team looks pretty good and they run a good system. They’re massively talented and they make for fun viewing. Hopefully, more people turn up to support them.

We held fast on our homefield. Now to win another on the road.