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, September 24, 2017

Looking at the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ win over UE

Looking at the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ win over UE
by rick olivares

The sun may be setting on the University of the East Red Warriors this early but no way were they going to roll over and die. There are no easy games especially against the teams that are at the cellar. They lie in ambush.

No way should Ateneo lose if it does what it has to do but it is ultimately lose-able if the Blue Eagles step off the gas pedal. The weekend already saw La Salle waylaid by tough UP. The University of Santo Tomas was on its way to its first win of the season when they led for about 25 minutes before they lost steam against FEU.

Upset weekend wasn’t over as the Red Warriors, always pesky and knowing they can upend Ateneo after having beaten them twice in the past two pre-season tourneys came to play.

Whether it backfired that Alvin Pasaol was being conserved because of his propensity for committing fouls (he fouled as soon as he entered the game) or not we will not know because the Red Warriors they lost the lead pretty early in the match. Mark Olayon looked dangerous in the first few minutes but that was it. He was a non-factor the rest of the way. Clark Derige save for a bucket here and there was once more the Invisible Man for UE. Maybe they should consider playing all three at the same time.

Imagine if all three were locked in…Ateneo averted what could have been a reprise of the “NU game of Season 70”. That was when the Bulldogs of Jonathan Fernandez and Jonathan Jahnke rained one triple after another on Ateneo (at the Cuneta Astrodome) that resulted in a shock loss. The Bulldogs were already out of the running while Ateneo was gunning for a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. The loss gave La Salle the advantage and Ateneo faced a mountain to climb against the Green Archers.

At that point, the Blue Eagles of Norman Black were up and coming but not yet the juggernaut it would come to be by the following season. And while that game was late in the second round, the match of these current Blue Eagles versus UE is in the middle of the first round. With UP taking second spot after its huge win over La Salle, it was imperative to maintain the unblemished slate and to continue to put some distance over its closest pursuers.

Yet it was easier said than done. Ateneo struggled with sloppy play and suspect decision-making.

The losses in concentration by these Blue Eagles can be beguiling at times. It seems that four games in, there seems to be that requisite inbound turnover. This game there were three. The bulk of the team are in their third or fourth years so these kind of turnovers are unacceptable.

Baldwin was right to get upset at the sloppy play. Despite being ahead, they were playing to the pace of UE. And to think the Red Warriors’ press is not as fearsome as it once was.

Inserting the third team was a near big mistake. While talented, they seemed tentative for the most part. Sometimes this will work; sometimes it won’t. Just my thought, maybe one of the starters – Thirdy or even Anton should be on the floor with these guys much like during the five-peat, at any given time – save for the blowouts – Greg Slaughter or Kiefer Ravena were on the floor at all times. There’s a go-to guy or stabilizer when the offense breaks down.

Speaking of go-to… I love the consistency that Thirdy Ravena is showing. He is third in scoring behind Ben Mbala and Paul Desiderio with 18.0 points per game. He is also close to averaging double figures in rebounds with 9.0 a game.

When his Old Man first came to UE, he wasn’t a frosh. He had played two years at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo before transferring to UE. So when he came to the UAAP, he was already experienced. And he was solid. Coincidentally, Thirdy Ravena is playing like his Old Man in his third year – aggressive, with a better feel for the game, and well-rounded.

Matt Nieto has come on strong in these past two games against FEU and UE. In these two matches, Ateneo’s starting point guard averaged 11.0 points (50% from three-point range as well), 3.0 assists to 1.5 turnovers, and 1.0 blocks.

The team is gathering steam with others beginning to step up. Aaron Black has rediscovered his confidence and aggressiveness. Anton Asistio is more composed. Chibueze Ikeh has been steady. Ditto with Isaac Go. Raffy Verano is finding his groove – sophomore slump perhaps – but he does a lot of things. I like the fact that Ateneo has two of these hustle players in Vince Tolentino and Verano. Imagine if Verano becomes more steady….

Ateneo has won because of their superb shooting, ball movement, commitment to defense, hustle points, and depth. In this game against UE… in my opinion, what won it was some players playing steady and well, making better decisions as all the other factors were there but not in an exemplary manner.

For example, early in the first quarter, Matt Nieto was trapped close to the corner and halfcourt line. He lost the ball. I mean – come on, Matt, that is a mistake for rookies. Yet, he responded by raising the level of his game. In the fourth period, same situation, he found an unguarded Thirdy Ravena underneath the basket for a dunk.

Next up is dangerous UST. Do not let their record fool you. The Growling Tigers are a different team that played during the summer. They hang around for ¾ or 70% of the game before they fall apart. They are hungry and looking to upend Ateneo. Hopefully, by then the Blue Eagles will have picked up a trait of all champion teams – they look to crush the opponent no matter where they are in the standings.

Sareyyet Ramallah basketball: A grudging admiration for these underdogs

A grudging admiration for these underdogs
by rick olivares

Despite Chooks to Go-Pilipinas’ 89-82 loss to Palestinian club Sareyyet Ramallah in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, there’s this admiration I feel for this and other Palestinian sports teams.

They are the ultimate underdogs. They are a people without their own country and with meager resources. I can only imagine what it is like for them to want to live a normal life and still be dealt with all sorts of challenges especially in a region that is constantly on war footing.

In some ways, I am reminded of that account of Iraq’s footballers as chronicled by British journalist Simon Freeman in the revealing book, Baghdad FC, that documented the torture and murder of Iraqi athletes during the despotic reign of Uday Hussein, Saddam’s son and sports minister when they would lose matches. And following the Allied invasion of Iraq and facing the threat of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIL, these footballers would play their home matches in other countries! Incredibly and despite everything, Iraq’s national team is ranked among the best in the world.

While to my knowledge, the Palestinians do not undergo similar brutal circumstances, theirs is nevertheless just as fascinating a story.

Honestly, I first became aware of Palestinian sports after they defeated the Philippine Men’s National Team, 1-nil, during the 2014 finals of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup that was played at the Maldives. Ashraf Al Fawaghra scored on a brilliant free kick that beat Roland Muller for the match’s only goal.

And one year later, in the FIBA Asia Cup, a Palestine team, unranked in the FIBA World and Asian rankings – smaller than the Filipinos and younger, indicating a lack of experience, piped the Philippines 75-73 in the tourney opener. Sani Sakakini hit the game winning three-point play and had the game-saving block on then Philippine naturalized center Andray Blatche.

Palestine topped the group but ran out of luck in the second round, losing all their three matches. They finished 10th in a field of 16 (while the Philippines went home with a silver medal).

Last April, the first ever Palestinian Women’s Football Team competed in the qualification phase for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. Their squad played only two matches losing by a total of 11-0.

The scores and the results were irrelevant. Following a 6-nil loss to Thailand, team captain Claudie Salameh waxed euphoric, “Playing football for girls in Palestine is an enormous challenge,” she said via way of understatement. First and foremost, all Palestinian athletes are chosen from the Israeli-occupied territories and must receive permission to travel. Furthermore, these women’s athletes must also overcome traditional attitudes that women shouldn’t be playing sports and must be married come their 20s.

In basketball once more and two years after their historic 2015 FIBA Asia Cup run, Sareyyet Ramallah with only one of the Sakakini brothers (Salim) in uniform as well as the talented Jamal Abushamala, they pulled the trick once more this time to Chooks to Go Pilipinas. It was a big comeback win especially after they fell to Thailand’s Mono Vampire, 102-100, in overtime.

Sareyyet Ramallah booked their spot in the continental club championship via a backdoor when they defeated Iraqi club Al Mina in the West Asian Basketball Association Champions Cup. The Palestinians finished fifth in the competition but managed to sneak in with their upset win over Al Mina. Heading into the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, they lost their head coach, James Stevens. In his place is Frenchman Guy Claude Arnaud.

After Sareyyet Ramallah booked a spot, Stevens said of his team’s effort, “These men did not accept the excuses of the many disadvantages they had in resources and preparation, but they found a way to compete courageously together in the games.”

However, the American cautioned the future for Palestinian basketball. “The true importance of qualifying for the first time to participate in the Asian Club games remains to be seen. I hope it will lead to an increased emphasis by the federation to continue growing the game of basketball in Palestine and the process of player development and opportunities for the game to grow among the men and women and boys and girls. I believe the federation is making a great effort to do just that with the very limited resources they have at hand.

This – Palestinian sports in general – is a great story, one for the ages, I must add – that bears a lot of watching.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Former UST great Japs Cuan thinks Lee-Sta. Ana backcourt could be good

Former UST great Japs Cuan thinks Lee-Sta. Ana backcourt could be good
by rick olivares

Right now, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers are at 0-2 but you could see the potential in the team.

There have been flashes such as when head coach Boy Sablan called for Zach Huang to drive against UP. The second year player nearly scored. Center Jeepy Faundo grabbed the offensive rebound but was unable to score. Though fouled, he missed the two free throws that would have greatly changed the complexion of the game.  Even the magic bunot of Jorem Soriano was something not even the most ardent of UST supporters did not see coming. The latter scored eight big points as a player off the bench in the 74-73 loss to the Fighting Maroons.

We spoke to one of the Growling Tigers’ all-time greats in Japs Cuan who led UST to the 2006 UAAP championship about his thoughts and he had glowing remarks about the current backcourt of Marvin Lee and Jordan Sta. Ana.

“Jordan reminds me of a young Jojo Duncil,” said Cuan of his backcourt mate at that time. “He’s just fearless in attacking. Though I hope that he improves his perimeter game like Jojo turned out during our championship year.”

For Lee, Cuan coached against him when the former played for Far Eastern University in high school alongside Wendell Comboy. “he’s got great confidence now that he’s on top of the order unlike last year because he knows that Jon Sherriff and Renzo Subido were there. He was playing safe not to be subbed. I think this year will make him great. Just getting that swag is what a point guard needs.”

Cuan though had a caveat with it comes to comparisons with Lee. “And no, he doesn’t remind me of me because he can shoot. I just did whatever need to be done for us to get that win.”

Lee is leading UST in minutes played with 34 minutes a game while averaging 17.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 steals.

Sta. Ana on the other hand is norming 12.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.0 steals in 25 minutes of play.

“I am surprised how they are performing now compared to last summer,” summed up Cuan of the Growling Tigers’ play. “I guess they have settled down and that takes away the pressure from them. As a fan and a former Tiger, we always have a chance. It’s just a matter of what you believe in.”