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.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Gilas Pilipinas: The calm before the Fiba storm

The calm before the Fiba storm
by rick olivares

The final practice of the Philippine Men’s Basketball National Team saw only 10 of the 12 players available for one last go-around at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center.

The team has been hounded by adversity from day one – from the unavailability of players for various reasons to scheduling conflicts with the Southeast Asian Games to the debilitating setback of losing center June Mar Fajardo to an injury. No Andray Blatche. No Fajardo. Yet if you look at head coach Chot Reyes, he seems unperturbed.

In fact, he radiates a calmness.

“It’s going to be fun,” he pronounces a few hours before the team’s departure. “We’re going to play this tournament with little preparation and lacking a full team. The only thing we can do is enjoy the experience.”

Don’t belittle Reyes’ seeming diffidence. The man is an accomplished coach and is very much a competitor. Don’t think that the adversity doesn’t concern or even rankle him. This isn’t the time to rant or blow steam. “It’s my job to show the guys a way to win in spite of the adversity,” he explains of his appearance of calm. “The job of a leader is to lead his troops; to give them the confidence.”

“We only had 10 players today,” he adds.  “We didn’t practice yesterday because six of them had games. We only had one complete practice which was on August 1. That’s it.
The biggest challenge is we don’t have a full team. Even before thinking of the opposition we have to think of ourselves first.”

Reyes, however, lauded his players’ confidence. “They have a lot of fight and an unwavering spirit,” he points out. “I like the fact that we are not operating under any big expectations. And they understand how difficult this task is. But make no mistake, we will do our best.”

The sereneness extends to the players.

For veteran Gabe Norwood, who is back with the team after a year’s absence, he has another take. “It’s a great situation to go out and shock the world,” he says. “The challenges? It has to always be harder. There is nothing to be gained with an easy task. The challenges keep you on your toes and in the ground.”

The last two editions of the national side to the FIBA Asia Championships saw silver medal finishes. Is this team competing against the ghosts of Team Philippines past?

“We set the bar kind of high the last time around so you want to equal or even better those finishes,” the defensive specialist points out. “You don’t want to be a part of a team that stumbles. You have to appreciate the challenges. They are different this time around. But no excuses. I imagine all the teams have their own concerns as well.”

For newcomer Christian Standhardinger who will play a bigger role with Blatche and Fajardo now unavailable, his only concern is today and not looking too far ahead. “The one thing you have to understand about me is I am focused,” he says with unabashed honesty. “I don’t even know how long our flight is. I don’t overly concern myself with things like that. My concern is being able to do what is asked of me and to contribute. It makes me focused and – how do you say this – goal-oriented.”

The kid from Munich, Germany grew up playing a lot of sports. “I played every sport -- tennis, table tennis, beach volleyball, bowling, swimming, but when my grandpa introduced me to basketball and there was no looking back.”

“I have no basketball idols to be honest,” he fesses up. Not even German star Dirk Nowitski. “Nope. I just played on my own and learning from the games I played. Maybe that is why I have a weird or funky style. But when I am playing my thinking is, ‘how to make my game effective?’”

And the Fil-German has been effective with many raving about his potential. Standhardinger takes the praise in stride. “It’s cool,” he shrugs. “But I have so much to learn. And I know that. Maybe that keeps my feet on the ground.”

He also admits that wearing the national jersey is an immense source of pride. “It was an easy decision,” he admits about suiting up for the Philippines. “I am proud that I can represent the Philippines. My family is honored as well.”

“Hopefully, this month, we as a team can bring honor to the Philippines.”

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