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.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Return of the King: Ateneo is the UAAP Season 80 Men's Basketball Champion

The Return of the King
by rick olivares

I am convinced it is destiny. Or is it a case of history repeating itself?

With 7:14 left in the game, Thirdy Ravena showed his desire to win the game as he jumped higher than everyone else -- in fact, I thought to myself, "there's a lad who wants to win" -- to secure the offensive rebound. As soon as he landed, he fired the ball to an open Matt Nieto who didn’t hesitate in firing a triple.

Bang. 71-68, Ateneo with 7:10 left.

One play later, Chib Ikeh blocked Ricci Rivero’s turn-around jumper. On the offensive end, he hauled down another crucial offensive board that he whipped over to an open Anton Asistio. Three. 74-68.

My mind was racing back to 1987 – 30 years ago during the championship game against the University of the East. Jet Nieto (he is my batchmate and kumpare in case you do not know), the father of Matt and Mike Nieto, pulled up on the break and hit a triple with about eight minutes left to play. Suddenly, the Warriors’ (sans the “Red” as an adjective) lead was down to 17. That shot ignited an Ateneo rally when all seemed lost as the Blue Eagles claimed their first ever UAAP title.

At the time that Matt drilled the trey, it broke a deadlock. Like his father’s shot (Jet hit two more triples during that rally of that 1987 title game at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum), it was huge; a momentum turner.

Also coincidentally, Jet was a junior at that time. The same as his kids who have been incredible all season. What an improvement in Matt Nieto. The best point guard in the league.

Now the Nietos weren’t the only ones reliving and enjoying legacies.

There too were the Veranos.

Mike Verano won UAAP volleyball titles with the University of the Philippines. And he wasn’t a scrub. He was a legit starter and player. While he also had green ties as he went to La Salle Greenhills, he had no problem with his son going to Ateneo. After La Salle was dethroned, he was one of those I first sought out and I had to ask, “How does it feel that Raffy now has his own UAAP championship?”

“That’s good because he gave me a Christmas gift and going away present (he is leaving back for the United States in a few days). And this is something the two of us will be talking about for the rest of our lives,” said the proud dad.

History repeating….

Was that a hint of serendipity? After all… Enrico Villanueva, Jec Chia, LA Tenorio, and Sonny Tadeo were in the house. As is current Blue Eagles team manager Epok Quimpo. They were all a part of that incredible 2002 season when they upset a powerhouse La Salle team that was going for a five-peat. Chia hit his big shot in the semis against UE; one that propelled Ateneo to the finals. So did Isaac Go in the Final Four versus FEU. Hey, Arwind… I’ll bet if Kobe Bryant guards you – you ain’t even getting that ball.

And speaking of Quimpo, he also hit a massive trey against La Salle in Game 3 of the 2002 Finals that returned Ateneo to greatness. Then as in now, this team… sort of ended another aborted Green Archers dynasty.

I am also convinced that the Man knows the job. Perhaps, like no other. And that Man is Tab Baldwin.

When Baldwin was coaching Lebanon, his team’s defense on Philippine center Asi Taulava in the 2010 Stankovic Cup was crucial. Asi finished with five points and Lebanon squeaked past the Filipinos, 81-80, to enter the title game (which they won).

When Baldwin was coaching the Philippines during the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships, Gilas Pilipinas held longtime nemesis, Iranian center Hamed Haddadi to 10 points as the nationals posted an 87-73 win.

This past UAAP season – has any team defended Ben Mbala better than Ateneo?

The man knows his set plays and then some. The triple by Anton Asistio to close out the first half of Game 3? Followed to the letter. The triple by Isaac Go that extended Ateneo’s lead to five points in the waning seconds – followed to the letter. As Baldwin said during the huddle, “I want you to follow my directions.”

They did. And he did it his way.

When Baldwin first joined Ateneo…. his system was unlike that was run during the five-peat. He broke down everyone’s game to their bare essentials. It was a return to the fundamentals which he felt was sorely lacking. During the summer when it was traditionally a time for the team to have pocketed some serious game experience, it was the opposite. That was when they were learning. Sure the academic calendar had changed since the time of the five-peat but the man knew what he was doing.

This year… the Blue Eagles played the most beautiful basketball in any collegiate league or even pro league in the country. I can only wonder what the national team would be like if Tab had more time to work on it.

Incredibly, Ateneo has had so much success with American coaches. Baldwin is the sixth American to lead the Blue Eagles to a championship.

Fr. James Martin, S.J. led Ateneo to its first ever NCAA title in 1928. Fr. Matthew Kane, S.J. led Ateneo to consecutive titles in 1931 and 1932 before Fr. Joseph Gieb, S.J. completed the first three-peat in 1933.

Then in 1961, Bill Russell’s former University of San Francisco teammate Al Dunbar coached the Blue Eagles (my dad’s batch) to the championship.

And of course, there is the St. Joseph’s (a Jesuit school in Philadelphia) product Norman Black who led us to the five-peat that seems so long ago. And Norman is a legit NBA alum having played with the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Bullets (in a summer league).

What pedigree we’ve had and been blessed with... and now with Tab who has been known to turn programs around and win.

And those triples.

It has been a big part of Ateneo’s game and the bane for La Salle.

Ateneo led the league in triples made for the season with 158 and a league best of 33.4% That’s 27 more than the next best team, La Salle.

So how can it be the bane of the Green Archers if they were second in three-point shooting?

Dating back to the FilOil Flying V Premier Cup to their infamous rumble with FEU in Davao and all the way to this UAAP season…. Each time they were hit by eight or more triples they lost. Check it out – JRU, San Beda, Ateneo, FEU, UP… This is something I shared with the Ateneo coaching staff prior to the first round game. Now we can tell the tale.

Their perimeter defense was suspect which I found weird since they had Ben Mbala. Sure they were trying to protect him but still. Now the sole exception was the Final Four match against Adamson but come on…. that was grand larceny.

During Game 3, the game analysts mentioned that Ateneo kept attacking La Salle inside. Well, yes, that was it. But one reason why their defense was stretched was they were wary of Ateneo’s outside shooters.

And speaking of shooters….

Anton Asistio came alive this championship series. After struggling for much of the second round as opposing defenses keyed onto him, he began to contribute. And so did Jolo Mendoza in his own way. And in this title-clinching game… other players who struggled too played well and contributed – Raffy Verano, Chibueze Ikeh, and Vince Tolentino. And what a going-away present for Ikeh and Tolentino.

There hasn’t been a maligned center or player in Ateneo in recent years in Ikeh with his inconsistent and maddening play. But he corrected that this season. As we said in our season preview… if Ateneo wants to realize its championship dreams, Chib must play well.

And he saved the best for last – 12 points, 13 rebounds including 8 off the offensive glass, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks versus 1 turnover. He somewhat neutralized Mbala.

A year ago, Ikeh in a fit of disappointment confided to a teammate about being “afraid” of Mbala. In fact, the day before Game 3, Jet Nieto advised him not to give in to Mbala’s mind games. During Game 2, Mbala kept talking to him. “Just look at him in the eye,” said Nieto who is a doctor by profession. “And talk to him too. Make him lose his focus.”

And Mbala did.

It would have been a bloody shame had Ateneo lost this title series. It has been a great season. The beautiful basketball played? When was the last time you saw a team play great fluid selfless basketball like that? Shoot! I can only think of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls or maybe the last champion San Antonio Spurs team. Domestically? Nada. Zilch. 

For Ateneo this season, there were the exciting wins and dramatic comebacks. There were all the sub-plots – losing Adrian Wong to injury, Vince Tolentino unsure of coming back, Tyler Tio unsure if he could suit up, Troy Malillin falling into our laps… those Thirdy Ravena dunks. The big shots. The awesome passes. I have always said, when you hit incredible shots and make big big baskets -- James Yap shots as I call them in the PBA -- you just gotta win. You gotta. 

And in the process, the Blue Eagles took down one very good basketball team. The baddest team in the land with the baddest and best player. This 88-86 win for Ateneo’s 9th UAAP title (and 23rd overall if you add the 14 NCAA titles from the grand old league) was born out of pure determination, discipline, and heart. They came from a heart-wrenching loss in the finals of Season 79 (I remember that non-call that eventually decided Game One of that Finals) not to mention the loss of seven teammates to academics prior to that. You want drama and sub-plots galore then look no further.

Mayhem? That was last year. As good friend and Ateneo photographer Dondi Nolasco likes to say, Mayhimala.

Me? Am not surprised that the Blue Eagle is King once more.

This was destiny. And a case of history repeating itself. 


For Chris Newsome, Fonzo Gotladera, Adrian Wong, Dan Wong, and GBoy Babilonia. OBF!


  1. I know this sounds weird, but can we consider Isaac Go to be this generation's version of Gec Chia?

  2. Imagine if Tab coached Kiefer, Von Pessumal, and Chris Newsome !!!

  3. why not! Isaac gave us life! It was like the team was 6 feet underground and all of a sudden we came back to life not once, twice but thrice! Kudos to The baby faced giant Assassin.

  4. Your classmate jeff corneby would probably agree with you, and would have put in his 2 cents. Great analysis!

  5. You write like Dolly Carvajal

  6. Now I kind of wish you interviewed the Blue Eagle parents AFTER the team won the title.

    1. We have one more session. Hopefully, before the bonfire.

  7. All of a sudden, Ayo, Mbala and all their star players are overPaid!

  8. I knew it, coaching will be the key factor this year. Last year was about star players.

    All of our players are simple Role Players with Hi IQ, academics and basketball, mentored by a brillant coach. The brought the campus norm to the court.... awesome .... exuberantly awesome...

  9. This shows that the Atayde family is extinct ....hahaha

    We have the last laugh ...












  11. Can you believe this, the timing when Ravena passed the ball and thereafter, Sir George hit the 3 pointer. That was less than 2 seconds when he released the ball.

    Another observation, the proud and arrogant 'on your face defender' Kit Montalbo was just less than a second too late to stop the Virtuous Sir George. Kit the Goat should be his new name. Pride goeth before the fall.



    As per article, suspended yon "7-yrs out of HS" pre-requisite na yon for the past 2 seasons. PERO after this season 80, ibabalik nila. Herein lies the technicality, as per record, Mbala graduated in 2011 from hs. So 2011-2012 season WHEREEVER he was during that time would count as his first yr out of HS. If that rule is put back in place, season 80 would have been his LAST eligibility year.

    Let the board battle begin! OBF!

  13. Given, Mbala is 22 yo now. He's 6 yrs out of hs.
    Let's do the math shall we
    if Cameroon has -
    public school system, means Mbala enrolled gr 1 at 6 yo
    private, enrolled prep at 4 yo
    k-12, enrolled kinder at 3 yo. lol