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.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A tale of two coaches (who will meet in the Filoil Cup semis): JRU's Vergel Meneses & San Beda's Jamike Jarin

This appears on

A look at two coaches: JRU’s Vergel Meneses and SBC’s Jamike Jarin
by rick olivares

With about six seconds left in the game and the result all but decided, University of the East head coach Derrick Pumaren crossed over to halfcourt where the winning mentor, Jose Rizal University’s Vergel Meneses met him.

Meneses took Pumaren’s hand and made mano.

While people close to him affectionately call the latter “manong”, the gesture is pure sign of respect. While the traditional Filipino gesture isn’t common on the hardcourt, Meneses always makes sure that he does that when he greets Pumaren.

“He is my mentor,” said Meneses. “He gave me my break – from the national team all the way to coaching. I can do no less.”

Four years ago, when Meneses, the former JRU star, took over the coaching the head coaching spot from Ariel Vanguardia who lifted the Heavy Bombers to lofty heights, he had Pumaren behind the bench as a team consultant to help him out. It seemed almost comical that on almost every play Meneses would turn around to look for some guidance on what to do during the game.

This summer, Meneses has finally come into his own, masterfully calling out plays, defensive schemes, and alignments to his players. Against UE, the Red Warriors kept storming back into the game just when it seemed that JRU was ready to pull away. All game long, the Heavy Bombers handled UE’s full court press well. The finished with only 12 turnovers but they harried their recto-based foes into 26 of their own while converting them into 24 points. They gave UE a taste of its own medicine by playing great defense. They had more steals, 3-2, and blocks, 7-4.

On offense, Meneses called it.

With UE down by four, the JRU head coach waved off center Abdel Poutouchi, point guard Paolo Pontejos, and power forward Balagtas. He pointed at small forward Jordan dela Paz to post up UE’s Edson Battiler. Meneses quickly realized the mismatch and the ball found its way to dela Paz who managed to elicit a foul from his UE guard. Penalty. Two free throws and JRU was up by six.

In another play, he pulled one of his players and pointed him to go to a corner. Two seconds later, the ball found its way to the Heavy Bomber who drained a triple.

In years past, Meneses found it hard to talk to his players. He is one of the best players ever to wear a JRU uniform. He’s also one of the PBA’s 40 Greatest Players. Talent on the court he had. Patience on it – as head coach – he didn’t. He’d curse, make snide remarks and gestures. Now after all the experience he’s soaked in, he’s more relaxed. He sees the game unfold. He makes the read and the adjustment. Plus, he smiles more. Why not? His Heavy Bombers are 8-1 heading into their semifinals clash in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup with NCAA nemesis San Beda.

I commend him for his coaching chops. Meneses grins fully appreciative. But he downplays this huge win for his school. “I have a long way to go,” he mussed. “Nothing gained yet. And we are now facing one of the best teams in the land in San Beda.”

The Red Lions. The past decade in the NCAA can be draped in Bedan red and white. And they can keep the party going despite the improvement of teams like Perpetual Help, Mapua, Arellano, and JRU.

That other nemesis… Letran. Well, they aren’t the same since losing their bigs like Raymond Almazan, Jonathan Belorio, and Jam Cortes to name a few. They live and die with guards Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac. They have some promising players but they don’t have the requisite experience or depth. Against the Red Lions in the quarterfinals, the Knights were never in the game. That is until the fourth quarter.

By the end of the third period, the Red Lions’ first year coach Jamike Jarin sat down his veterans and his key players off the bench.

On the court were the third and fourth stringers – Radge Tongco, Lance Abude, Franz Abuda, Alfred Sedillo, and Mari Presbiterio. They had a double-digit lead to work with but they relative youthfulness against a slightly more experienced Letran side saw them cough it up. As the Knights began to dispossess the Red Lions and score in bunches, the San Beda side grew quiet. The veterans on the bench looked concerned.

Center Ola Adeogun stood up unable to bear the agony of losing to a hated foe. “I can’t stand losing to them,” the Nigerian would later say. Adeogun went over to the far end of the bench where team captain Arthur dela Cruz sat atop a Gatorade cooler. He too wore the look of concern. At stake was a semifinals berth. Despite one turnover after another, Jarin made no motion to return his starters back in the game.

I had seen this before back when Jarin was head coach of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets where he stamped his class. “We (the starters) weren’t playing well,” recounted Ateneo forward Von Pessumal. “He benched us for the remainder of the game and only played the bench. Luckily, we won. It was a lesson for all of us.”

The Red Lions on the court had several opportunities to put the game beyond reach with a minute left to play but Tongco missed three free throws and Abuda missed an uncontested layup. And we haven’t even mentioned their turnovers.

With the opportunity to either send the game into overtime or win it, Letran muffed open shots, undergoal shots, point blank stabs, and a desperation three. San Beda survived.

As the jubilant Red Lions sang their school him, reserve player Ice Reyes (who played for Jarin at the Ateneo) said to his coach in the vernacular, “Coach, you sure have balls of steel.”

“That I have,” exclaimed Jarin to his team inside the locker room. “You see how can my players trust me if I do not trust them?”

Jarin, a noted defensive coach was also a master psychologist. He knows that this will give more experience and confidence to his bench players than any other game in the future. It will serve his San Beda team well in the long run. Weeks earlier, Arthur dela Cruz told the media that in the few months under Jarin, he has become better defensively and offensively. In the just concluded game, Adeogun became an even bigger believer of Jarin who is tasked to oversee the team’s chase for a sixth consecutive NCAA title. “I was nervous,” admitted the center. “When I looked at coach and he wasn’t worried then I calmed down. Why will I be worried when he isn’t worried?”

“Obviously, we have a different coach. Someone who is different than anyone who handled us before,” added dela Cruz who also played under Jarin in his one year at Ateneo in 2010 before returning to San Beda. At that time though, Jarin was simply the defensive coach of the Blue Eagles who won their third straight UAAP men’s hoops title that year. Now he is going to be dela Cruz’ final coach before he tries his luck in the PBA. “But I think he just pushes he right buttons. It is an honor to play for him.”

It is a very tense San Beda bench as Letran tries to pull a fastone on them with the Red Lions' third and fourth stringers on the court.

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