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.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A close shave by the Bataan Risers over the Manila Stars

A close shave by the Bataan Risers over the Manila Stars
by rick olivares

It’s a big win no doubt, 73-72. But this game one semi-finals win by the Bataan Risers over the Manila Stars leaves just a bit of cause for concern. 

They led 65-48 heading into the fourth period. It is there they suffered a massive meltdown as the Stars outscored them 25-8 in front of a shocked and nervous home crowd. 

I wonder though if the “homecourt” advantage worked for Bataan. That is because prior to game one, the Manila Stars played three away matches at the Bataan People’s Center and are 3-0 there. They know the atmosphere, the vibe, the tough rims, and the crowd. Like Bataan, they have suffered one loss there. 

But back to the second sup-bar finish. In the quarterfinals series, the Caloocan Supremos made one last push in the fourth period after Bataan threatened to pull away.

Is it a question of overconfidence or the opposition rising to the occasion? Or both?

The Risers managed only four points in the final minute of play while the Stars scored seven. And that old problem of poor free throw shooting was on display as Bataan only hit two of four. Were it not that big a cushion and probably a minute more of play, Manila could have verily come away as winners.

But as crucial as those misses from the free throw line by Bataan, it was worse for Manila that was awarded 38 free throws but hit only 11. 

Both teams did suffer from bad shooting days. Some of the key players on both sides didn’t perform well. There were exceptions – Richard Escoto for Bataan and Aris Dionisio for Manila – but the bad game cancelled out a lot of things. 

Although Manila won the battle of the boards 61-54, Bataan did not really pay for the second chances afforded as Manila had a slight slight edge in that category, 14-13.

The battle inside was crucial and both teams scored 38 points each in the lane. 

It looks like those six games where Bataan won by four points or less came into play. The Risers are now 6-0 when it comes to games decided by four point or less. The win also avenges the first loss of the season to Manila.

Ugly win or not, a win is a win, and it gives Bataan one game ahead with two chances to advance to the division finals. And now it is time to take the game on the road. 

The Manila Stars are 1-1 at the Filoil Flying V Centre while the Bataan Risers have yet to play there this season. 

Should that matter? Not at all. They have an even better record on the road than at home 15-1 (away) to (11-1). 

Whatever it is, Game Two is going to be another close match.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

UST’s Kung-Fu Reyes: No excuses. Laban lang.

UST’s Kung-Fu Reyes: No excuses. Laban lang.
by rick olivares pic by efigenio toledo IV

The University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses are currently in third place in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball standings with a 5-3 record. For Coach Emilio “Kung-Fu” Reyes’ charges, they have done well in spite of a pre-season injury to Tin Francisco and the loss of middle hitter Milena Alessandrini. 

The record notwithstanding, UST has been one of the toughest to beat. Outside fifth sets, they have only scored less than 20 points in three sets. 

We caught up with Reyes to reflect on the Golden Tigresses’ season thus far and one of the keys to his team’s good play has been the communication between himself and his players and they amongst themselves.

“Hindi lang naman sila ang natututo sa akin,” downplayed Reyes. “Ako rin natututo sa kanila – sa mga sitwasyon at sa pakikibagay sa tao.”

He admits that he can still can get mad at his girls, but he has learned to mix it up. Humor and encouragement will go a long way in getting something out of his girls instead of merely yelling at them. “Mahalaga yung communication off the court,” he disclosed. “Sa practice, I allow them to share their thoughts about yung mga plano namin sa opensa at depensa. Sila rin kasi yung nasa court. Kung maganda naman ang suggestion bakit hindi natin papakinggan? At siyempre, para meron accountability.”

It would be easy to just cruise despite the injuries, but what was crucial in the aftermath of the debilitating loss of Alessandrini to another injury is telling his charges that they should be no excuses. “Minsan puwede mo gamitin yun as an excuse, but hindi puwede excuse ‘yan all the time. Kasi kung puro ka excuse, eh naghahanap ka ng justification kung bakit ganyan lang pinapakita mo. Alam naman natin, mahirap ang buhay so it is yung attitude mo sa ganyan ang importante at iaangat mo sa mga bata.”

After two straight Cherry Rondina errors allowed Ateneo to take the fifth set, 15-11, for their seventh win in eight matches, Reyes lamented their collapse (they took the first two sets before the Lady Eagles charged back to take the last three). But he was also quick to dismiss it. “We have to learn our lessons and hope makabawi kami,” postulated Reyes. “Dapat ang mindset, ‘next time tayo magtagpo – kami naman.”

Reyes also pointed out to the contributions of his newcomers Eya Laure, Mafe Galanza, Kecelyn Galdones, and Janel Delerio to name a few who have really given UST an edge. “Palaban yung mga bata,” pointed out Reyes. “Kahit si Sisi (Rondina) na hindi kailangan motivation maglaro ay nabuhayan.”

“Ang mga tao ay nagsasabi ng ‘our future is bright,’” closed Reyes. “Hindi namin iniisip yung kasi hindi namin control yun. Ang iniisip namin ay yung ngayon. Laban lang. Tignan natin kung saan tayo aabutin.”
The UST Golden Tigresses return to the court on March 27 against Adamson at the Filoil Flying V Centre.

MPBL North Division Semi-finals Preview: Bataan vs Manila

North Division Semi-finals Preview: Bataan vs Manila
by rick olivares

Bataan Risers (23-2)
Manila Stars (20-5)

Bataan sweeps Caloocan 2-0
91-71 at Bataan
83-71 at San Andres, Manila

Manila sweeps Bulacan 2-0
69-65 at Bataan
92-83 at San Andres, Manila

You can bet Bataan was looking forward to this match-up. Manila gave them their first black eye of the season – an 89-82 loss to start out the 2018-19 campaign – so this one is where the Risers who have come a long way from that June 16 tussle as the San Andres Sports Complex.

At this point, you can throw out the regular season record. Both teams are back to square one.

For starters, the team chemistry is much better. Two, they have a somewhat different line-up as Ervin Grospe is still out after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in that game and Jeepy Faundo and Jayjay Alejandro are in the PBA. In their place, they added more potent pieces in Yvan Ludovice, Richard Escoto, Barkley Eboña, and Arvie Bringas. 

Gab Dagangon isn’t that player he was then. He didn’t score a point in that early season match-up and grabbed only two rebounds (in less than six minutes of play). Since that time, he has become the energizer for Bataan and a scoring and defensive force for the Risers. 

They have several go-to players in Pamboy Raymundo, Gary David, Richard Escoto, Yvan Ludovice, and Dagangon who can manufacture their own shots. 

In my opinion, the Risers hit their stride after the win over the Quezon City Capitals in early August of 2018. That win was their biggest to that date and propelled them to their 14-game win streak. 

This team is flush with confidence and has better team chemistry and balance. The rotation and the substitution pattern is better with all the players knowing their roles. Up and down the line-up, the Risers’ produce. 

Having said that, for Bataan to defeat Manila, they will need to outwork them on both ends of the court. They will need to keep Manila’s frontline from dominating the boards on both ends of the court. 

Speaking of the court, Bataan will have to hold serve in their home court. That is what they worked so hard for – to nail that home court advantage and the home crowd that comes with it. 

You have to give it to Manila for standing pat on their current line-up. It is already a tough one and they will battle the Risers tooth and nail for every possession.

Like the San Juan Knights, the Stars have a very tough frontline in former JRU Heavy Bombers John Lopez and Marvin Hayes (they weren’t teammates as the latter entered first) as well as former FEU Tamaraw and Barangay Ginebra center Reil Cervantes. 

And there is former St. Clare Saint Aris Dionisio who is one of the best power forwards in the amateurs. This kid has been racking up individual awards next to team trophies in the NAASCU and D-League. He doesn’t need any plans called for him. He is like former San Miguel Beerman Freddie Abuda (in terms of scavenging for offensive rebounds) although with a medium range jumpshot. Just like everywhere he goes, he is the top shot blocker. And Dionisio is the top shot blocker in the MPBL. 

They also have some potent scorers in former Arellano Chief Adrian Celada (if he returns from an injury that has sidelined him for about five matches now) and former ex-pro Roger Yap. And to think they aren’t using Jasper Parker in the way they should. Marcy Arellano gets more minutes. Celada is the best in field goal percentage in the MPBL. 

If Manila rules the boards and the second chance points, expect them to have one foot in the win door for Game 1. But make no mistake… it will be a titanic battle. 

One huge stat from the first time they met is in assists. Manila finished with 24 while Bataan had 11. 

Again, this is a different team mentally and team-work wise that Manila will face. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

From the Knights to Top Flight basketball: Vancouver’s Nap Santos is giving kababayans to live their hoop dreams.

From the Knights to Top Flight basketball: Vancouver’s Nap Santos is giving kababayans to live their hoop dreams.
by rick olivares

“Don’t back down, Kit,” exhorted Top Flight Vancouver head coach Nap Santos from across the court to his main man during their Division II quarterfinals match against La Salle Greenhills. “It’s all part of the game.”

Santos’ team from North American, taking part in maiden year in the Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals fell, 99-69, but it does not detract one iota from the collective experience.

“The kids love it,” enthused Santos. “They know each other in varying degrees back in Vancouver; some more than the others, but here, they have been inseparable. The eat lunch and dinner together. They go to the mall together. They watch basketball together. We have nothing like this back home, and we’ve heard nothing but good things from everyone all around.”

And that is exactly the experience Santos wanted to provide his kababayans back in British Columbia. His family migrated to Canada when Santos was only three years old. After finishing his high schooling there, he made the decision to come back home and give his basketball dream a shot.

“Back in 1993-96, I played for Letran College (with Willie Miller and Chris Calaguio as his teammates) under coach Rudy Hines,” related Santos. “I came in after Letran won the championship and even if we didn’t win, it was a great experience for me. In fact, it has stayed with me up to this day which is why I do this.”

Doing this comes in the form of Dream Hoops Academy in Vancouver which teaches and organizes leagues for Filipino communities in their area. Santos went back to Canada upon graduation from college, but his basketball itch hasn’t been fully scratched. “I love the game and it has been good to me. Dream Hoops Academy is a form of giving back and helping out. Unfortunately, only a select few Filipinos get chosen for secondary school teams which is why I have Dream Hoops Academy which I have been doing for 20 years now, and we are participating here in the NBTC.”

“I showed them the video Coach Eric (Altamirano, NBTC founder) showed me and they went, ‘wow!’ We came down here not knowing what to expect. And yet, the experience has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

“All I did was post a notice for tryouts and about 30 kids who came to the tryouts. There are more. Some should have -- including a pair of 6’6” kids -- but couldn’t for different reasons. But this is an eye opener.”

The same can be said for the folks watching back in Canada. “A lot of people have been watching the livestream broadcasts of our games and the effect is tremendous on the Filipino community. Hopefully, if and when we return, we will have more support, and put up a more competitive team.”

Thus far, some of the Top Flight Vancouver players have received interest from Manila schools. That includes their small forward-turned-instant-center Kit Mramor because he is by default, the tallest player here for Santos. Angelo Santos and long-range sniper Jerric Palma have also received inquiries about playing here.

“And that is what is all about,” summed up Santos. “I had the great opportunity coming back here to play, and now to coach, and if I can help other Fil-Canadians experience the same, then it’s a dream come true for all of us.”

Top Flight Vancouver is Nap Santos, Kit Mramor, Jerric Palma, Jason Tantengco, Angelo Santiago, Alek Pineda, Derick Gonzales, Kris Galindez, Japen De Leon, Dencel Mondragon, Curtis Laigo, Angelo Mangune, Leiron Dionco, Payja Santos, Jay Esquivel, and Cairo Almarez.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Analyzing Bataan’s first round win over Caloocan

Analyzing Bataan’s first round win over Caloocan
by rick olivares

There is no doubt that the road to the Datu Cup will have to be earned. And the Bataan Risers earned this hard-fought win over the Caloocan Supremos, 83-71, that had their backs to the wall and came out fighting.

Bataan looked like it was headed for another blowout after a 20-8 first quarter blitz. Caloocan came alive in the last three quarters where they kept the game close and battled the Risers basket for basket.

Caloocan finally got what they wanted when the other players stepped up to help Mark Sarangay (10 points and nine rebounds) and Rene Pacquiao (14 points and nine rebounds) with Paul Sanga (18 points) and Mar Villahermosa (12 points) finding the range as well.

The problem for the Supremos is Bataan shut down Caloocan’s two other big guns in Almond Vosotros (five points on 1-11 shooting) and Cedric Labing-isa (six points). Granted between those two they had 12 assists, but with their playoff lives on the line, Caloocan was held scoreless in the last 1:41 of the game with the score at 80-71 after a Pacquiao bucket. Bataan managed only three points in the remaining time. Caloocan on the other hand two turnovers, two fouls, and two Vosotros bricks.

In that last 1:41, Bataan’s Richard Escoto blocked Vosotros’ trey attempt and the Risers scored a bucket off a Supremos’ turnover.

That is a key point.

Bataan forced Caloocan to 16 turnovers and scored 21 points off them. The Risers took great care of the ball and finished with nine errors that Caloocan translated into 10 points.

The Risers’ slight dominance on the boards saw them also efficiently translate them into 20 fastbreak points to Caloocan’s 12.

What helped Bataan also was their bench strength. Gab Dagangon continued his impressive form by scoring 15 points, grabbing five boards, and dishing off three assists. Two other starters also finished in double digits – Alfred Batino and Gary David each scored 13.

Off the bench, Richard Escoto scored 17 points, Yvan Ludovice had eight, and Bernie Bregondo and Byron Villarias each chipped in six markers.

Bataan had a 37-20 advantage in bench points too.

It is good that Bataan was challenged in this game and on the road too. Lots to pick up especially when you note that the Risers attempted only four free throws (while jacking up 30 treys). Caloocan only finished with 13 fouls. Whether the refs swallowed their whistles and allowed the teams to play, it is always a weapon when you get to the free throw line because you mess up their rotation and force the opponent to somewhat change their defensive tactics.

Nevertheless, it is a big win and Bataan is marching on.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Faith, Dreams and that One Big Fight: Faith Nisperos on her move to Ateneo

Faith, Dreams and that One Big Fight: Faith Nisperos on her move to Ateneo
by rick olivares

If you want to fully understand Faith Nisperos, you will have to look farther than her volleyball credentials.

You will have to start with her lovely name that is more than a name. It is most apt as it defines who she is. At the very core of her being is her unwavering faith in her religious convictions. 

“’Faith’ is unquestioning belief and full trust in the Lord,” explained Nisperos. “Ateneo de Davao’s school motto is ‘Fortes in Fide’ or strong in faith. I have always tried to live by that code. And as I go through my journey in life, I always trust the Lord’s plan for me. His will be done.”

When the two-time girls’ division MVP and two-time Finals MVP awardee made her decision to go to Ateneo de Manila University for college, it set the local volleyball scene and social media abuzz. To those who know her well, the decision didn’t come as a surprise. For all the pitches made by other schools, it really boiled down to two of them – staying with National University or going back to Ateneo.

Nisperos went to Ateneo de Davao University for her elementary education but transferred to Nazareth School of National University seventh grade all the way to senior high school. 

Even then, it wasn’t an easy decision to move. 

“It was also difficult for me and my parents (about moving from AdDU to NU),” she admitted of that move. “It took a lot to convince my parents but ultimately, I decided that I wanted to study at NU.”

However, she did leave the door open to transfer for college. 

“One condition for her to moving to Manila was to give her the freedom to choose where she wanted to college,” shared someone who is familiar with the details of her decision.

And it was agonizing decision for Nisperos. One she mulled over and over. She took us through the process that helped her arrive at that decision.

“January 19, 2019 was the day I took the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET),” related Nisperos. “The campus was filled with vehicles going to the examination venue and I knew traffic was bad. Instead of taking a tricycle, I decided to walk from the (Katipunan) LRT station to the (Ateneo) High School complex. I passed by the college buildings and imagined myself in them. As I passed the Church of the Gesu, I reflected if this is the school where I will see myself in the next years. After taking the ACET, I knew that Ateneo was the school for me.”

In fact, the cover photo of her Facebook page is of the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo campus.

Faith even remembers when that photo was taken. “It was May of 2013; the same date when I had my picture taken with Ate Alyssa (Valdez),” she revealed. “I was thinking that someday, I will be a student-athlete in this school.”

Yet still the decision did not come easy. 

“It took me four months to finally decide. I asked for guidance from my parents and even asked for signs from the Lord through prayer. I was reminded every time to find God in all things. And that just did it for me.”

Season 81 did not end the way Nisperos and her Lady Bulldogs teammates envisioned. For the first time in five years, NU did not come away with the winners’ medal. “It was heartbreaking,” she said of the finals loss to De La Salle Zobel. I know that my former teammates will continue what we started and will bring back the crown to NU. But for me, this is the start of a new journey.”

“Going to Ateneo is a dream come true.”

Metta World Peace to join Baldwin, Beveridge, Racela in Go for Gold NBTC Coaches Convention

Metta World Peace to join Baldwin, Beveridge, Racela in Go for Gold NBTC Coaches Convention
by rick olivares

What do Tab Baldwin, Rob Beveridge, Nash Racela, and Metta World Peace have in common?

They are all winners and who know a thing or two and more about developing teams into winners.

Among Baldwin’s accomplishments outside numerous club titles is leading New Zealand to the 2001 Fiba Oceania championship and the semi-finals of the 2002 Fiba World Championship; steering Lebanon to the 2010 Fiba Stankovic Cup; and guiding the Philippines to the 2015 Fiba Asia silver medal. He has also mentored the Ateneo Blue Eagles to back-to-back UAAP Men’s Basketball championships.

Beveridge coached Australia’s Under-20 squad to the Fiba U20 World Championship in 2003.

Racela piloted Far Eastern University to the UAAP crown in 2015 and coached the RP team to the Seaba Cup gold medal in 2016.

Metta World Peace is a former NBA All-Star (2004) with the Indiana Pacers and NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers (2010). Aside from being named the 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, he also made numerous All-Defensive fives. His son, JeRon, is currently playing with FilAm Sports USA in the ongoing Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals.

The three accomplished coaches, along with veteran Fiba doctor George Canlas, Singapore sports official Vincent Ong, and motivational speaker Ardy Abello will discuss and breakdown various aspects of basketball related to coaching the next generation of youth cagers in the Go for Gold Coaches Convention presented by SM from March 22-24 at the MOA Arena.

National Basketball Training Center director Eric Altamirano said that all the talks pertain to youth development. “As you can see, our theme for this edition of the Coaches Convention is, ‘coaching Excellence: Empowering the next generation athletes.’ And while many principles remain the same over the year, the techniques as well as understanding people in our ever-changing world have made sports and coaching even more challenging. We chose these coaches not only because of their accomplishments, but also because they are known for molding and developing young players into terrific athletes.”

Breaking down the topics, Altamirano said that Ardy Abello will discuss the importance of leadership in sports and coaching, Dr. Canlas will talk about Hydration and Injury prevention, and Vincent Ong will tackle the subject, “What makes a great youth coach.”

For the big game coaches, Racela will teach “offensive concepts for high school basketball.” Joy Reyes will discuss the crucial and all-important topic of identifying young talent. Veteran and renowned strength and conditioning coach Dan Rose will reveal secrets to ultimate training without going to the weight room. 

Metta World Peace will teach defense and basketball opportunities globally while Baldwin will share the secrets of finding peace in the midst of pressure.

“We believe that this current batch of coaches and instructors will provide a unique insight into developing young players and molding them into upright citizens of the world as well as top student-athletes.”

Registration for the Coaches Convention starts at 12 noon on March 22 and is open to all coaches including those from non-NBTC schools.

The Go for Gold NBTC Coaches Convention is also sponsored by Gatorade.

MPBL Playoffs: Preview: Game 2 Bataan vs Caloocan

Preview: Game 2 Bataan vs Caloocan
by rick olivares

March 20, 2019 San Andres Gym

The Bataan Risers are looking to close out the first round of the playoffs by sweeping the Caloocan Supremos. Bataan crushed Caloocan, 91-71, in Game One.

What must the Bataan Risers do to advance to the second round?

Rebound and run.
Bataan certainly has the studs rule the boards in Alfred Batino, Bernie Bregondo, Richard Escoto, Barkley Eboña, Arvie Bringas, Vince Tolentino, and Gab Dagangon. They have better finishers on the break than Caloocan that is really built for a half-court game. The more uptempo the game, the better it suits Bataan.

If they can keep Mark Sarangay and Rene Pacquiao off the boards that will help because the onus is now on Caloocan’s thin bench to find their points. Furthermore, not being able to contribute frustrates Sarangay and when he loses his cool his game goes south.

Stop the Supremos’ sparse frontline of Sarangay and Pacquiao.
The duo isn’t really one to inspire fear, but they do complement their small corps of point producers. If the lane is shut to their inside game, they go outside where they do have considerable range. However, that poses an even bigger problem because there will be no one to rebound the ball. 

Continue to have a lot of contributors up and down their bench.
It is ironic that for all of Bataan’s superb record and play, they do not have that superstar in the vein of a Gab Banal who has proven himself as a player since his days at Xavier School. This is a total team that maximizes the bench. We refer to the fact that all season long, not one Risers led the statistical parade. No matter which five is on the floor for head coach Jojo Lastimosa, the play does not slacken. 

Unleash Gab Dagangon.
He has been the spark in what – the last 12 games for Bataan? What makes him lethal is his ability get to the rack with that quick first step. He has a pull up jumper, a three-point shot, and can even weave in and out of traffic. He can pass when needed too. Furthermore, he gets it done on defense. 

Bataan has a lot of creative players, and Dagangon – depending on his role – is right up there with the best of them.

What must the Caloocan Supremos do to extend the series?
Play much better team ball. 
The operative words are “much better” because anything less in unacceptable. They already have a thin rotation and it should be incumbent upon the guards and forwards to help create for each other. 

Get Sarangay and Pacquiao involved.
These to have to be very active inside the lane and contributing on both ends of the court. As it is, Bataan has dictated the pace in their two previous matches. Whatever they have done has not worked. Now is the time to try something else.

Hit their outside shots.
It is incumbent upon any team to bust up that zone. It will help their inside operators.

Let’s take Paul Sanga for example. The problem with his game is that when he isn’t making those corner shots, he pretty much doesn’t do anything. I recall how this pro coach would pull out this big-time scorer in the NCAA and the PBA because when his shot wasn’t dropping, he was useless on both ends of the court. 

In a nutshell, Caloocan must have a lot of players contributing if they want to upend Bataan. The problem is, Bataan plays even better on the road.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Meet Fil-American sensation Kai Ballungay

Meet Fil-American sensation Kai Ballungay
by rick olivares

Filipino-American basketball sensation Jalen Green was the pre-game buzz owing to his aerial exploits in last year’s Chooks-to-Go NBTC National Finals presented by SM. And no doubt, this high-flying, slam dunking basketball prodigy who lead the United States of America to the Fiba Under-17 World Championship in Argentina last year lives up to the hype.

But tugging on superman’s cape and also catching the eye of basketball coaches and observers was his FilAm Sports USA teammate Kainoa “Kai” Ballungay.

The tall and aerodynamic 6’7” Ballungay tallied 19 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block versus 3 turnovers in Team USA’s 78-45 romp over AusPinoy Australia in the classification matches of the 2019 Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena, Monday, March 18.

“I’m from Hawaii,” introduced Kai of himself. “My dad, Miles Ballungay, is a Filipino who hails from Hawaii but I am also half-white. My grandmother is from Ilocos Norte.”

Ballungay turned 17 last November and just graduated from for Kimball High School Jaguars (the school is located in Tracy, California) where he averaged 24.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game from the three-spot.

The Jaguars were knocked out by Vanden High School Vikings, 80-75, in the first round of the Sacramento-Joaquin Section Division III Championships last February 13. Ballungay scored 22 points for Kimball (also the same number his teammate, John Harris).

“Right now, I have committed to California State University Stanislaus for college,” said Ballungay of his young basketball career. The CSU Stanislaus Warriors are coming off a 12-14 season and it is hoped that Ballungay will give the team a lift.

Coming over to Manila for the first time, Kai was happy to be in touch with his roots. “It’s a great feeling coming over here,” said the young basketeer. “This (MOA Arena) is the biggest venue I’ve played in and I hear that by the second day of competition, this place gets packed and is really noisy. That would be great. I will see what I can do for Team USA and the fans.”

Playing alongside Jalen Green, Ballungay chuckled, “It would have been nice to have him too as a teammate in Kimball.”

“But he’s a great young talent and it’s just one game, but it has been fun to play alongside him.”

Regarding any chances of playing in the Philippines, Ballungay said, “I can’t tell what happens in the future. We’ll see.”

JeRon Artest: On having a NBA great for a father; playing in the Philippines

JeRon Artest: On having a NBA great for a father; playing in the Philippines
by rick olivares

FilAm Sports USA is always the team that basketball fans, local coaches, and players look out for in the Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals.

Always teeming with talent – two years ago Kamaka Hepa wowed everyone with his big man skiils and last year, the high-flying Jalen Green and crafty point guard Kihei Clark set local social media on fire with their hard-court exploits – they are almost single-handedly the best draw.

This year, FilAmSports USA, with Green making his second appearance and newcomer Kai Ballungay coming on strong with his solid play on the ground and in the air, 18-year old JeRon Artest is making a case to be seen and heard.

JeRon is the son of NBA great, Ron Artest.

During FilAm Sports USA’s 78-45 win over AusPinoy Australia in Day One of the National Finals, Artest, running the point guard position, quietly but solidly backed up Green and Ballungay’s tremendous output with four points, five rebounds, and one assist in 25 minutes of play.

“It is also a feeling out period for me and my teammates,” said the 6’3” Artest who was accompanied by his mother, Jennifer Palma, and her mother and aunts who hail from New York City. Although Jennifer was born in the United States, her mother, Connie, hails from Mindoro.

Artest transferred from Hillcrest Prep to neighboring Bella Vista Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona where they won the championship with JeRon was named Defensive Player of the Year.

“When he was seven years old, he said that he wanted to play basketball. So, we looked for a team for him to play,” related Jennifer. “I entered JeRon but used my last name and not his father’s because I didn’t want him attracting extra attention. And I wanted to see if he would get in without any favors (he did).”

“It is tough to follow his dad because the pressure is double,” added the mother. “I can imagine that it is tough trying to live up to his dad’s accomplishments so I don’t add to the pressure.”

“The cool thing is my dad only offers advice and pointers when he needs to,” chimed in JeRon. “He allows me to play my game and really supports what I do. He was fun to watch too."

The Artests first came over to Manila in 2014 for a vacation and young JeRon worked out with the De La Salle team. “But playing in the US was our goal more so since JeRon was doing very well. Even the people we spoke to in La Salle were telling us, ‘Be sure your son goes to the US NCAAs.’”

Right now, with high school done, the young Artest is evaluating his options. Regarding his first game NBTC experience, “It’s tons of fun to play on a pro court and play against tough competition. I think as a team, we’re coming on pretty strong and building our chemistry.”

“My family is looking at all our options for my future,” said JeRon. “I am not closing any door to any opportunity. My dad says, ‘an opportunity is an opportunity’ and I believe that. We’ll finish the (NBTC) tournament then see what is best for us. But I am excited to be here. I hope it will be a rewarding trip for my team and myself. And the basketball fans too.”

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tough Fiba Draw

Tough Fiba Draw
by rick olivares

The Fiba World Cup draw saw a somewhat equitable distribution of the powerhouse nations amongst the good teams and rising ones. 

After the draw, Argentinean coach Sergio Hernandez summed up everything about the draw and the talent, “There are no easy opponents and predictions serve for very little. You have to perform on the court. It’s like that. There are no secrets.” 

I agree. In my opinion, the closest one to a “Group of Death” is Group H with Canada, Senegal, Lithuania, and Australia that will play its matches in the city of Dongguan. 

One thing is for sure, the Philippines isn’t going to ambush other countries – although we can hope – such as the manner in which we did in 2014 in Spain.

The top two teams of each group will advance to the second round. Let’s see – off hand – if we can pick out who will progress to the next stage.

Group A: China and Poland
Group B: Argentina and Korea
Group C: Spain and Puerto Rico
Group D: Serbia and…
Group E: USA and Turkey
Group F: New Zealand and Greece
Group G: France and Germany
Group H: Australia and Canada

If you noticed, I didn’t pick a second team after Serbia to advance. It is too presumptuous for me to say, “Philippines” because I am Filipino. 

However, I figure it is either Italy or the Philippines. Italy is such an unknown commodity. When we say that, we usually look for NBA or Euroleague players. As it is, no Italian on this squad – although this could change – is playing in this 2018-19 Euroleague as well. 

All the players play at home. They have no one who matches up with either Andray Blatche, Japeth Aguilar, or June Mar Fajardo height-wise or in size. Of course, that doesn’t mean they cannot be taken lightly. 

It is the same thing with Angola. They have the height and athleticism, but I feel they more often than not give more importance to these rather than court vision or game intelligence if you will.

That is what in my opinion has really helped Philippine basketball take off. Since generally, we aren’t tall and able to take to the skies and dunk, we worked on other aspects of the game such as dribbling, shooting, and finding the open man. Pretty much like the Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese. 

Of course, the success of these Angolan teams in recent memory will really help their grassroots movement. 

No doubt, they will be a handful.

Serbia might be the fourth ranked team in the world, but make no mistake, they have a young team that was inconsistent during the qualifying phase. 

If you ask me, it is a most unpredictable group. Even for the Philippines. And that is good, don’t you think?

As the man said, there will be no easy games. Everything will be earned.

If we do progress, now that would be something to crow about.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Crossover Canada to parade more Fil-foreign prospects to collegiate hoops via NBTC

Crossover Canada to parade more Fil-foreign prospects to collegiate hoops via NBTC
by rick olivares

When Durham Crossover Canada makes their fourth appearance in the Chooks to Go NBTC National Finals presented by SM (March 18-24 at the MOA Arena in Pasay City), they will parade four Filipino-Canadians who local colleges should take a look at.

According to Crossover’s coach Mike Cruz, Tyler Garcia, Jason Diaz, Denzel Faraon, and Josh Samonte could find homes among Manila schools competing in the UAAP and NCAA.

Garcia was recently named Most Valuable Player for the 2019 National Junior Circuit (born 2003) in Canada. Garcia is a 5’10” combo guard.

Diaz stands 6’2” and is also a tournament MVP in Canada and has long range marksmanship. He has reportedly sparked interest from San Beda University and the College of St. Benilde.

Faraon is a 6’0” guard and is the starting point guard for Thornlea Prep School in Canada. He too is a multi-MVP.

The 6’2” Samonte is an athletic forward. 

Crossover Canada has seen seven of its previous standouts recruited by local squads. The most known are James Canlas who played for the Red Lions last NCAA season and was a part of its current three-peat squad. Also other Fil-Canadians in San Beda’s pool are Alvin Florido and Andre Cruz.

And there is Matthew Daves who was a part of Ateneo’s UAAP champion squad and earned a gold medal in the recent UAAP 3x3 tournament.

Forward Evyn Santiago plays for UP while Robbie Ocampo is with CSB.

Ben Kwawukumey is now with UST.

“It speaks of the quality of players that we have coming from Canada,” said Cruz of Crossover’s success. “Hopefully, this year we can break past the Round of 16. We don’t have the height, but we are used to playing tall guys in Canada and some of our players have experience playing here so we are also banking on our chemistry.”

Durham Crossover Canada will play Far Eastern University this Monday, March 18, in a classification match to determine the final seeding of all the 32 squads taking part in the national finals.

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ Game 1 demolition of Caloocan

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ Game 1 demolition of Caloocan
by rick olivares

Even at 91-71, Game One of the quarterfinals best-of-three series between the Bataan Risers and the Caloocan Supremos wasn’t close. The game was practically over in the first period, 28-9, in favor of Bataan.

The closest Caloocan could get within touching distance was a shoving match between the Supremos’ Mark Sarangay and Bataan’s Yvan Ludovice (after a foul by his teammate Gab Dagangon on the former). 

How did this demolition job happen?
If you explain the game of basketball, in its most simplistic terms it is to score and stop the opponent.

And the Risers accomplished that. They were exceptional on offense and pretty good on defense (more on this later).

Take a look at the first period.

Bataan registered six assists on offense and two blocks and one steal on defense.
The Supremos only had one assist, one steal, and one block.

Eight of the Risers’ baskets came inside the lane while they hit six shots from beyond 15-feet.

The Supremos were 3-8 inside the lane. They missed all eight of their medium range shots and were 0-5 from beyond the three point arc. 

That is an indication of one, the difficulty Caloocan had to get the ball inside to Rene Pacquiao and Mark Sarangay, and this team’s propensity to shoot from the outside instead of mixing it up.

The Risers made life difficult for Pacquiao and Sarangay. Then Caloocan couldn’t hit the side of a building even if their lives depended on it.

Their outside gunners were firing blanks.
Paul Sanga was 2-9 from the field.
Jopher Custodio was 2-8.
Damian Lasco was 4-9.
Cedrick Labing-isa was 2-8.
And Almond Vosotros shot 5-17.

With a collective field goal shooting pegged at 33%, it is still possible to win. However, Bataan shot 49%. A good number of the baskets made were from within 15-feet or closer.

Alfred Batino was 5-6.
Gab Dagangon 7-10.
Byron Villarias shot 7-11.
Pamboy Raymundo was 5-9.
Richard Escoto, 4-7.

We’ve seen the field goal percentage but the total team game of Bataan was on display. They chalked up 28 assists to Caloocan’s 14.

And lastly, while this was a game where the offense took center stage while Bataan’s defense was quietly effective.

Key stats here are the production of Pacquiao and Sarangay.
Sarangay in 25-plus minutes had four points, four rebounds, one steal, and one block.
Pacquiao in under 20 minutes of play finished with four points and nine rebounds. 

With Caloocan’s two key inside operators held in check, Jopher Custodio had to help out and he did provide quality minutes for Caloocan – with five points, nine rebounds, one steal, and one block.

When the inside game isn’t going to well, that places more pressure on the regular gunners in Almond Vosotros and Ced Labing-isa. Paul Sanga has been streaky at best and never consistent.

So on to Game Two.