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.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Fil-Ams Jalen Green, Kihei Clark, and Elijah Jackson talk about their NBTC experience

Fil-Ams Jalen Green, Kihei Clark, and Elijah Jackson talk about their NBTC experience.
by rick olivares

As the FilAm USA team wraps up its second stint in the SM-NBTC National Finals, its head coach, Bong Ulep and three of its players took the time to reflect on this unique basketball journey.

FilAm USA finished this trip with a 2-1 record as they booked an Elite Eight ticket where they fell to National University, 98-92.

In that match, 16-year old Jalen Green scored 51 points, a tournament record. Plus, his high-flying dunks and athleticism won over the crowd.

“It would have been nice to get to the next round, but with our seven-man rotation, we couldn’t properly compete,” explained Ulep. “We need at least a 10-man line-up. If (last year’s sensation, seven-foot) Kamaka Hepa were here, we would have gone farther.”

Hepa, the Texas-bound forward-center, broke his nose in a game right before the Manila trip.

“When we come over to Manila, hindi kami magdadala ng kung sino-sino, we bring kids here who for several reasons. First, it is to showcase their talent so the Philippines provides an option for them especially those with no US NCAA Division One offers. If possible, while chasing their NCAA and NBA dreams, they can also make themselves available for the Philippine national team; at least those who aren’t playing for the US. And second, it is to re-connect with their roots. Many of them are third or fourth generation born in the United States. Their moms never even stepped foot here. So it’s good to reconnect.”

Speaking of reconnecting, 19-year old Kihei Clark who hails from Los Angeles and is bound for Atlantic Coast Conference school, Virginia, says he was aware of his Filipino roots from his mother’s side. “My mom’s family is from Ilocos but they moved to Hawaii a long time ago.”

Kihei was named for the town in Western Hawaii where his parents first met. “Yeah, my name has a nice story to it and so does my game. My father, Malik Clark, played for Division 2 school, Hawaii-Hilo, so that is where I got my basketball inspiration,” shared the 5’10 Clark. “But I was excited about coming over.”

Despite his relative small size for his position, Clark plays much bigger than that. The court general was pursued by Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, and UCLA. “Going to Virginia, a top-ranked school, places me one step away from the ultimate dream and that is the NBA,” said Clark who averaged 14.0 points, 9.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals versus 3.5 turnovers in the SM-NBTC National Finals.

Clark cites Tony Parker, Steve Nash, and Chris Paul as his influences.

On the other hand, the six-foot-six crowd-pleasing Jalen Green, who averaged a NBTC-high 33.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 1.5 assists, points to Kevin Durant as his major inspiration. “His length, athleticism, his court savvy and he plays both ends of the court, I’d like to pattern my game after him,” disclosed Green. “When I was a kid, I played baseball and soccer, but when I started playing basketball, I said, ‘I could do something with this’ so I started practicing harder. When I told my parents I want to concentrate on being the best possible basketball player I can be, they pushed me to get better and perform at a higher level.

Green, who has represented the United States in an age group that already forbids him from representing the Philippines, is described by Ulep as someone who keeps his feet firmly on the ground despite all the accolades and hype even over in the United States.

“It’s very exciting but I block out all the hype and keep my head tight,” said Green. “Knowing people say good things, I feel happy but I don’t want it to get to my head.”

“I wanted to win,” added Green of the loss to NU. “Although we came up short, I am happy about this experience. And it’s nice to know that I broke the NBTC scoring record. That wasn’t something I was after because I wanted the W. For me, the biggest thing is there is someone in the crowd who has never seen my play so I want them to think good things.”

The third in FilAm Sports’ heralded trio is 17-year old Elijah Jackson who has committed to Eastern Washington University. The EWU Eagles play in the Big Sky Conference. “The Eagles were the first team that recruited me and when I visited, I fell in love with their program, system, and coaching staff,” said Jackson. “I am very excited about this opportunity. I just have to keep working every day if I want a chance to go to the NBA.”

“Manila is always a place I wanted to go since my family has never been here,” shared Jackson. “I am now the first in my family to step foot here.”

With regards to his new teammates in FilAm Sports, Jackson says the whole trip has been a richly rewarding one. “Because of basketball, I get to travel, meet people, and see the opportunities in front of me. But for this trip -- these are great dudes,” he said referring to his teammates. “And it is an honor to play with them as they are going to good places.”

Collectively, Clark, Green, and Jackson expressed that the consolation for exiting the NBTC tourney is they have had a chance to go around town. “The breakfast isn’t so bad,” said Clark.

“I always thought that chicken adobo was my favorite but I think chicken tocino is right up there now as well,” summed up Green.

With Kihei Clark

With Jalen Green

With Elijah Jackson

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