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, August 31, 2018

What we can learn from the volleyball stint at the Asian Games

What we can learn from the volleyball stint at the Asian Games
by rick olivares

The Philippine Women’s National Volleyball Team crashed out of medal contention following a three-set sweep by the top-ranked team in the world, China.

Before we look at the China game and our experience there, a look at the quarterfinals shows all the winners advancing to the semi-finals via three-set sweep.

China, Korea, Japan, and India came away winners against the Philippines, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Hong Kong respectively. The first three are all in the top ten in the world while the latter is somewhere in the fifties. So there was the luck of the draw in play.

China is tall, highly-skilled, and smart. Watching them, we hardly saw spikes that sailed out of bounds. Their game intelligence is incredible. I was watching them make their reads and they are quick to spot gaps in the defense.

The scoring of the Philippines dipped with every set – from 15 to 9 and finally, 7.

Jaja Santiago gave China fits especially in the first set. When China learned to play her, the production dipped. In contrast, China was sending multiple Jaja Santiagos at us. As a result, I have to grudgingly admit that it was one incredible butt kicking.

Aside from the usual, work on the grassroots program (double time on it actually and teach the coaches as well), here in my opinion is what can we infer from these games.

We have skilled players, hopefully, we can find tall and skilled players.
Unfortunately, volleyball, on the international level, like basketball, is also about height. We need to develop highly-skilled and taller players in the grassroots level.

The international game is about quick kills and power volleyball
I’ve been watching international volleyball since the days of Karch Kiraly and the US men’s team dominance in the 1980s, the international game is quick and not about long rallies. The long rallies are fun to watch back home in the women’s game because the game is played at a slower speed and with less power, but not in the international arena.

I know we are shorter, but playing at a faster speed – since I don’t see us getting taller any time soon – could help. The operational word is “could” all right. Yes, I know that is also dependent upon reception, but even so.

We should really look at serving from a different perspective.
I remember sitting next to former Foton coach Fabio Menta and the Italian wondered why Filipinos serve only one way. The matches against China illustrate the need to serve in different ways. Even one player serves not only from one spot but from different spots and in a variety of ways. That is the first weapon, the serve. China made good use of it.

China places a premium on precision and quick thinking.
Sports is not only about skill, height, and coaching. It is also about the speed of thought. In sports, you have a split second to make a decision.

During the quarters match against China, I’d like to illustrate on one instance (out of many) where Liu Xiaotong noted that libero Denden Lazaro tried to cover one side from a crosscourt shot in Zone 5. However the spacing wasn’t too tight between Lazaro and a teammate. Liu hammered the ball in that space between. You could see her make that quick decision on the fly. And Liu along with her teammates did that with regularity and pin-point precision that you hardly saw them send a ball out of bounds.


And lastly, we need to expose our teams to stronger competition. This is obvious and everyone knows it. I wonder about our teams that go for training abroad. It is usually to prepare them for the domestic leagues.  The question is… are the learning applied not only by the local players, but also by the coaches? Really. Is it applied?

The systems are not only different, but also the cultures and structures so how does that experience stick other than in a Facebook or Instagram memory?

Nevertheless, we are proud of our women’s volleyball team no matter what the result. Our most profound thanks. We stuck to the tube watching and cheering.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The challenges of Vergel Meneses and JRU

The challenges of Vergel Meneses and JRU
by rick olivares

At the end of a 57-55 nail-biting win over Emilio Aguinaldo College, Jose Rizal University head coach Vergel Meneses heaved a sigh of relief while one of his veteran players, Jed Mendoza, let loose his tears.

EAC was favored to win, but an early lead allowed JRU a small level of comfort if not a buffer as the Generals made one last late charge that fell short when their center Laminou Hamadou botched a poor entry pass and was blocked by the Heavy Bombers Jun Silvarez.

Heading into the Friday, August 17 match, JRU was winless in seven starts. The win over EAC coupled with a bonus as an earlier loss was reverted when San Sebastian College forfeited a win due to a violation in player eligibility gave JRU two wins in one day prompting Meneses to jokingly wonder if Christmas had come in August.

After the Heavy Bombers floundered in the pre-season (they went 0-9 in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup), Meneses tempered management’s expectations. “Ma-suwerte kung manalo tayo ng dalawa,” he remembered telling JRU’s ManCom representative, Paul Supan right before NCAA Season 94 tipped off. “Hindi naman ako naniniwala na bobolahin ko ang management to say good things,” bared Meneses. “Rebuilding year ito after losing many veterans. We have to accept that there will be seasons like this and hope we can do better next year.”

Sometimes, it is hard to believe that Vergel Meneses is on his ninth year as head coach of the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers.

“Kahit ako nagugulat,” laughed the man who was called the Aerial Voyager for his ability to float in the air with the greatest of ease for a scintillating drive or a death-defying slam dunk his PBA career that when it was over, he was named as one of the game’s greatest.

“One more year, isang dekada na ako sa alma mater ko.”

There have been incredible highs and low moments. His Heavy Bombers have one more match left in the first round – against two-time defending champions, San Beda. “Let us enjoy this moment; this win,” he said. “Bukas ko na iisipin yung San Beda. Malay mo – maka-tsamba. Bilog ang bola.”

It has been trying. He took the coaching job with a lot of boyish charm and with a dash of hope. He at times looked lost and would turn around to look at his mentor, Derrick Pumaren, then the team consultant, for answers and solutions. Meneses is no longer that kind of coach. He has grown and better understood the game. Not to mention his players.

The game was easy for him. He parlayed stardom with the then Jose Rizal College Heavy Bombers into a storied PBA career. It was an adjustment from player to coach. He found it difficult to rein in his temper when players couldn’t execute what came naturally for him. “Nung una, madaling maubos yung pasensiya ko,” he admitted. Three years ago, naisip ko na, ‘tama na ‘to’ and maybe coaching is not for me. But I am not one to back out from challenges. Alma mater ko to. Dito ako nakilala bilang player. Gusto ko naman ma-turn around yung programa namin.”

In fact, when Meneses played for JRC, he was a one-man team. The powers then were Letran (which had Dong Libed, Art Ayson, Tino Pinat, and Jing Ruiz), and San Sebastian (that had a line-up which all went to the PBA). “Ang difference then was players did not play for allowances, or what benefits others give today. They played because they loved the game and they played for school pride.”

JRU has plenty of challenges. They aren’t a top destination for most blue chippers. They don’t even have the machinery to compete for top recruits. In fact, they even have trouble holding on to their high school stars such as Keith Agovida (Arellano University), Joshua Saret (UP), and Jeepy Faundo (UST) to name a few who left the Mandaluyong-based school.

“May suwerte rin naman kami,” he said whiling naming players like Jeckster Apinan, Byron Villarias, Teytey Teodoro, and Paolo Pontejos who starred for JRU and are currently making names for themselves in the PBA, D-League, and the MPBL.

“I accept the challenge of building my school into a winner,” said Meneses. “But we also have to accept yung difficulties ng challenges and admit to ourselves that work needs to be done. We don’t have money so we work with what we have. Basta naman lumalaban, happy kami. Siyempre we want to win, but we also have to be realistic. We are in a rebuilding phase. We’re developing the skills of the players, working on team chemistry, and looking for players who will help us compete for the coming years.”

As of today with a 2-6 record, anything else after this is gravy. “You know I like challenges,” summed up Meneses. “We will try to player better and finish stronger this second round.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

It’s a marvelous life for Robby Celiz

It’s a marvelous life for Robby Celiz
by rick olivares

The Bataan Risers’ Robby Celiz is used to marveling the world around him. During a bowling and billiards team fellowship event last Thursday, August 2, the six-foot-three forward with a sniper rifle for an arm, stood behind his teammates who all kidded around during an impromptu bowling tournament.

“Ganyan talaga ako,” he murmured of his taking in everything including the good fortune he believes to be with the Bataan squad that is currently playing in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League.

Celiz hails from Cadiz, Negros Occidental. It’s a mostly agrarian and fishing city some 40 miles north of Bacolod. There are the nearby Cadiz Viejo, a white sand beach, a popular tourist spot.

It was only as he got older when he began to appreciate the world around him. After all, what do you know when you’re a kid.

“Ang habol ko lang ay makapagaral ng college,” Robby admitted of his modest dreams. Celiz found himself playing for Rizal Technological University in Mandaluyong. “Akala ko, hanggang dito na lang ang basketball career ko tapos kukuha na ako ng trabaho na pang-corporate.”

Fate intervened in the form of Eric Altamirano who recruited him for his National University squad. And arguably he was a part of one of the best UAAP teams not to win a championship (where he suited up alongside two-time league most Valuable Player Ray Parks, Mythical Five member Jean Mbe, Dennice Villamor, Jeff Javillionar, and Robin Roño to name a few). “Nagulat ako nung na-recruit ako ni Coach E. Nag-iba yung buhay ko. From NAASCU to UAAP. Sabi ng mga kapamilya at kaibigan ko from Negros Occidental na bigla na nila ako napapanood sa TV,” he laughs.

And then he was drafted 17th overall in 2013 by Talk ‘N Text. “Grabe, dream come true,” he said of that moment in time. Yet, Celiz found it difficult to get minutes with a team that at that time was the class of the pro league. They had Jason Castro who was at that time, newly conferred as the best point guard in Asia. Jimmy Alapag was still blowing great guns. They also had do-it-all player Ryan Reyes, and well, Celiz’ Risers’ teammate, Pamboy Raymundo.

Medyo mahirap kumuha ng minuto sa team na yun,” admitted Celiz. “Pero yung natutunan ko – hindi ko makukuha kahit saan. Naka ilang championship na sila at yung preparation at approach sa laro, kahit yung samahan at professionalism – ang dami mo mapupulot.”

“At dahil kinuha ako ng Bataan Risers (after a stint with BlackWater and with Alab Pilipinas where he was a Asean Basketball Championship), gusto ko dalhin at i-share yung natutunan ko sa kanila.”

Celiz is well aware that he is playing for a supportive organization led by head coach Jojo Lastimosa who is one of the 40 Greatest PBA Players of all-time, and a staff of former pros and winners like Vic Pablo and Ervin Sotto. He even has a former national team player for a teammate in Gary David as well as two current Gilas Cadets in JJ Alejandro and Vince Tolentino.

“Nung nanalo kami sa Alab, ang sarap ng feeling,” he gushed. “Ganun pala yun to win (a major championship)!”

With the Risers, he believes he has been given a platform to showcase his talents. In Bataan’s last win, a 95-85 triumph over the Imus Bandera, Celiz scored 15 points while hauling down seven rebounds and dishing three assists. “Hindi madali yung buhay professional. Ilang teams lang nasa PBA. Pero dahil dito sa MPBL at sa Bataan, may chance na makalaro. Happy ako na nakakatulong ako sa team ko manalo.”

Robby realizes that not many people are given the opportunities he has been given. He understands it is a difficult and highly-competitive profession, but at this point, it’s all gravy (aside from the need to earn a living). “Dream ko lang nun makakuha ng scholarship para makapag-college ako. Biro mo naglaro ako sa UAAP, sa PBA, sa ABL, at ngayon sa Risers sa MPBL. Not bad di ba?”

Now to help write a happy chapter for the Risers (who currently tote a 4-1 record in the MPBL Datu’s Cup) with a championship.