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, October 1, 2017

The NU Bulldog’s learning curve

The NU Bulldog’s learning curve
by rick olivares

It finally happened… Jamike Jarin’s team – the National University Bulldogs -- took on the Ateneo Blue Eagles in a UAAP men’s basketball game. They huffed, puffed, fought, and clawed their way back but ultimately fell, 96-83, to fall to 2-4 with a match to play in this first round.

I am not sure if “bittersweet” is the word. Maybe it is. I know Jarin, who led the Blue Eaglets to eight juniors titles and was an assistant on five seniors champions teams, wanted the head coaching job post-Norman Black but the powers-that-be went with what they didn’t know as opposed to what they know. And they’ve got a bunch of Ateneans – Enzo Joson (Ateneo de Manila) and Rev Diputado and Dave Yu (Ateneo de Cebu) in their line-up.

This sounds weird but I assure you it isn’t – Jarin coached his best game of the season against Ateneo.

While JJ Alejandro kept his team in the fight for the first half, Joson, Tzaddy Rangel, and Jonas Tibayan were surprise performers. With center Issa Gaye in foul trouble, NU’s three-point shooting kept them in the fight. Except that Ateneo turned up the heat in the second half and answered every NU run with one of their own; every defensive stop with one or two of their own.

The Blue Eagles negated NU’s strength off the boards as well as their penchant for second chance points.

His Bulldogs are exactly where Ateneo was last season – a young and talented team learning the ropes of an intricate system. His San Beda Red Lions were in this position two seasons ago before they won it all last campaign. His NU team is stocked with talent but save for JJ Alejandro, Matt Salem, Dave Yu, and perhaps Reggie Morido, they didn’t see too much playing time before. Diputado has struggled with the new system and has seen his playing time greatly diminish.

Honestly, even before the start of the season, when people would ask me, I said that I didn’t think that NU is going to make it to the Final Four. Sure, they have talent. But also consider who they lost – Joshua Sinclair is out because of an injury while Meds Salim and JV Gallego are also being disciplined for team infractions. If they had those three guys, then they’d be much better because they are good players with experience. There’s a caveat there though – no experience in the hellacious defense that Jarin wants his team to employ. So it stands to reason they too would struggle. It is nice though to have some extra weapons on standby.

Having said that, this isn’t a Jamike Jarin team – a snarling, menacing squad that plays pedal-to-the-metal basketball.

When he first coached San Beda to their lost six-peat, that was a halfcourt squad that got confused with all the defensive schemes and quick play that Jarin espoused. It didn’t help that Baser Amer was injured and when he came back, rather than he adjusting to the speed in which they ran with Dan Sara, it was the reverse. Tit was one reason why they fell to Letran. The next year, the team Jarin put on the floor was to his vision and likeness. And they steamrolled over everyone en route to a title.

Jarin’s Blue Eaglets were the same – a squad that hounded foes from end-to-end then pounded them inside. Oh, yes, they had pace. They were clinical in their vivisection of opponents.

This year’s model of NU isn’t there. Yet. It is a shame they will lose Alejandro, Salem (who I believe is much better than what he is showing right now), and Dave Yu to graduation. This is where they soak in a lot of experience with these core gaining a lot of experience. Jordan Bartlett and Enzo Joson will be so much better. Chino Mosqueda will be this team’s version of Mike Nieto or SBC’s Joe Presbitero; a hustle guy who gets extra possessions, hits some big shots, and plays some great defense. And Tzaddy Rangel and Matt Aquino are showing glimpses of how good they could be. If you look at Aquino, he was totally lost during the pre-season. At least now, he’s getting more playing time and save for yesterday’s result against Ateneo, is mostly delivering.

If Reggie Morido and Nikko Abatayo can work on their medium range jumpers and be more consistent, then they could lead this team in scoring (especially the former who looks to become the primary scorer). And Issa Gaye will be so much better too.

So am I writing them off? Oh no. They are still a good team. They just lack big game experience in the seniors division. Who knows? Maybe they can still turn this season around. Alejandro has been nothing short of inspirational.

Maybe what I am getting at is people should understand their situation and much like last year (they also lost a bunch of veterans to graduation all the more leaving them with a young squad), adjust their expectations. Make no mistake, the bite will be back with these Bulldogs.

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