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, March 9, 2020

Opinion: San Beda remains formidable

Opinion: San Beda remains formidable 
By Rick Olivares

Any talk that the San Beda Red Lions will no longer be a power in NCAA basketball are premature if not downright silly.

No Donald Tankoua. No Clint Doliguez. No AC Soberano. No Evan Nelle. They still crushed NCAA champions Letran (who were missing their own set of players but that isn’t the point here), 76-53 during the UAAP-NCAA Showdown. Then they took down a strong UST team with reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Soulemane Chabi Yo, 77-68.

In the semi-finals, of the PCCL, they averted a disaster when they escaped a late University of the Philippines surge, 65-63, to enter the finals where they unfortunately, lost to Ateneo, 57-46.

Following their PCCL loss to Ateneo, the Red Lions players were so downcast. Almost as tough as when they lost to Letran in the last NCAA finals. Other teams might treat this as, “Ah, this is just the PCCL.” Not San Beda. Whether you admire that attitude or not, this will definitely serve as fuel, as motivation when the next season starts.

As it is, they will have some very good players in key positions. Calvin Oftana. For old-time Red Lions fans and followers, he plays like former star Elmer Reyes – that long rainbow of a shot, the ability to get the rim with the ball in the palm of his hands and he gently lays it in. Except, Oftana is taller, leaner, and more athletic. The man has PBA written all over him.

James Kwekuteye can play the one, two, and three spots. But he is more effective at the two. If he formed that exciting one-two punch with Nelle in the previous year, this time, it will be Oftana and himself. 

Ralph Penuela has returned after a year’s absence and the Red Lions felt his loss in last year’s campaign. He will be filling that spot vacated by Nelle. The problem is they did not anticipate Nelle bolting for La Salle. Now they have a depth problem at the one-spot where Prince Etrata is too small and at times overmatched. That doesn’t mean though that he cannot play it. He will need to improve with his speed and shooting.

Peter Alfaro is showing signs of why he was moved up from the Red Cubs’ ranks. In high school, he would spot up and shoot. Now, he is taking his game inside and is surprisingly a good rebounder.

They have JB Bahio is who underrated at the three and four and Franz Abuda who though known as a defensive stopper, can rebound, and even hit timely threes.

Kemark Cariño will play that center slot with help from Damie Cuntapay and Alex Visser.

They will have some help when Justine Sanchez, Yukien Adrada, and Rhayyan Amsali move up to the seniors ranks. 

While it isn’t as fearsome a five as San Beda has deployed for over a decade, these Red Lions will have to dig deep if they want to keep their spot as an elite team in the NCAA. They will win as a team with others playing key roles whether they fill in for a few minutes or two. They will win it by playing heads up defense.

Too often, the Red Lions do not get props for their work on the defensive end as they bristle with a lot of firepower. They are a very sound defensive team. As such, they remain the hunted. Every team will gun for them in what they think is an even playing field. Well, that remains to be seen.

But one thing they have going for them is many of their top NCAA foes have depleted line-ups – College of St. Benilde, San Sebastian, Lyceum of the Philippines, and Letran.

Furthermore, there is that championship pride. That hard-won experience of having played in countless finals gives them an edge; it might not be much, but it is an edge.

Their coaching staff knows they are in for a fight so they will need to address their line-up by the summer heading into the new NCAA season. Speaking of their coaching staff… that is a plus. The crew behind the team has been in place for a while. One might think that there is a sense of complacency. I assure you there is none. They have some top backroom people who know what they do and how to get the job done. There is nothing like knowing that a team is well-coached, well-prepared, and supported. That consistency in my book, makes for a huge advantage. 

Make no mistake though… the San Beda Red Lions… will be in the thick of the fight.

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