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, August 30, 2016

The Lonely Vigil along España: UST captain Louie Vigil talks about this season of discontent

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The Lonely Vigil along España: UST captain Louie Vigil talks about this season of discontent
by rick olivares

If you talk to the University of Santo Tomas’ Louie Vigil, probe deeper into his soul, he’ll tell you maybe the world is conspiring against him. 

Coming out of high school, he was a blue chipper; one who scored a ton of points for the Jose Rizal University Light Bombers. In college, he went to La Salle, found himself miscast there and transferred to UST. He helped the team to two finals appearances both of which ended up in the worst heartache possible and in between he sat out a year due to academic problems. Now just a few months ago, on the eve of his final college season, Vigil was told that he couldn’t play because the league decided to lower the age eligibility. Then a week or so later, it was rescinded and he was back in the line-up.

“It is annoying,” says Vigil with a contemptuous tone of the seemingly never ending drama that surrounds him and his teams if not his playing career. “It’s like they are toying with my emotions and my mind.” 

"When you’re close to the end (of his college playing days), everything happens fast and you want them to go a little slower so you could savor them. But they slip away fast. Hopefully, something good comes out.”

Any talk about the new season for the UST Growling Tigers means one has to inevitably recall the failures of seasons past. “There’s no hiding from it,” he puts. “Let’s admit it, there’s talk. Too much talk."

Vigil admits that he’s heard all the talk about teammates dropping matches on purpose and some such. “We’ve come close to winning it all on two occasions in my time in UST,” he muses using his fingers to indicate the mere inches his school is away from cage glory. “I hear them even when you don’t want to. You have classmates and friends come up to you and ask if it is true. I really don’t know. All I know is it hurts.”

He stews on that for a few moments. Maybe he has for the past few months. He’d like to, on the other hand, focus on the here and now.

Vigil is this year’s captain for the Growling Tigers and he intends to make it count and if possible, go out in a blaze of glory. “Everyone is saying we’re not going to win anything; we’ll be at the bottom of the standings, and so on. I think it’s good because one, there are fewer expectations and maybe we can come in and steal games from them. I also think it’s bad because I really want to win. My teammates and I want to win. We want to do this for the school, my teammates, and myself.”

"I tell my younger teammates not to pay any attention to the negative talk. That isn’t going to help us. What we can do is work hard during practice and come out and play the game. And as captain, I will do what I can and everything that I can.”

Does he have any regrets about the choices he’s made in the past few years? “No,” he says shaking his head. “None. You have to live with your choices and make the most of them.”

Like this season.

He stews on it for a moment to measure and find the right words.

Louie Vigil nods. 

“Like this season."

UAAP Season 79 Preview: Is a title pre-ordained for La Salle?

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UAAP Season 79 Preview: Is a title pre-ordained for La Salle?
by rick olivares

A championship isn’t only decided on talent, depth, and coaching. There’s also timing and health.

Throughout UAAP history, we’ve seen talented, deep, and superbly coached squads not win it at all. Most recently, the Adamson Falcons of Alex Nuyles and company as coached by Leo Austria never came within sniffing distance. There are the perennial powerhouse teams of the University of the East from the Boysie Zamar led teams of a few years ago that featured Roi Sumang and others to the team of heartbreakers from the new millennium that featured James Yap, Ronald Tubid, and Paul Artadi.

Those teams had the misfortune of running into the dynastic Ateneo Blue Eagles and the La Salle Green Archers or even the Far Eastern University Tamaraws of those varying eras.

This year, it seems that one team has put it all together… and that’s the La Salle Green Archers.

Theirs is a roster of talented veterans like Jeron Teng, Thomas Torres, and Abu Tratter and promising rookies Aljun Melecio and Ricci Rivero aided and abetted by their powerhouse African reinforcement, Ben Mbala who is this team’s X-factor. Plus, they’ve got a superb head coach in Aldin Ayo who has seemed to put it all together.

Timing? Most schools are de-powered and are in rebuilding mode having lost their veteran core. 

Health. They only lost JayBoy Gob to a knee injury but this team is so deep that the sophomore’s loss nary registered a seismic blip.

It goes without saying that DLSU is the hands down favorite to win it all. However, is it a foregone conclusion?

Not really. This is why you play. We’ve seen favorites upset through the years due to teams peaking at the right time, key injuries, and the luck of the bounce. But that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, what makes this team go is Ben Mbala. He showed everyone what is to come when he thoroughly dominated the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup during the summer, smashing the single-season scoring record (that was previously held by FEU’s RR Garcia), racking up numbers in rebounds and block shots aside from double doubles. he was also named Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player.

His presence has benefitted everyone. With him in and around the lane, it has allowed Tratter, previously under-achieving to become a monster tag team partner underneath the boards. With Ben around, La Salle’s shooters have an even greater license to shoot as they know there’s someone to clean up after them.

On the defensive end, Mbala also erases or changes the shots of those who are able to get by the tough cordon around the basket. But the team defense doesn’t begin there. It starts with the patented fullcourt press that Ayo employed with Letran to devastating effect during the past NCAA season where the Knights emerged triumphant. What makes it even more frightening is DLSU has the talent, blue chippers, depth, and athleticism to make this work. And they have. 

La Salle made the fullcourt press its signature when the Pumarens were running the show. Under Ayo, this one looks like a four quarters of hell on steroids.

Mbala’s presence has emboldened other players. Watching Jolo Go and Andrei Caracut take those shots with confidence. That’s frightening. During the summer, Torres admitted that the goal was to win every game and every league in sight. And that is definitely possible.

La Salle though is far from a one-man show. Jeron Teng has improved his perimeter game in the last two years. His field goal percentage is pretty high although he doesn’t crash the boards as often as he did with Mbala and Tratter owning the lane.

With the freakish dominance of Mbala and the emergence of Tratter, it is up to Prince Rivero and Jason Perkins to find themselves within the system and flow of the game. Watching them in the pre-season they struggled with the fewer minutes and touches. But that should be fine, right?

The goal after all is a championship. And these lads are on their way to one. The gauntlet has been hurled. Come stop them from rampaging towards the title. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

UAAP Season 79 Preview: Where to, Ateneo Blue Eagles?

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UAAP Season 79 Preview: Where to, Ateneo Blue Eagles? 
by rick olivares

This was the season where the Ateneo Blue Eagles were supposed to compete for the UAAP Men’s Basketball crown. And I do mean compete. And so they lost key players to academics during a turbulent summer and they all departed for other schools. 

Yet despite being crippled, the Blue Eagles incredibly finished third in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup. If they had everyone for the ride, imagine how good they would be especially since they added two crucial people in the months since.

That’s done with and here’s the now. Let’s answer the questions.

Can they compete for a Final Four slot?
Most definitely. There are only three slots that will be contested as one will automatically go to La Salle, the prohibitive favorite to annex the crown. Other squads like Adamson, Far Eastern University, National University, University of the Philippines, and University of the East have post-season designs so nothing will be easy. 

That begs another batch of questions: can second-year center Chibueze Ikeh stand his ground against the Ben Mbalas of this league? Who will provide the points now that Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have graduated? Can this team play defense like the defense of old? 

Can they solve the Riddle of the Man in the Middle?
All the past Ateneo champion teams have featured top-flight centers — Danny Francisco, Rico Villanueva, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Greg Slaughter. If Ateneo wants to realize its Final Four ambitions and beyond, Ikeh has to play solid and not soft as he sometimes does. He cannot have butterfingers when it comes to grabbing that rebound or loose ball. And he ought to pound it inside. He came on strong during the latter part of the Filoil tourney. If he can continue that all the way to the UAAP, then the Blue Eagles will have that force in the middle. 

I’ve wondered why we don’t have that African stud in the middle the way the Green Archers, the Growling Tigers, the Bulldogs, or even the Altas have over in the NCAA.

Kris Porter, GBoy Babilonia, and Isaac Go will platoon at that slot. I like their improvement, aggressiveness, and confidence. That should help. But the onus is on Ikeh to dominate. 

if the big man don’t show up then it’s going to be even tougher.

Where will the points come from?
I said it last season and I will say it again, Aaron Black will be a big time scorer for Ateneo and he will get that chance to do it this year. He will also have ample support from Thirdy Ravena who will be back with a vengeance after missing out last season due to academics. Another big time player for this team will be Tyler Tio who got his baptism of fire during the summer. He had a great first match against UE then struggled after. Welcome to the college ranks! It’s not high school ball as most of everyone is taller than you.

Fil-Ams Raffy Verano and Jawuan White will help out. Said team manager Chris Quimpo of White, “hulog ng langit” as he just walked in and claimed a roster spot.

Basically, this is a team that can score. Matt Nieto is better after a learning season on the bench. Vince Tolentino has finally shown flashes of what he can really do. Anton Asistio can bombard from the outside. If God gifts Matt Nieto with a jumpshot he will be even more formidable. 

The next question is, can they defend?

Can these Blue Eagles play defense?
During the summer tourney, they finished 10th in the Filoil defensive rankings. But that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. As the competition wore on, they got better. In fact, prior to their semis loss, Ateneo shut down the high-powered offenses of National University, Adamson, and Perpetual Help. So yes, they can. I am sure in the months since, the coaching staff will have worked on improving their defense.  

As much as their version of the three headed monster is vital, any road to the Final Four and beyond will be determined how Ikeh plays. He proved to be the rim protector they need however, he needs to stay away from foul trouble to be even more effective.

I also like the their willingness to work. They will hustle, crash the boards, and challenge shots. Seeing Matt Nieto do all the little things he did in high school and do so while undersized once more in the college ranks, it’s impressively. This team is deep, long, and athletic. They just have to put it all together. 

Is this team hungry?
Definitely. They came within a basket of making the finals last year. Don’t think that does not motivate the Blue Eagles at all. It does. 

In the pre-season, Tab Baldwin said this team’s battle cry will be “One Big Fight.” Now that sounds ornery, right? No. It takes on a different meaning especially now.

After everyone they lost. After the adversity they face. Given the odds of facing even more veteran-laden teams like La Salle, UP, and UE…. they are literally in for a fight. And they will give it just that.

Having said all of that, their manpower losses notwithstanding, this team can be an unlikely finalist. Yep. Even with all their losses, they still have the talent, motivation, and the smarts to make it.

Anton Asistio - guard
Gideon Babilonia - forward-center
Joaquin Banzon - point guard
Aaron Black - shooting guard
Jose Manuel Escaler - forward
Isaac Go - center
Shaun Ildefonso - forward
Jolo Mendoza - guard
Chibueze Ikeh - center
Matt Nieto - point guard
Mike Nieto - forward
Kris Porter - forward-center
Ferdinand Ravena III - forward
Tyler Tio - point guard
Vince Tolentino - forward
Raffy Verano - forward
Jawuan White - guard
Adrian Wong - guard

UAAP Season 79 Preview: A time to soar for the Adamson Falcons

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UAAP Season 79 Preview: A time to soar for the Adamson Falcons
by rick olivares

There’s hope for the first time in years that this year’s Adamson Soaring Falcons will fly higher more than just their nickname dictates.

With new management, new coaching staff, and a wholly new cast of players that have given a very good account of themselves in the pre-season, this year’s Falcons have taken a step forward and will contend for a Final Four slot; a play-offs spot they have not made since Season 74.

The rebuilding of the Falcons in the post-Leo Austria years has been marked by transition. Austria led Adamson to its best basketball years since Hector Calma skippered the Falcons to its first and only UAAP title in 1978. Under Austria, Adamson made its only three Final Four Appearances in 2006 and 2010-11. 

With the fresh transfusion, these Falcons are poised to challenge the traditional powers of the league. “We were handling the school’s women’s volleyball team when Adamson’s management asked three years ago if we could also help out their basketball team,” related Russel Balbacal, sports director of Akari Lighting and Technology Corporation, the squad’s new major sponsor. “The first task was looking for a new coach and one of those that we first wanted was Ryan Gregorio who coached Purefoods to two PBA championships. He told us that he wanted to go back to the corporate world and he had — for the moment - given up coaching.”

As fate would have it, a former teammate of Calma’s in the professional ranks suddenly became available after a stint in the PBA. "All of a sudden, Franz Pumaren was no longer coaching in the PBA and so we immediately sought his services,” added Balbacal. “Not only is he one of the best coaches around but he is the sort of coach who can turn things around for a team. We are very lucky and fortunate enough to get him.”

Pumaren wasted no time in working the hardcourt magic that he is known for. In the recent Filoil Flying V Premier Cup, his Falcons doggedly battled UAAP title favorite La Salle for the better part of three quarters before falling apart in their very first outing. However, the team got noticeably better as the tournament went on as they booked a spot in the quarterfinals where they ultimately lost to Ateneo. “As you can see, we have 10 new players with only six holdovers from last season,” said Pumaren of his young team. “The challenges are to teach them to play the system we want, to work on certain skills that we feel are wanting, and to play consistently. Management has also armed us and supported us well and now we hope that we can make a good showing of ourselves in the UAAP.”

“We were able to provide the team with as fitness and conditioning coach (Diego Lozano), a big man coach (Tonichi Yturri and Don Allado), a shooting coach (Ren-ren Ritualo); basically what they need,” clarified Balbacal of Akari Sports support. “(Center) Papi Sarr would say that he hoped to get some supplements and we were able to provide that not only for him but also the team.”

“What we are also trying to do is change the culture of not only of the team but also Adamson,” added Pumaren. “I think with the Fil-Americans that we have, we want to show that they not only go to the Ateneos and La Salles of this world and that Adamson is also a very good choice.”

Management and coaching staff have instituted a “defense first” policy. “That’s how teams win championships,” said Pumaren who when he ran his press for more than a decade over at La Salle was dreaded by every team. “But to be able to play what we want we have to make sure their minds and bodies are fit.”

During the Filoil tourney, Adamson was fifth in scoring and second in three-point field goals made, and fifth in free throws attempted in the 16-team league. On the other hand, they were ranked 12th overall in team defense. “That meant we had our work cut out for us and in the months since that tournament ended, I hope that the work we have done has addressed our defensive woes,” revealed Pumaren.

The holdovers from last seasons Falcons squad include do-everything forward JDee Tungcab; shooting guard Harold Ng; forward-centers Dawn Ochea, Christian Bernardo, and Simon Camacho; and center Papi Sarr. 

Some of the newcomers expected to contribute right away include guards Terence Mustre who last played for La Salle during the 2012-14 seasons, Nicholas Parañada, Jimboy Pasturan, and Robbie Manalang who drew raves for his heady play and shooting during the pre-season. There’s also shooting guard Jerrick Ahanmisi and forward Sean Maganti who can make things happen on both ends of the floor.

Added Harold Ng after the summer tourney, “Now we have more weapons for every game."

NAASCU - the Third League

This appears in the Monday, August 29, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The third league
by rick olivares

Last Thursday, the 16th season of the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities opened to great fanfare at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect much more so since it was in that ancient relic of a hoop house along Roxas Boulevard. But…. I…. had a great time.

I had not covered the league in eight years and even when I followed the matches back then, I did so sporadically. It was a welcome surprise to be back in it. NAASCU doesn’t get the buzz, coverage, hype, or even interest that its older siblings - the NCAA and the UAAP — get and I can understand that since they’re older and more glamorous and with the top schools in the land. 

On opening day, the venue was packed and the crowds were roaring with every dance number, gyrations, dunk, lay-up, block, and basket. For the opening program, there were no elaborate sets. No fancy light show. Just a short welcoming talk, a Mr. and Ms NAASCU Contest, and a short dance number that had people in the stands dancing and howling. Like a noon-time show, I thought. And maybe it isn’t so bad.

I can appreciate their underdog feel. The unappreciated and anonymous toiling in what is a labor of love and a shot at their hoops dreams. And apparently, there are others with a certain appreciation — schools from the NCAA and the UAAP that raid their ranks of talent.

However, it isn’t a one-way ticket. Incredibly, St. Clare College’s Paeng Rebugio used to play for Jose Rizal University in the NCAA under Vergel Meneses. He transferred because he sat behind a deep guard corp. I can understand that as well. What is the point of sitting behind the first and second string point guards? 

National University has taken a couple of St. Clare hoopsters. One of them, I heard, has de-camped for a rival NCAA school. 

“I think the NAASCU has potential,” said commissioner Fritz Gaston who during his basketball career starred for the Ateneo Blue Eagles when they were still playing in the NCAA. “We’ve got 14 schools right now and that may be a lot but a single round robin with only the top teams advancing to the next round will ensure highly-competitive matches.”

Competitive indeed. The season’s opening match between St. Clare and AMA Computer College was just that with each team trading runs. The contest was settled only in the final three minutes that ended in a SCC victory. Opening day was fund and I tremendously enjoyed myself. 

“Fourteen teams sounds like a lot but I think it’s also good because people look at our league as a vehicle and good option for their school’s athletic teams,” added NAASCU Chairman Dr. Jay Adalem who promised to address the lack of awareness and media on a national level. “The task also is to identify talent and hope that they can be representative of our nation’s best whether it be with the national team or the PBA.”

Third league, I posted to Dr. Adalem.

“Yes, third. But the beauty about third is you can always go up."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Legend says goodbye to a Legend (From Sonny Jaworski to Coach Baby Dalupan)

The Big J with that tender moment with his late coach.
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A Legend says goodbye to a Legend
by rick olivares 

Robert Jaworski patiently waited his turn as the congregation at the Mass of the Resurrection at the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola  for the late Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan lined up to pay their last respects. A teammate of his from the University of the East, Joseph Wilson, who was ahead of him in the line, was failing in maintaining his composure. He fought back the tears and said, “I owe what I am to that man.”

A few minutes later, Jaworski found himself in front of Dalupan’s coffin. He looked at his old coach during his collegiate playing days at UE then placed his massive right hand, that hand that once easily gripped and palmed basketballs as if they were volleyballs, on top of the glass. The man they called “the Living Legend” never gave in to pain on the hardcourt. He was a tough man who played even tougher. 

Yet on this day, Jaworski showed a tenderness that he was also known for to friends and fans to a man who channeled his talent, who coached him and coached against him, and who was at once a father, mentor, and friend to him. 

“Paalam, coach,” he said as he coast a loving look at the late 92-year old coach who succumbed last Wednesday, August 17, due to complications arising from a recurring battle with pneumonia. “I have always cherished you when you were alive and now that you’re gone, I cherish you even more.”

Jaworski said no more and bowed his head. He played for Dalupan at the University of the East for college winning championships in the UAAP from 1964-67. He also suited up for the coach for the World University Games in 1967 and the Asian Games in 1970. From there, the two parted ways as Dalupan further carved out a name for himself as a brilliant coach. The man dubbed “the Maestro” won a grand total of 52 championships not only in UE but also in his return to his alma mater, Ateneo, but also in the pro ranks with the dynastic Crispa Redmanizers and the Great Taste Coffeemakers but also later with Purefoods.

Jaworksi, the protege, likewise cut his eyeteeth on the court; hence, “the Living Legend.” He won nine championships in the PBA and coached four title teams as playing coach. As an ultimate honor, Jaworski was named head coach when the first all-professional national team was formed during the 1990 Asian Games where the team took home a silver medal. For his blood and guts, never-say-die approach to the game, Jaworski endeared himself to a legion of fans. By the time, he hung up his sneakers in 1998, he had joined his coach in the basketball firmament as one of its all-time greats.

Now with his old mentor one last time as he was soon going to be cremated, the Big J, in a final gesture, kissed the glass. Stood to compose himself then turned to hug the coach’s widow, Nenang who sat nearby. “He always talked fondly about you,” she told the Big J who fought back the tears.

The Big J gave her a long and tender hug and whispered words of love and encouragement to Nenang. No more had to be said, theirs was a shared history longer than with most people. Jaworski planted a kiss on her forehead then let go. He nodded then joined Wilson near the altar as the coffin was prepared for a funeral procession. 

“When I won my first PBA championship (the 1986 Open Conference that saw a Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett reinforced Ginebra team defeat Manila Beer in five games), I shared this with Coach Baby,” shared Jaworski later with Wilson and some family members of the Dalupans and the Floros nearby. “He told me to cherish and celebrate the championship with the people who got you there because they understand how difficult the journey was and in doing so we formed a bond.”

“I think looking back at those words from what — 30 years ago — they ring even more true,” added the Big J. “And here inside this Church, I see former teammates and colleagues who share that bond. Even the players on his other teams from Ateneo or even Great Taste they are here. All are here because of those bonds. And that makes this special. It is what makes Coach Baby special. And we should be thankful for that."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The gods must be crazy: Steve Fongue’s journey from Cameroon to the Philippines

This appears in the Wednesda, August 24, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The gods must be crazy: Steve Fongue’s journey from Cameroon to the Philippines
by rick olivares

You remember the film, “The gods must be crazy”? 

That 1980 film featured an African busman who lives in the Kalahai desert and whose life is changed when an empty bottle of Coca Cola that is dropped from an airplane hits him on the head. It sends him on a whirlwind journey of discovery that is hilarious and at once poignant.

For Steve Fongue, the Yaounde, Cameroon native, the “bottle” that bonked him on the head is a leather spheroid; one that sent him scurrying to go online. However, we’re getting ahead of the story.

Fongue grew up loving football. It is not only the world sport but the national sport. I woke up, ate some breakfast and went out and played. I played until the sun went down,” recalled Fongue. “I had dreams of playing for Real Madrid. The Bernabeu. The Galacticos."

He then lets out a laugh. "Except that I wasn’t so good and I became too tall.”

At six-foot-six, Steve was asked if he wanted to play goalkeeper where he could use his height and length to stop a lot of shots. “Not it’s not for me. I didn’t seem like a good idea that people would score goals on me.”

The young lad’s dreams of glory on the football had taken a detour albeit to the basketball hardcourt. He excelled in the game and soon had dreams of following his countrymen in the NBA — Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (Portland Trailblazers 2011-03), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), and Luc Mbah a Moute (now with the Los Angeles Clippers). He was then asked if he would like to play abroad and get an education while at it.

“The US? Europe?” he asked with his excitement brewing. “I could be close to watch LeBron (James) and all the other NBA players."

“No, the Philippines,” he was told. 

His face contorted in dismay. 

“Where is that country?” he wondered. He couldn’t hide his disappointment. 

“You’ll like it there,” he was told.

Steve when online to “google” the Philippines. The first things that were displayed on his computer were tsunami, typhoons, traffic. “They all start with the letter ’T’. I hated the letter ’T’.”

“No. No. You’ll like it there.” he was assured. 

Still intrigued, Steve looked up some friends Cameroon who had gone on to the Philippines. There was Alfred Aroga and Ben Mbala. “Come on over,” they invited him. “You’’l like it here.”

“Do they speak French there?” he asked Aroga.

“No. English."

With not much money and a whole lot of trepidation in his heart and mind, Steve Fongue made his way to the Philippines. Another of his high school teammates, Bertrand Awana who would later play briefly for the University of the East Red Warriors, joined him.

A few months later, Fongue’s mobile phone rings. It’s his mother in Yaounde. 

In rapid-fire staccato, she barraged her son with questions, “I saw there was a huge typhoon! It destroyed a whole city there (referring to Tacloban that was hit by Typhoon Yolanda)! Are you dry? Are you safe? Are you all right?”

“Ma, I am all right,” Steve reassured his mother. “That city was in a different part of the Philippines. But I am all right. I am quite safe."

“Is there a tsunami?”

“No, ma. There is no tsunami.”

“The traffic?”

“Yes, the traffic is bad. But I am safe. I am having fun and am going to school.”

A few years later. One NAASCU Juniors championship and a Milcu Got Skills Seniors Championship both with St. Clare College, the Business Adminsitration major fields another call from his mother.

“Steve, how are you?”

“Am fine, ma.”

“What are you eating?”

“There’s adobo. Liempo.”

“What’s that?" 

“It’s delicious, ma."

Steve Fongue took a detour hoping he’d follow his basketball dream to the United States or even Europe. Instead, he’s balling and enjoying studying at St. Clare College. “In all this time I’ve been here, I’ve seen LeBron James, Kobe Bryant come over to the Philippines. I’ve seen an Olympic Qualifying Tournament played here with all these NBA stars. And I’m getting a college education!” 

With Aris Dionisio, Paeng Rebugio, St. Clare head coach Jino Manansala, and Steve Fongue

The best college basketball team you have never heard of is battling for respect

The best college basketball team you have never heard of is battling for respect
by rick olivares

In three days’ time, NAASCU (National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities) caging gets underway at the Cuneta Astrodome. 

Fourteen teams will be vying for the crown that has been vacated by Centro Escolar University that has left the league for unspecified reasons. Among the favorites to win the championship is St. Clare College that has lost the last three years running to CEU in the title game. 

If you ask St. Clare College Saints head coach Jino Manansala whether the Scorpions are playing or not, the goal is to win it all this year. “We feel we have the team to win this since some of our players from the juniors team have come up,” said Manansala who guided SCC to its first league title during the 2012-13 season but has since been stymied. 

The Saints just like CEU are some of Philippine college ball’s best kept secrets. When they were invited as a guest team several years ago in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup, they played the NCAA and UAAP teams close; losing only in the final two minutes of play. They have also played well in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League and most recently made waves in the Milcu Got Skills tournament where they defeated De La Salle University for the crown. And most recently, in the PBA D-League, many of them suited up for Racal Motors. 

“I think people are starting to know our school,” said six-foot-six Cameroonian center Steve Fongue. 

The Yaounde native has a lot of friends in the local basketball scene. He’s friends with countrymen La Salle’s Ben Mbala and National University’s Alfred Aroga while former University of the East center Betrand Awana was a teammate of his back in high school. “We’ve had some good matches with them in recent times,” added Fongue. “Now they know our name.”

They sure do. In fact, the Bulldogs recruited two of their players.

But make no mistake, these hungry Saints are hungry to make a name for themselves.

“I think it’s hard when you played in the smaller leagues,” noted Manansala. “People don’t mind you.”

In fact, the first SCC alum to be drafted in the PBA is Milan Vargas who was selected by the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters in the fifth round of the 2015 PBA Draft. Although some people opine that it was his brief stint with the UST Growling Tigers in the UAAP that introduced him to a mass audience.

While players from the NCAA, UAAP, and CESAFI (outside the Fil-foreigners) are generally drafted, many other NAASCU schools have seen their players drafted once in a blue moon. PSBA has seen its Jaguars alumni Mark Pingris and Vic Manuel) make it big. CEU’s recent title teams have seen Alfred Batino, Joseph Sedurifa, Samboy De Leon all drafted. Heck, New Era College saw its first players selected in 2002 and 2003 in Paolo Malonzo (40th overall in the seventh round by FedExpress) and Ramil Ferma (by Red Bull Thunder) respectively. Even Manuel L. Quezon University has had two picks by the San Miguel Beermen in Marlon Legaspi and Arnold Calo who were both drafted in 2003.

Despite their manpower losses to NU, Manansala’s Saints remain stacked and loaded.

There’s spitfire point guard Paeng Rebulio who is both crafty and shifty and can score from anywhere. Rebulio once played for Vergel Meneses over at Jose Rizal University but he opted to transfer just to get minutes. “I know it’s the NCAA and you’ll be seen on television and written about by media,” said the Hulo, Mandaluyong native. “But I need to play and show what I can do.” 

Aris Dionisio is part of SCC’s tough frontline along with Mark Puspus, Godwill Calapine, and Fongue. The Bulacan native once played for Philip Cezar’s PSBA Jaguars but opted to transfer. “I like this team’s work ethic,” said Dionisio. “I want to give it my all so we can give glory to school. If we get drafted in the PBA and what player doesn’t dream of that — that is good.”

Manansala will also count on high scoring guards Nico Principe and Michael De Leon, forwards Jordan Rios, Rey De Mesa, and Macky Perez. 

“One of the things I have to watch out for is giving everyone minutes,” explained Manansala who is the son of former PBA great Jimmy Manansala. The son was once team captain for Aric Del Rosario’s UST teams of the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium. “I try to give every one their minutes. The only thing I ask is that when they are on the floor, they give their best at all times.”

With CEU’s departure, some say that the door is wide open for St. Clare to reclaim the crown. “I don’t think so,” parried Manansala. “There are 14 teams in the league this season. It’s going to be a very long one. At any time things can change because of injuries, fitness and conditioning, and other factors. We just have to take it one game at the time and when we get to the play-offs, hope we’re still solid.”

Nevertheless, these Saints are insanely talented, deep, tough, hungry, and well, fun to watch.

“Right now, we’re playing for respect.”

The 2016-17 St. Clare College Saints: Paeng Rebugio, Irven Palencia, Nico Principe, Michael De Leon, Ronjay Santos, Russel Funetes, Jordan Rios, Rey De Mesa, Macky Perez, Normel De Los Reyes, Junjie Hallare, Bong Managuelod, Aris Dionisio, Godwill Calapine, Steve Fongue, Mark Puspus, and Leo Esguerra.

The Saints open their NAASCU campaign this Thursday, August 25 at 10am versus AMA Computer College at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

LA Clippers mascot Chuck the Condor does Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Blake Griffin & Manny Pacquiao

Post–War Blues III: Clipped Wings & Choly’s Last Ride

Post–War Blues III
Clipped Wings & Choly’s Last Ride
by rick olivares

When the 1952 edition of the Ateneo Blue Eagles took to the floor, conspicuously absent from the line-up was the team’s rebounding king Olegario “Ole” Orbeta. 

Orbeta feuded with Coach Dick Francisco in the off season and as a result was left off the roster. Orbeta was crushed by the snub since it was his last year of eligibility and the team was finally good enough to make it all the way. Ole was the team’s rock and conscience something he carried with him since his secondary education years. During his senior year at the Ateneo high school, the Blue Eaglets were getting beaten up by the physical game of the Jose Rizal Light Bombers that during half-time, the team that sat glumly in the locker room was a broken one.  Fr. John Delaney S.J. knew that his team was folding because of strict team rules that forbade rough play or retaliation. The good priest thought about it for a moment then with a sigh eventually acquiesced to play an eye for an eye. Before anyone could contemplate the implications of a fighting Ateneo squad, Orbeta spoke up and said that “with all due respect, he’d sooner take off his white Ateneo jersey than resort to thuggery.” Fr. Delaney couldn’t have been more proud. The Ateneans took to the court in the second half playing their usual game albeit with a more focused intent. They embarked on a spirited rally that saw them fall short only because time had run out on them. This new season, Orbeta would continue to bring his mental toughness but it was to the football team and could only helplessly watch from the bleachers as his teammates took to the hardcourt. 

In these exciting post-war years there was an air of togetherness and enthusiasm forged by a common goal of rebuilding a newly independent country. Among the biggest draws in town was collegiate basketball that was more popular than the fledging pro MICAA league. Ateneo was so far the only NCAA team that had yet to win a post-war title. After years of futility, the team with its battle-hardened corps of veterans was ready to contend for the title. It was a preposterous notion when all one had to do was cast its eye towards the line-up and the only player over six feet was Casto Madamba at 6’1” who one basketball observer noted as the only redwood among the acacia trees. Opponents heckled the team’s bantam-sized players Antonio “Choly” Gaston, Oscar Battalones, and Freddie Campos as being grade school kids in a man’s game. But height notwithstanding, it was these three players who not only spearheaded Ateneo’s vaunted running game into high gear but stood tall with their incredible fighting hearts. But clearly, this was Choly’s team. Despite being much smaller than most on the court, his fighting heart and his all-around hustle could alter the outcome game. In an exhibition game against the visiting Mexican National Team, Choly, the Cagayan Cyclone outjumped the taller 6’3” Mexican during a jump ball. 

Despite being seeded by pre-season prognosticators, the road to the championship wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. San Beda was still very much the heavy favorite to retain the title even with the graduation of Pons Saldaña for they still had the great Caloy Loyzaga and Eddie Lim, Olympians both. La Salle with its stratospheric line-up of six-footers was dangerous. Letran was a mite weaker with the transfer of Herminio Astorga to FEU. Jose Rizal and Mapua though much weaker were dark horse favorites who could play the spoiler’s role if one took them lightly.

It was the final year of team captains Choly Gaston and Poch Estella. Ramchand Motomuul after watching the team from the bleachers in the previous season was in the line-up and ready to bombard from another area code. Swingman George Hussey was ready to spell Kalawang when the freckle-faced junior needed a breather from his daredevil drives.

Dick Francisco molded the team into his likeness playing a frenetic brand of basketball that saw the Blue Eagles run their foes ragged when they could. Despite the clear height disadvantage, he knew that his fleet of blue comets of Gaston, Campos, and Battalones could easily turn the tide of the game with their razzle dazzle ball. 

With Loyzaga and Lim overseas for the Helsinki Olympics, teams were salivating at the opportunity to knock off San Beda in the tourney’s early goings. 

When National Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay declared open the 1952 NCAA Basketball Tournament on August 3, 1952, Ateneo squared off against La Salle in what many declared a preview of the teams seeded to slug it out with San Beda for collegiate hoops glory.

La Salle Coach Totit Valles’ game plan was simple: pound the rock inside. With Captain Tony Banggoy and the luxury of four six-footers in the persons of Martin Urra, Fred Anderegg, Juan Munos and Rene Wassmer, the Green Archers figured to make short work of the Loyolans. 

The game was significant for two reasons: 1) this was the first game between the two emerging rivals wherein the cheerleaders led their rivals’ battle songs during the warm-ups; and 2) Ateneo served notice that despite being Lilliputian by basketball standards, they were going to be a force to reckon with. 

La Salle seized the upper hand early on by utilizing their height advantage to the hilt. Coach Francisco sued for time and shifted from trying to match La Salle with size to turning the game into a track meet. The strategy worked superbly for Ateneo tied the game 16-all at the end of the first canto. The Greenshirts had trouble bringing the ball past half-court that they had to bring in better ball handlers to help out Alex Montilla that eventually sacrificed their height advantage. The tide had shifted and the game degenerated into a rough one. For awhile there, Montilla thought he was playing linebacker and nearly decapitated Rusty Cacho and was thrown out of the game by an irate Arturo Rius (the ex-Bedan stalwart) who was on the tournament’s technical committee. Whatever gentlemanly gestures there were between the two galleries quickly dissipated as the blue side chanted “Your arrows will break, will break. Your arrows will shake, will shake.” The green side retaliated by chanting “the eagles will die, will die. Your feathers will fall, will fall.”

The only thing that fell on this day was Motomuul’s two-handed jump shots from the outside that broke La Salle’s zone and backs. By the time the dust cleared, Ateneo emerged victorious 55-44.

Ateneo had a chance to win three straight (after Letran was ran off the court for win no. 2) when they faced San Beda sans its missing Olympians and were still winless. Overconfident they let the Mendiola five dictate the pace from early on as the team played listless ball. By the time the Blue Eagles snapped out of their stupor, the Red Lions who had battled the heavily favored Ateneo to a standstill found the confidence to steal a victory. Ateneo lost when rookie Ceferino Salvador drained two pressure-packed charity shots with almost no time left that stunned the 6,000 strong blue and white gallery. It was a huge win for San Beda for the following game, they had their stars back and they just walloped Mapua by 21. 

The greased lightning offense of the Loyolans was on frightening display as they rebounded from the loss by thrashing JRU and Mapua in succession. The high scoring quartet of Gaston, Littaua, Motomuul, and Cacho was too much for any defense to take for long. Ateneo’s four wins meant the least they could avail of was a play-off for the first round gonfalon since La Salle kept pace with a 4-1 slate. Poch Estella, the Blue Eagles’ lanky swingman wondered if the loss to San Beda would come back to haunt them. Even if Ateneo handled La Salle well in the first game of the season there was no telling the outcome of the one game play-off especially against this rival who seemed to get up more for Ateneo than any other team in the league. And the unlikely happened as the Green Archers behind Rene Wassmer upended the Blue Eagles with a game winning shot to capture the first round championship 76-74. The Archers clogged the lane and dared Ateneo to beat them with the outside shot. The blues and whites obliged and kept the score close. But on this day, Wassmer would be too much as he scored a game high 28-points including the dagger with five seconds left that dashed the hopes of the blue nation. 

Gaston who had kept Ateneo in the game by scoring five points in the final minute of the game was inconsolable. The team despite its lack of ceiling was seeded to contend. Had they overachieved? Time was running out on his collegiate career. The current campaign was so far the best that the team had played in his years with the squad. Fr. Delaney sensed the team teetering on the brink of breaking down that he set about lifting their spirits with a stirring Homily in their return to Loyola Heights. Coach Francisco on the other hand made sure that despite the huge setback to his alma mater’s championship dreams, the team was ready to fight on for the second round flag was still up for grabs. 

The Blue Eagles kicked off the second round campaign on September 18 by once more blitzing Letran. With Murder Inc. now a thing of the past, the Knights with a new crew of recruits didn’t offer much resistance. Mapua and La Salle were also swept away by Ateneo’s fast-break. The game against the Taft-based cagers was its usual rough and tumble self replete with spills and thrills. La Salle tried to slow down the tempo of the game but Ateneo’s high-octane offense got on track by the second quarter. The team gained a measure of revenge but immediately in their sights was San Beda which was beginning to hum like a well-oiled machine with Loyzaga and Lim back in harness. The men in red were on a collision course with the men in blue. The Red Lions were just steamrolling the competition and were likewise undefeated in the second round. After a boisterous “Hail Ateneo Hail,” the cheerleaders led a thundering Artillery Yell aimed at the Mendiola crew. “Range... San Beda! Target…San Beda! Boom Chika Boom Sis Boom Bah!”

But before the eagerly awaited return bout with the reigning titlists, there was just the matter of the JRC Heavy Bombers to shoot down.

On October 2, 1952, the booming heard across the Rizal Memorial Coliseum was not from the Blue Babble Battalion and their Artillery Yells but from the Heavy Bombers finding their mark. Coach Guillermo Victoria’s Bombers matched the Eagles speed for speed and crashed the boards to prevent them from unleashing their patented fastbreak game. At the half, with JRC leading 38-24, a black cat ran across the court just as the Ateneo cheerleaders were about to exhort the blue gallery to inspire the team to fight. The skittering feline hushed the crowd for a moment and sport writers seated along press row wondered if that was an omen of Ateneo’s fate. The start of the second half did nothing to dispel that notion. The Bombers hounded Ram Motomuul into a horrid shooting night and stonewalled Cacho’s sorties into the paint. Not even Ateneo Athletic Moderator Fr. Edgar Martin’s exhortations from the sidelines could get the team going. The good Padre was so stunned by the Mandaluyong squad’s total domination of the Blue Eagles that the glowing tobacco pipe that he puffed on during games remained unlit despite the floor being littered with spent matches. 

In the dugout, Dick Francisco pondered the just concluded game. It was another sure win that got away from them: a case of a bad team beating a good team on a bad day. Will the loss come back to haunt them as did the first round upset of San Beda? With San Beda undefeated so far, the next game was either the season for Ateneo or moving onto to the next round.

They were in contention all right… for only one quarter. With Loyzaga having a miserable game, the Blue Eagles kept it close 12-10. By the second quarter, Loyzaga began to play smart ball as he drew the defense to him then kicked out to the wide-open  Pablo Cuna, Eddie Lim, and Ramon Dee who were all spread out across the court to loosen up Ateneo’s double-teams.

Despite being down by 10 at the end of the third quarter, barring a miracle, it was obvious that the 2nd round flag was going to San Beda. Ateneo had bled for its points. Cacho and Littaua led the fight for Ateneo scoring in twin digits, but the only shot given to them by the suffocating Bedan defense were hurried long toms which resembled a feeble attempt to bombard a well-protected castle. In their final game for Ateneo, Choly Gaston was held to six points, Cecil Hechanova scored five, Poch Estella had four while Oscar Battalones and Freddie Campos were scoreless.  While the final tally stood at seemingly close 54-48, it was no indication of the Jesuits hoopsters’ titanic struggle to puncture the hoop.

As the gun barked to end the game and the Eagles up-and-down season, the blue and white gallery showered its graduating players with cheers and thanks. Gaston his eyes wet with tears waved his hand that elicited out a loud cheer. Choly along with former teammate Moro Lorenzo typified the Eagles’ ill-fated drives these past years. The Red Lions and their gallery likewise cheered for their vanquished but valiant foe. And as the Blue Eagles strode off the court to leave their victorious foe to bask in their glory, the Atenean gallery erupted into song:
“With a shout, with a song,
We will help the boys along
Under banners of white and fair blue.
While we do, while we dare
Proudly waving everywhere
Are the banners of white and fair blue.”

Aftermath: The San Beda Red Lions made short work of the La Salle Green Archers for the 1952 cage diadem for their 5th overall title. Rusty Cacho, Mike Littaua, and Choly Gaston made the NCAA’s 2nd Mythical Second Five. Choly Gaston joined the Philippine Air Force (where he would go on to dominate athletics winning medals in almost every category) instead of the fledging MICAA. Gaston moved on to the Great Hereafter when the plane he was flying crashed while on aerial maneuvers in 1955. When the MICAA opened its 1955 season, the league observed a minute of silence for Gaston who never even played for the league. That’s how revered and respected he was. In his four years of weaving and slashing for a bucket for the good old Blue and White, he was a crowd favorite. Andres “Dick” Francisco would step down as Ateneo coach to make way for Bing Ouano the following season wherein Ateneo would finally nail that elusive first post-war crown.