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, February 19, 2018

Bismarck Lina remains unsinkable in UST Tiger Cubs’ Cinderella run

Bismarck Lina remains unsinkable in UST Tiger Cubs’ Cinderella run
by rick olivares

The University of Santo Tomas Tiger Cubs have been proving to be unsinkable in do-or-die matches at the tail-end of the UAAP Juniors Basketball Tournament. They’ve eliminated Adamson and defending champions Far Eastern University by the skin of their teeth, 73-72 and 81-80 respectively.

In the midst of the Tiger Cubs’ Cinderella run is the one man in the middle – John Bismarck Lina who is in his freshman year with the team after transferring from Chiang Kai Shek College.

The Tiger Cubs were seeded to fight for a Final Four slot but when new broke out about an impending coaching change in the middle of the season, the unwanted distraction saw UST fall apart in the second round. They arrested their skid with some late season heroics and now they have placed themselves in a position to book that second final slot.

What is amazing in the midst of all this is how this 6’4” forward-center has been lost in the shuffle. And why not when the uncrowned league Most Valuable Player CJ Cansino is in uniform with their plethora of outside snipers with Kobe Palencia, Rayjhun Baquial, Liam Manabat, and Vince Dolendo.

Yet with the game on the line, Bismarck has been the last line of defense. During their final match against FEU in the elimination round, Baby Tamaraws center Daniel Celzo found himself isolated against Lina yet missed a last second shot. Then in the step-ladder no-tomorrow match against FEU, it was Lina who defended that last gasp three-point attempt by Royce Alforque that missed badly.

“Hindi siya yung lead scorer ng team pero marami siyang ginagawa para sa team,” noted the lad’s uncle, Jong Ticsay. “Yung mga tinatawag na hustle stats na hindi lumalabas sa final stat sheet.”

Lina, the first cousin of former UST King Tiger and current Barangay Ginebra player Kevin Ferrer, actually somewhat prefers it to play a low key role and to simply let his game do the talking. He was on Chiang Kai Shek College’s Team B and in the process of transferring to UST when he came out of nowhere to bag a slot on the Batang Gilas team that played in last year’s Seaba tournament where he was a part of the gold medal winning Under-16 team.

On a talent-laden all-star crew, Lina posted averages of 8.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists.

“Thankful kami kasama si Bismarck sa Batang Gilas,” offered his mother, Tina, who is always present at her youngest child’s matches. “Para sa aming pamilya, happy kami. Kasi meron siya edukasyon tapos may chance sa career sa basketball.”

The mother has a story to tell about her only boy’s unusual name. I ask…. because the “Bismarck” I know from my world history is Otto van Bismarck, the Chancellor of Germany during its empire and had a battleship named for him during World War II.

“Nanonoood ako ng national Geographic channel tapos meron ako nakitang feature about this big ship ng Germany na ang pangalan ay ‘Bismarck’”, related the mother. “Matibay yung Bismarck at medyo pinagtulungan para ma-sink nila. Nag-pray lang din ako na yung anak ko ay maging malakas at siyempre mabuting tao.”

And while he 16-year old Bismarck Lina has been a rock in the middle for Chris Cantonjos’ Tiger Cubs where he is averaging 8.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. Furthermore, he is hitting 49% of his field goals; the highest among those in the regular rotation. And last but not the least, he is the league’s top offensive rebounder.

While he could average more, Lina willingly submits to the other talents around him to ensure UST’s success. “Ang tinuturo at lagi namin pinapaalala ay maging humble,” says the father, Norberto.

Lina’s mother also expressed her happiness that opposed to sleeping in the UST dorm, Lina prefers to go to the family homestead in Makati. “There nababantayan ko rin yung pag-inom niya ng gatas,” shared his father, Norberto who admits to also giving his son Cherifer to help him grow taller. “You only want what is best for your children.”

Said his older cousin, Vince (Ferrer who is now with FEU), “We constantly remind Bismarck that basketball isn’t only about skills but also having a good attitude. Kaya yun, natutuwa rin kami kasi humble lang siya at tahimik.”

Now facing their third elimination game in a week’s time, this time against the dangerous National University Bullpups, Lina will need to play big if they want to extend their season by at least more day. “Dadaan talaga sila sa butas ng karayom,” noted his father. “Pero mas masarap yung ganyan. At dito pa lang sa pinakita nila, para na silang winners. Pero kung meron pa sila maipuwesto na mas mataas, bakit hindi?”

The UST Tiger Cubs battle the NU Bullpups tomorrow, Tuesday, February 20, at 4pm at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My All-Underrated UAAP Juniors Five

My All-Underrated UAAP Juniors Five
by rick olivares

News has broken out about UST’s CJ Cansino bagging the UAAP Juniors Most Valuable Player Award while the King Tiger Cub joins Ateneo’s Kai Sotto, SJ Belangel, and Dave Ildefonso, as well as FEU’s LJ Gonzales in the Mythical Five Selection.

While all are deserving, here are my players who should make the All-Underrated Five team in the UAAP’s high school division.

Just a word in before we get to the list. Adamson’s Joem Sabandal isn’t in the Mythical Selection talk in a star-studded division, but this kid from Cagayan De Oro has a high impact and is acknowledged as one of the Juniors Division’s top players. But we cannot place him on this list precisely because of that. Now these five? They are truly underrated.

Center: Bismarck Lina, UST
Lost in the shuffle of the Tiger Cubs’ offensive weaponry in Cansino and Kobe Palencia as well as the late season outburst of Rayjhun Baquial and Liam Manabat is their hardworking center, Bismarck Lina. How does a Batang Gilas player get overlooked? He rebounds, plays defense, passes the ball, and provides strong leadership for his team. Furthermore, he doesn’t complain, just plays hard, and is very coachable. He hardly even gets touches!

With few touches, Lina averages 8.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. And he is hitting 49% of his field goals; the highest among those in the regular rotation. Plus., he is the league’s top offensive rebounder. Opined some observers, if his teammates feed him the ball the way LJ Gonzales or even RJ Abarrientos feed Daniel Celzo, he’d ease the pressure on the perimeter players.

Forward: Michael Malonzo, NU
On a deep and loaded Bullpups team, Malonzo is like a super sub. In 15.9 minutes of game action, he averages 7.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. That’s close to adding something every minute. Plus, he is clutch having scored numerous game winning plays as he remains overlooked on a team that has Rhayyan Amsali, Terrence Fortea, and Miguel Oczon to name but a few. Plus, he scored on 57% of his field goal attempts.

Talk about an impact player. That three-point play after tipping the ball over seven-foot Kai Sotto should be one of the season’s top plays.

Forward: Jason Credo, Ateneo
If this were a rock band, Jason Credo would be the Fifth Beatle. Does anyone else have a bigger impact on both ends of the court? This former Batang Gilas player brings up the ball, serves the best passes for Kai Sotto, can score if he really wanted (but that is not his role in this team), can rebound (but his role keeps him away from the shaded lane), and plays top defense on the opposing team’s top scorer. If they kept stats on his stops you’d find out that the other team’s top gunners shoot very poorly against Credo who is a pest on defense.

Credo averages 9.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He shoots 49.1% from the field. Is the team’s best free throw shooter at 80%! If he got more touches and played in a more offensive manner, his stats would shoot up.

Guard: Rafael Labao, UPIS
The Labao brothers – Ralph and Rafael are like double trouble for foes. But I’d like to include Ralph in this list in a photo finish over his brother for his playmaking and ability to attack that rim despite being vertically challenged. Fearless inside.

Rafael averages 11.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for UPIS.

Guard: Agem Miranda, UE
They may be at the bottom of the standings but this is a young UE team. And Agem Miranda stands out. He led the Junior Red Warriors with 17.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. 

He is second in the league in scoring, third in the league in both assists and steals, and 10th in rebounding! Talk about a two-way player.

We certainly look forward to see where these boys’ respective careers go. Good luck to them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The last hurrah of this former King Tiger

The last hurrah of this former King Tiger
by rick olivares

Chris Cantonjos threw up his arms in that strong man pose. His UST Tiger Cubs just vanquished, escaped even, with a 73-72 overtime win over a hard luck Adamson Baby Falcons squad in the playoffs of the UAAP Juniors Basketball Tournament.

He can be forgiven for momentarily forgetting to shake the hand of his Adamson counterpart Mike Fermin. Emotion, unbridled and unadulterated emotion can do that to a man. But Cantonjos did greet Fermin after eventually composing himself.

You can say Cantonjos is living on borrowed time. Wherever the Tiger Cubs end this season, it is his last. “Nagpaalam na nga rin ako,” he said with a clearly conflicted voice. After all his team just won. However, one loss, and just like that, perhaps, it is all over.

When news broke out that new management and a new basketball operations boss was in place, it was postulated that he would be out as head coach. Cantonjos who led UST to several seniors championships in the UAAP in the 1990s and also played in the PBA was befuddled. “Why in the middle of the season is there news like that,” he wondered. “Hindi ba on course kami para sa goal ng Final Four?”

When his alma mater was floundering in basketball, he answered the call to arms. And now….

Yet when the news broke out, the Tiger Cubs went on a tailspin. But the proud man that he is, Cantonjos asked his team to recall its old form; one flashed during the summer and the first round when they were clearly a force to reckon with.

Moments before the playoff with Adamson to determine the right to move on the step-ladder format of the tournament, Cantonjos sat by his lonesome from across the bench as his players warmed up on the Blue Eagle Gym court.

A moment of reflection? He simply nodded and smiled. His time may be done… at least for now. But he refused to think of himself or even what he cannot control. “May oras para diyan,” he promised. “Pero ngayon, para sa mga bata ito. Sa mga problema namin (losing Inand Fornilos to La Salle Greenhills in the summer), sa pinaghirapan namin (the late season struggles), kailangan mapakita namin ang puso ng Tomasino,” he said with a conviction he showed during his playing days when he battled the likes of NU’s Danny Ildefonso, FEU’s Ronald Magtulis, and La Salle’s Mark Telan inside the paint.

Casting a look at his players, his eyes settled on his center Bismarck Lina. The Batang Gilas player is a team player. Unselfish, willing to do the dirty work, and the unofficial leader of the team (look at how he greets his teammates coming out of the game offering encouragement, handing them water, and patting them on the back after they get chewed out by the coaching staff), Lina in Cantonjos’ mind, is a raw but talented kid. “Hindi mareklamo yung bata,” said Cantonjos. “Very coachable. Talented din. Kaya nasa national team yan.”

He called Lina aside and reiterated that for UST to advance, he needed not only for Cansino to score, his other teammates to do their part, but he needed Lina to be strong inside.

By first quarter’s end, Lina led the team in scoring with five points as Cansino struggled with the double teams thrown at him. Lina ended up with a double double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Of the six attempts over him, only one found the bottom of the net.

Lina was bullish inside and when he fouled out late in overtime (despite what Cantonjos feels was a phantom foul called on his center), the coaches patted him on the back. “Laban lang,” he said.

When he recruited Kobe Palencia during the Palarong Pambansa, he promised the kid’s parents that he’d care for him and help him develop his career. And Palencia, helped tow UST to the next round. And lying in wait are old foes, FEU.

As Cantonjos made his way to the locker room deep in the bowels of the cavernous Blue Eagle Gym, he went up the stands to shake some hands of some supporters who braved the Wednesday, Valentine’s Day traffic all the way to Loyola Heights.

He grinned but it was obviously he was bottling up all these emotions. He then waved and disappeared inside the tunnel leading to the dugout.