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, December 3, 2015

Art dela Cruz reminisces about his college ball days after watching the UAAP Finals

This appears in the Monday, December 7, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.

Art dela Cruz reminisces about his college ball days after watching the UAAP Finals
by rick olivares pic from art's FB

The just-concluded UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals between eventual champion Far Eastern University and the University of Santo Tomas had Arthur dela Cruz reminiscing.

It has been scarcely over a month since the NCAA concluded its own season dela Cruz' six-peat seeking San Beda Red Lions were stopped dead in their tracks by Letran. Within days of the season’s conclusion, dela Cruz moved up to the BlackWater Elite in the PBA. Even as his professional basketball career got started, he followed the UAAP Finals with great interest. 

As an Ateneo Blue Eagle in 2010, he was a part of the three-peat team that defeated a FEU squad that had Mike Tolomia, Russel Escoto, Mac Belo, and Roger Pogoy in its roster. He moved back to San Beda the next year and was a part of three NCAA titlists from 2012-14. Dela Cruz found himself playing alongside some of the Tamaraws on different semi-pro squads and became friends with them. “In some ways, I could identify with them,” pointed out Art. “They had a bunch of seniors playing their last games in college. Although they were able to accomplish their goal while we were unable to achieve our own."

For all the championships he has won in high school and college, at the moment, dela Cruz thinks of the disappointment of not accomplishing the six-peat.

Since the October 29 Game Three overtime loss to the rival Knights,  dela Cruz has only returned to San Beda twice. During the two occasions he went back to the Mendiola campus of San Beda, he only went to the dorm and skipped dropping by the gym. “Nahihiya ako,” he can only offer.

During the past year, the Red Lions, focused on accomplishing the six-peat; something no NCAA school has achieved. They had lost the power-playing Semerad brothers and center Kyle Pascual to graduation but they still had enough in the tank for the historic go-around.

Unfortunately, their setbacks didn’t end with the graduation of some team stalwarts. They nexpectedly lost forward Jaypee Mendoza to eligibility concerns right before the start of the season. Mendoza was key especially during their summer campaign when they ran roughshod over the opposition en route to the FilOil crown. But because of age concerns, he was ruled ineligible to play. Then the Red Lions were dealt another bad hand when point guard Baser Amer suffered a shoulder injury on NCAA Season 91 opening day. And there was the adjustment to new coach in Jamike Jarin.

Yet in spite of everything, San Beda, topped the elimination round and looked like they were going to annex the crown. 

“The community expected us to win this,” related team manager Jude Roque. “After all, we had two African reinforcements while Letran had an all-Filipino crew.”

Furthermore, San Beda looked better than Letran heading into the Finals. They were the number offensive team and were better defensively than the Knights. For all the fearsome full court press of the Knights, they were only ranked seventh in the 10-team field (while San Beda was fourth).

Unfortunately, for the men in red, Letran pulled off the mother of all upsets in three matches.

Inside the disconsolate dugout at the MOA Arena, the only sound that could be heard was from the sobbing players. “No one spoke for a long time,” described dela Cruz. “How long? I am not sure. Then Coach Jamike asked to everyone that if they gave their best then they shouldn’t cry.”

Dela Cruz came within two assists of a triple double in Game Three and was named to the Mythical and Defensive Teams for the season but that is hardly any consolation. “I gave my best but it wasn’t good enough,” he conceded. “I’d trade all the awards for a championship."

“People say that we weren’t hungry anymore unlike Letran. That is not true,” debunked dela Cruz. “We wanted it. You’re chasing history. Some teams do not like to talk about certain goals but we did. It just didn’t happen.”

With the UAAP Finals done and college basketball fever abating, dela Cruz knows he’ll forget the heartbreak and bittersweet memories of the last few months as he concentrates on his PBA career. He didn’t have a great debut with BlackWater but he has played well since.

His unorthodox jumper, as much as it reminds many of Mac Cardona’s semi-hook shot, is hitting the bottom of the net in the PBA. “I developed that during my grade school days,” he cheerfully shared. “I was playing the point guard position at that time and hadn’t grown to my current height. I had to adjust my shot to get it up over the tall players. But what do you know? It’s going in!”

The challenges in the pros are different for dela Cruz. If he was used to handling the ball 70% of the time in San Beda now he has to give it up. He is playing with and against players with high basketball IQs. There are taller and stronger physical specimens and he is now lodged in the three-spot. And that suits him well. “I can shoot but I have to work more on my driving to the basket moves,” he relates.

“Now I am going up against guys like June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Greg Slaughter, and other taller, faster, and more physical players. It’s a challenge. But I welcome it."

“My dad says that in the pros you play for as long as you improve and show your worth,” related Arthur. “In college, you have five good years to play. When you’re done with college ball you can never go back again.”

True but there are always memories where you can retreat from time to time. Hopefully, he says, when he returns to San Beda’s campus, he’ll be more comfortable with the fact that he gave his alma mater a bunch of titles in high school and college. 

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