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, April 21, 2019

Joshua Lazaro's move from San Beda to Ateneo.

Josh’s move.

by rick olivares


With that Instagram post, Joshua Lazaro, signified his intention to move from San Beda in Antipolo to Ateneo de Manila High School. 

For much of the past school year, Lazaro has been recruited and pitched to by different schools, to move for his senior high school. 

He resisted any pondering of a move until the season was over. He wanted to give the Red Cubs’ NCAA campaign his undivided attention. And even when the season was done, he insisted on finishing his studies and graduating from junior high before anything else. 

His family readily gave him the space so as not to influence or pressure his decision. Then came the Instagram post that showed Lazaro inside the Ateneo campus with only one word: “changes.”

The move from the familiar to the unfamiliar is always frightening. 

After 10 years in San Beda (he moved then for fourth grade), he is going to the only other school that he considered moving to if he decided to leave Antipolo. It was a difficult decision. Joshua thought of his teachers, classmates, coaches, and teammates who have meant so much to him. There was much thinking as well as tears. But at the end, he went with what he believes is the best move for him at this stage of his young life. 

What does a 16-year old know? Life is still pretty much a mystery that will unspool its answers when you least expect it. The decision was his entirely and yet, his family made him listen to everyone who invited Joshua to move to their school (there were several UAAP and NCAA schools that pitched to him). 

Yet, Lazaro, through the guidance of his family, has made it acutely aware that it will be filled with challenges.

There have only been two previous major adjustments that Joshua has made – the first was enrolling in San Beda for Grade 4, and when he joined the basketball team.

And the reason for playing basketball wasn’t even a sports thing – it was to socialize and to find a way to communicate with others. Lazaro is the quiet, shy, and introspective sort. With his being involved in a team game, he found himself and the confidence to be a part of a whole. 

Through the game, he found a resolve. He hardly has any plays called for himself. He usually cleans up the glass, puts back the ball, or finds an open teammate for a pass and a bucket. His unselfish play has been vital and not gone unnoticed. In fact, he’s been a part of the last three Batang Gilas squads.

There are other challenges in the move to Ateneo.

The academic standards are very rigorous and demanding. That is a given and while Joshua has been a good student in San Beda, you couple that with the pressure cooker that is the UAAP and joining a Blue Eagles team that is pretty much gutted from its title team of two seasons ago. The premature departure of center Kai Sotto, who still has a few years left, to pursue his American and European adventure that he hopes will one day land him a spot on an NBA roster, is more telling because now, Lazaro is the tallest player on the squad. Now, six-foot-four Joshua isn’t a center as he is a four-spot player. 

It stands to reason he will play out of position if there is no one to plug that doughnut hole in the middle that has been vacated by Sotto and Geo Chiu.

Speaking of the two, last season, there were three Batang Gilas players on the Ateneo roster – point guard Forthsky Padrigao as well as Sotto and Chiu. Only Padrigao is left. Bantam-sized point guard Ian Espinosa is still around. Other than those two there are no other players with significant contributions to the Blue Eagles’ finals stint. 

There are no illusions that Ateneo will compete for the UAAP Juniors crown let alone make the Final Four (one can hope though). You can be sure the adversity quotient will rise significantly. 

And yet the Lazaros understand that. If moving to San Beda was to help him socialize and as a bonus, learn and find himself in the game of basketball; moving to Ateneo is to prepare for college and beyond. They have told Joshua that he will learn more fending for himself in Ateneo. And we aren’t just talking about hoops.

For the first time in his life, he will stay in the Ateneo dorm of Cervini. Previously, he always went home after basketball practice and school. This time because of practicality, he will have to stay and that in itself is an adjustment. 

So, the adjustment isn’t only for Josh but the entire family. “We’re all in this together,” they collectively enthuse. It is heartwarming to see a family throw their full support in their son’s pursuit of a dream.

And that is for the best because change is always challenging. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

La Salle looks good heading into the semis, the F4 cast is complete and UP’s meltdown

La Salle looks good heading into the semis, the F4 cast is complete and UP’s meltdown
by rick olivares

There are three big storylines from the weekend volleyball matches.

The first is, La Salle has seen its silver lining and that the path to a fourth straight UAAP women’s crown is a little clearer and within sight. Two, the Final Four cast has been decided. And three, UP now understands NU’s plight during the Santiago sisters’ years in blue and gold.

Let’s tackle the first.

So much for not seeing Ateneo at their best.
That was what Oliver Almadro said after their season opening defeat to La Salle. The Lady Eagles rattled off 10 straight wins before falling to their nemesis in an embarrassing three sets (25-17, 25-13, 25-23).

Someone online wondered, “why embarrassing?” Well, the simple truth is you are building up to this game; a validation of your 10-game winning streak and you are swept in three sets. No one scores in double digits and there are ZERO block points.”

It is one thing to lose in five sets and altogether another in three. 

You could see the Lady Spikers’ swag and psych-out tactics working. But why be surprised? You know this is coming and it is part of their game plan.

When the Lady Eagles lost in that first set, after Mae Luna began hitting all those shots, it gave La Salle a confidence booster – we can take these guys. And they did. One key to beating them is taking that first step and plant some doubt. Nothing happened.

The question now is to bounce back and be ready for the Final Four.

La Salle also should thank Ateneo for dispatching UP. The Fighting Lady Maroons are the only team to beat them – twice this season. But losses to Ateneo really put UP on a tailspin and out of the Final Four chase.

Having said that, it brings us to the second point.

The Final Four cast is decided.
Ateneo, La Salle, UST, and FEU are advancing to the next round. It is a matter of placing now. Who plays who. 

UST must be happy because they won their way in and without help from other teams. Even during their tough stretch of the season, they hung tough and for the most part, played with a joy. 

FEU is talented, but they are like UP – with confidence issues. Only Heather Guino-O scored in double figures with everyone else not playing well. Even UST rookie Mafe Galanza outshone FEU’s Kyla Negrito who started every set but saw her being subbed out by Gel Cayuna who had more excellent sets than her teammate. 

They want to sharpen their teeth for the playoffs? They have to bring it against La Salle in their final engagement of the elimination round.

A painful end to a promising season for UP.
It is ironic that NU, the team that in most recent years had all sorts of pre-season success but faltered come the UAAP, was the one to dispatch UP.

This five-set loss (21-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-23, 15-17) to the much younger Lady Bulldogs is painful and takes some of the shine away from their pre-season trophies. 

Without a doubt, this UP team can compete and even win it all. I thought that this year was their best chance to win it all, but it isn’t happening. 

Having really followed this team through the past few years, I thought that at times, their swag was misplaced. Prior to the first round loss to Ateneo, they were pointing to spots on the floor where their shots fell or even gave stare downs. I think it is nice, but they do not have it down to a science unlike La Salle. I remember thinking, “Hmm, this is too early and misplaced.” Then Ateneo took them out in embarrassing fashion and they were never the same again. Tots Carlos didn’t look like the frightening power spike she was. In fact, in other games, she would be taken out and she stopped putting up big points. Their twin blockers in Marist Layug and Jessma Ramos were silent. 

I really thought that Ramos was one key factor in their late Season 80 run as well as in certain spots in the pre-season. Yes, Layug played well, but I always thought that Ramos could be a bigger force. Aeisha Gannaban stopped being a major contributor. And of course, there is the injury to Isa Molde (that is not and should never be an excuse because UST lost Minela Alessandrini for the entire season and possibly even longer given her being injury prone but they still played better).

More to the NU analogy. Remember that year when Dindin Santiago, Myla Pablo, and company broke into the seniors division? There was excessive swag in them as they danced, celebrated like there was no tomorrow, and talked smack to opponents. Then they fell in the Final Four to a team they beat twice in the elims and were never the same again.

While they have one more game to play before their Season 81 if officially over, the entire team from the braintrust to the players head into the off-season with questions and a need for answers. If you ask me, this is where they have to rebuild mentally and psychologically. And it won’t be easy, but they need to if they want to make the final playing years of Carlos and Molde really mean something.

Cortinazo’s game winner lifts UE to BBI U25 win over DLSU

Cortinazo’s game winner lifts UE to BBI U25 win over DLSU
by rick olivares

Cristine Cortizano hit a jumpshot with six seconds left to lift the University of the East Lady Red Warriors to a pulsating 44-43 win over De La Salle University in the BBI Women’s U25 tournament at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center. 

UE led by as much as nine points, 20-11, in the early stages of the game. The Lady Green Archers slowly whittled away at the lead until they caught up in the third period and took the lead after a jump shot by Chini Espinas at the 3:05 mark, 27-25.

La Salle twice led by four points, the last at 31-27 after a bucket by Marga Jimenez with 44 seconds left in the third period.

Both teams battled through one more deadlock and three more lead changes until the Lady Red Warriors’ Princess Pedregosa notched the count one last time at 40-all after being fouled on a play; time down to 1:43. 

Pedregosa, however, missed an opportunity to add a bit more cushion to the lead but she missed a free throw.

La Salle patiently worked their next possession when point guard Lee Sario found a wide-open Espinas outside the three-point arc for a triple that gave DLSU a 43-42 lead with 13 seconds left. 

UE responded with running one-handed jumper by Cortinzao in the lane with six seconds left for a 44-43 lead. Cortizano missed her free throw that just left another window for La Salle to steal the game with six seconds left.

But a traveling violation slapped on Ben Revillosa sealed DLSU’s fate as the Lady Red Warriors escaped with a 44-43 victory.

UE punished La Salle with their work off the boards that saw a 52-39 advantage net 14 second chance points to the Lady Green Archers’ five. 

Cortizano posted a double double of 16 points and 10 rebounds to go with 2 assists. Princess Pedregosa also tallied a double double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Chini Espinas led La Salle with 12 points with Marga Jimenez added 11 points and 6 boards.

In other women’s games, UST won its second game in as many matches when they outlasted Adamson, 84-75. Centro Escolar University crushed Our Lady of Fatima University, 60-38.

Monday, April 8, 2019

UST upsets NU; Enderun wins in BBI women’s hoops

UST upsets NU; Enderun wins in BBI women’s hoops
by rick olivares

It isn’t the UAAP, but for the UST Golden Tigresses, it is still a win against the dominant women’s basketball team in the land today – the NU Lady Bulldogs.

UST held off a late charge by NU to win, 79-71, in the BBI Women’s Under-25 Summer Tournament at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center.

The Golden Tigresses overhauled a 33-29 half time deficit for a six-point 52-46 lead after three frames played behind Ana Mae Tacatac’s 13-point spree that included three triples. 

Yet a six-point lead isn’t safe with NU’s deep line-up as they re-took the lead, 57-56 after Monique Del Carmen’s jump shot at the 6:19 mark. Lady Bulldog Kaye Pingol drilled a triple in NU’s next possession for a 60-56 lead. Del Carmen added two more free throws as NU threatened to pull away with UST firing blanks and turning the ball over.

But Tacatac went back to work as she nailed a trey and a jumper while teammate Callangan knocked down a three of her own to notch the count at 64-all. 

Both sides continued to trade baskets and the lead until the last two minutes where UST, nursing a slim 72-71 win, put the defensive clamps on NU which didn’t score the rest of the way. The Golden Tigresses on the other hand, scored seven points in that span, to put the game away.

The tandem of Grace Irebu and Tacatac were too much for NU to handle. Irebu tallied 25 points, 20 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal while Tacatac also managed a double double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

UST also pounded NU inside for a 40-28 advantage in points inside the lane.

NU’s duo of Del Carmen and Pingol combined for 26 points.

In other Women’s U25 matches, Enderun College used a 23-point first period as a springboard for a 58-47 win over Centro Escolar University.

Enderun’s Karen Baylosis and Larisao Sai also tallied double double. The former tabulated 15 points and 12 rebounds while the latter chalked up 13 points and 10 boards. 

UAAP Women’s Volleyball: FEU and Ateneo seize their moments

UAAP Women’s Volleyball: FEU and Ateneo seize their moments
by rick olivares

There are moments when the game turns on its head. Where either you seize the opportunity or lose it.

There were two of those this past UAAP Women’s Volleyball weekend.

The first was the FEU-UP game last Saturday that the Lady Tamaraws won in four sets (25-21, 19-25, 25-23, 25-22).

The Lady Tamaraws seized the lead with strong play by Jerilli Malabanan, Heather Guino-o, and Ivana Agudo. 

UP played better and took the second set.

The Lady Fighting Maroons started the third set well and had FEU on the back heel with some solid hitting. FEU charged back to tie the score and soon overtook UP. The Lady Tamaraws could have folded right there. But they didn’t. 

These are two emotionally fragile squads and it doesn’t take much to upset the cart. And this balances everything, missing players or not. When Isa Molde was sent in late in the first set, I thought that there was this Willis Reed moment. I thought if she scored, she would have blown the roof off the Big Dome. If she scored, that would have been one emotional rescue. But she didn’t and she was subbed out quickly because it was obvious she wasn’t there yet, physically and mentally. 

That moment would reprise itself in the fourth frame but it too passed without anything in the favor of UP.

In those crucial moments, it was FEU’s players who not only stepped up to the plate, but belted one out. That’s Czarina Carandang, Guino-o, and Agudo (with loads of help from Ria Duremdes). 

How big was that win? It vaults FEU to fourth spot at 7-4 and drops UP to fifth at 6-5.

It was like that as well with the Ateneo-NU match that saw the lady Eagles win their 10thstraight match (26-14, 24-26, 25-17, 25-19). It was similar to the FEU-UP match where Ateneo overpowered NU in the first, buckled in the second, looked shaky in the early part of the third but found their verve in the middle of the set that propelled them to a four-set win. 

When NU looked like they would turn the tables on the Lady Eagles, they got back in the game with defense. That five players scored in double figures (Jules Samonte and Kat Tolentino each scored 13, Maddie Madayag had12, and Bea De Leon and Ponggay Gaston added 10) shows that the team is humming and in step heading into this long-awaited return bout with La Salle. 

I liked how players like Jaycel delos Reyes, Jaja Maraguinot, Erika Raagas, and Vannie Gandler stepped in and gave quality minutes. Even if some didn’t score, it helps that they contributed in some way. That should bolster their confidence for the long haul. 

That the Lady Eagles are being tested throughout this 10-game win streak will only mean well for them come the playoffs as they chalked up that twice-to-beat advantage that comes with their league-best 10-1 record with three matches to play.

To paraphrase the old saying, “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.”

That will be tested to the hilt when they play DLSU.

The pursuit of mental toughness

The pursuit of mental toughness
by rick olivares

In quite a few of my post-mortems about UAAP volleyball matches, I have cited certain teams’ lack of mental fortitude in getting the job done.

To play consistent for an entire game is rare and what in all probability is the perfect game. That is few and far in between. More often than not, in the space of two hours – the average time of a ball game – there is that ebb and flow. 

I have wondered how a team can look so imperious one moment then lose the plot in the next breath.

Okay. I am not forgetting that these are college kids who aren’t fully mature. Heck, we even have folks in their 30s and 40s who aren’t mature yet. So maturity, elusive or not, is also key.

Having observed a lot of coaches in a variety of sports up close, I notice that many of them don’t really understand the importance of mental strength and training. They talk about it, but don’t really understand or teach it. Is experience enough? 

Again, if it isn’t solely age, experience isn’t enough. You head coaches say something to effect, “And tanda mo na ganyan pa rin laro mo.” Obviously, it is a combination of a lot of things.

Watching Anusorn Bundit bring meditation into the regimen of the Ateneo Lady Eagles was good and you see other teams do it now. But in my opinion, watching them employ that technique during games, the inability to converse fluently in English didn’t help at some point.

There is something I tell athletes who I mentor about the value of communication and leadership. You see athletes talking during the huddle or on the court. That’s good, but that isn’t everything either. I tell them that leadership and communication begins off the court and not during a game. If a team captain hardly talks outside the court so what makes people think the others will listen during game time. 

Yes, lead by example. That is right, but again, it isn’t everything. A team is made up of disparate individuals; each with different traits, ways of thinking, or value systems. I think for a coach or someone in authority to tap into that, they have to understand each and every person on that team. That way, you know what to say, how to motivate, and what buttons to push. 

I have heard one coach dismiss mental strength training because when he was playing, they never had any such thing and they won without it.

Obviously, this person doesn’t understand how times change. Does he even know how the game that he professes to love has grown so much that it hardly resembles the game when it was first drawn up with a peach basket by James Naismith?

One time, a player for this team also brushed aside the teachings of a sports psychologist. “They just mess with my head especially during a game,” this female athlete said. 

Point taken. I think that sports shrinks should also be sensitive enough to understand not only the game and its nuances, but also the team. 

I believe that sports teams, coaches, and athletes should really look into the mental aspect of the game. Just as much as skills training or strategy.

As the ultimate NBA winner Bill Russel once said, “Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.”

Imagine if people could bottle the secrets of mental toughness, everyone would be at their best. Impossible, right? 

Yet on the flipside, this arena of flawed people trying to be the best they can be is what makes sports fascinating. Because it is about people for strive for greatness and even perfection. 

That is why when you have people like Michael Jordan, Pele, Roger Federer, Jack Nicklaus, and others who sit on the Mount Olympus of sports, they are celebrated and feted as GOATs.

I will discuss this with some winning coaches and try to get their take on it in the next column.