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 31, 2014

Thoughts on the Arellano Lady Chiefs’ stunning five-set win over Ateneo

The THIN NASTY! Arellano's dynamite Danna Henson tries to smash one right through the wall put up by Ateneo's Jia Morado and Amy Ahomiro. Henson's Lady Chiefs won in a five-set thriller.
This appears in the ABS-CBN website.

Thoughts on the Arellano Lady Chiefs’ stunning five-set win over Ateneo
by rick olivares pic by brosi gonzales

March 30, 2014
San Juan Arena
The Comeback Girls were on the verge of another comeback but this time the Ateneo Lady Eagles fell short to the Arellano Lady Chiefs in a five-setter 21-25, 25-16, 17-25, 25-20, 16-14.

The loss dropped Ateneo to 1-1 while AU remains undefeated along with NU (that earlier survived a five-setter to UST) at 2-0 in the first conference of the Shakey’s V-League.

Watching the Lady Eagles during warm-ups, I remarked to William Mallari, Director of the Loyola Bookstore in Ateneo, that Alyssa Valdez didn’t have a good warm-up. In fact, neither did her other teammates.

Some will point to the loss because of all the off-court distractions. While I am aware of the multiple dinners and guestings here and there, I am not aware of their what their fitness level is like or even if their focus has wavered after a long and arduous UAAP season with hardly any rest.

I would prefer to give credit to the Lady Chiefs for staying chill throughout the game save for that stretch during Ateneo’s searing fifth set rally where there was a look of panic on their faces. The crowd, vastly rooting for the Lady Eagles, couldn’t muster any consistent cheer as the Lady Eagles whose play blew hot and cold… that is until that fifth set when the San Juan Arena began to really rock. But those cheers ended up in a squawk after Alyssa Valdez’ net block and Danna Henson’s winning point.

The Lady Chiefs celebrated as if they had won a championship. But why not? Against the ballyhooed UAAP champions and against a hostile crowd? They played well and Ateneo followed their pace. A lot of credit has to go to AU coach Roberto Javier. In fact, in one gutsy stretch of the fourth set that they took, he played without Cristine Rosario, Eleonor Sierra, and Shirley Salamagos. No tall player up front but the gambit worked for a few plays as Ateneo misfired. 

Jia Morado wasn’t in top form (although she had more excellent sets that AU counterpart Angelica Legacion, 19-13). She was assessed three errors in the first two sets for lifting violations. The normally steady freshman setter had several poor sets that were low for her hitters and resulted in net blocks or getting turned back by the wall.

And Valdez, despite topscoring with 20 points, looked off. In the first set, Air Valdez was blocked four times and had three of her booming spikes put back into play by libero Jan Galang who did a great job (12 excellent to counterpart Denden Lazaro’s nine).

But every one is entitled to off days and this was no doubt one of them. Furthermore, you have to look at what Ateneo coach Parley Tupaz was doing as he played Bea De Leon and the effervescent Rissa Sato whose smile alone can light up a room. Her conversations with Anusorn Bundit must be just as lively (hahaha).

Already missing Ella De Jesus who didn’t play, Tupaz gave meaningful playing time to De Leon and Sato. It was painfully obvious that they weren’t in sync yet with their veteran teammates especially on defense and that really hurt the Lady Eagles in the second set that Arellano won.

However, I commend Tupaz for bringing back De Leon for a second go-around in the second set even if her first stint didn’t pan out too well. That shows trust. I was ready to pencil Sato (two points) in for a poor stint but she redeemed herself in one series where she held serve for six consecutive serves.

Once the two get the hang of it they should contribute mightily. I should point out that in the two sets where Tupaz heavily went to De Leon and Sato, Arellano won. So if you root for Ateneo, consider it a testing ground for the new players. I wish though that Tupaz used Marge Tejada a little more. That would do wonders for her confidence and mental toughness that waxes and wanes depending on her playing time.

Tupaz also sat down Valdez for long stretches then using Amy Ahomiro in a utility position.

You have to love Ahomiro’s growth as a player (14 points). She’s become a more all around player and has been consistent.

As for the Lady Chiefs, I admire their fortitude. They were chill all throughout the game. They pounced on Ateneo’s miscues and new players up front and dictated the pace of the game. Save for the third set, they started out well in all the others leaving the Lady Eagles to play catch up.

I love Danna Henson’s spunk and game that belies her thin and wiry frame. Yet, she has the explosiveness of Joy Cases (Philippine Air Force) who is one of my favorite players. How on earth can some people that thin have that kind of explosiveness and power? Henson led her team with 14 points and was huge in the open area with her spikes going through the blocks.

Ronerry De La Cruz was the team’s x-factor. When Coach Javier sent her in she contributed to AU’s cause that was lost amid the big games of Henson quicker Cristine Rosario (seven points), and Elaine Sagun (who scattered nine points including one in the deciding fifth set). How big were her contributions? Ronerry was used in only three sets. The second, fourth, and fifth. Incidentally, Arellano won those three sets. No, De La Cruz (six points) came up big for them.

Salamagos, outplayed by Ahomiro for most of the match got in a huge point n the fifth set.

The fifth set.

At one point, the score was 11-5 in favor of AU. But the Lady Eagles behind Morente, Anna Gequillana, and Valdez sparked a rally.

The loss should spark Ateneo for its next matches while its good for Arellano to get a deserving win. That really goes to show there is good volleyball being played not just in the UAAP.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lawrence Chiongson is back as UE Red Warriors coach?

Just got word that Lawrence Chiongson is back as head coach of the University of the East Red Warriors. Chiongson last coached in Season 73 after which he was replaced by Jerry Codinera. Chiongson led the Warriors to the Final of Season 72 where they lost to Ateneo in three matches.

Now Chiongson is reportedly replacing Boycie Zamar. 

Here is the official memo from UE announcing that Zamar is no longer the head coach.

The timing is rather curious as the the Red Warriors are gearing up for the summer leagues. It has been confirmed that the coaching change will not affect their participation in the summer tournaments.

No confirmation yet from UE's side about Chiongson's return if true at all.

Bleachers Brew #385 Can the Philippines create our own version of March Madness, the NCAA tourney and the one true national champion?

This appears in the Monday, March 31, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

It’s Madness
by rick olivares

Once March rolls around, people think of how the coldest months of the year are over and how spring is just around the corner. Here in the Philippines, it’s a time for the annual graduation rites from schools so there’ll be sighs of relief and happiness. And of course, there’s March Madness, where the US NCAA concludes its tournament with a national champion declared.

I filled out my bracket in hopes of winning Warren Buffet’s billions but as the tournament has always shown, the best designs of mice and men are quickly dashed. So much for my penciling in Kansas as champs. So much for Rick Pitino’s defending Louisville Cardinals who were ousted by rival, the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the ongoing tourney. So much for the run by Dayton.

As the tourney began and progressed, for the umpteenth time, I – and I am sure many others feel the same way as well -- thought of college basketball in the Philippines and asked, why can’t we have a similar tournament?

Come on, we are practically copycats. Our local NCAA is a derivative of the US NCAA that was formed in 1906. Our PBA copies everything the NBA does. And hello, D-League!

You can point out and say that we already have the local Philippine Collegiate Champions League that is organized by Rey Gamboa and Joe Lipa. Sure it is. But let’s face it, the most prestigious college basket title in this country is the UAAP.

I am not advocating reinventing the wheel. The system and machinery that Messers Gamboa and Lipa put in place are there. Make use of it. Now it should be augmented and give perceptions a 180 degree turn.

Here are a few ideas on how to create that one national tournament ala the US NCAA.

Give prominence to all the collegiate leagues
There have been attempts to merge the UAAP and the NCAA and that was a misguided plan. Even better, why not align all the collegiate basketball leagues in the country to play their tournaments in the first semester of every year? There are at least 16 different and organized collegiate leagues around the country and some of their tournaments are played in the second semester.

How many people have heard or even read about what happens in the National Capital Region Athletic Association? How about the Baguio Benguet Educational Athletic League?

Aside from basketball officials, ardent sports followers, media, and the local communities, no one. Yet Manila schools mine them for their rich talent.

The PBA isn’t all UAAP and NCAA. Schools and leagues outside the two have produced Ranidel De Ocampo (St. Francis of Assisi College), Gary David (Lyceum of the Philippines University), Marc Pingris (PSBA), and Peter June Simon (University of Mindanao) to name but a few.

Now imagine the other undiscovered talent from all over.

Re-branding these collegiate leagues
If these different leagues can be packaged and marketed like brands ala the American Big Ten, ACC, Ivy League, and Western Athletic Conference just to name a few then they can become bigger.

As it is many of these leagues are run by people who do not see the big picture. Furthermore, because of their affiliations care more for themselves than others. Just because one is a former athlete that doesn’t mean he or she possesses the skills needed to guide the league in terms of leadership, marketing, or even to the next level. Every one needs to be a little more professional.

These stronger regional tournaments will be a boost for their local communities in more ways than one. Aside from regional pride, there are the local economies that will receive a boost.

All one has to do is look at what the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association did right and improve on it.

Stronger and more prominent local and regional tournaments will mean local boys and girls will stay home to play rather than venture into Imperial Manila. The product must be good for the people to watch. That will give the team star power and help in getting local business interested in sponsorships. You have to give a face to the league whether it be the schools or the players or a combination of both (I’d go with the latter).

Fix the scheduling and the SBP must give a firm push
The UAAP ends before the first semester does and isn’t it anti-climactic to have the national tournament after when all the fervor dies down? The NCAA plays all the way to November.

We have to look back at how the old NCAA and UAAP used to be played well into the school year and not at the start. There were times when inaugural tip-off was in August and not June.

Clearly, the schedule must be studied very well more so with Ateneo and UP pushing back the start of their respective school years. There must be some moving around of tournaments. Immediately after the UAAP, the University Games are played. Come November, it’s the PCCL’s turn. I know that PCCL management has done what they could to accommodate all the teams, hence moving it back. That is why the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas should be behind this concerted push.

The argument that we are too fractured and divided not just by ethnic lines but by geography is hogwash. I think our forefathers had a more difficult time molding these different lands into one country. Furthermore, the United States is far more bigger and not just in terms of land mass. Other countries even in the region have gotten their football pyramids to work.

All it takes is political will and it will get done. This is definitely challenging but it can be done.

The national title must be viewed as something very prominent.
Having said that, the national tournament and championship must be made bigger than anything else combined. And I mean not just the size of the trophy.

If all the leagues are in on the program then this title will mean a lot. And given everything that has gone before, it’s going to take a paradigm shift. And it will take a massive public relations and media campaign to help get it done.

Getting the media to cover it
The fourth estate is just as crucial to the success of this. About eight years ago, there were less than five people covering the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Tournament when it was being played in the UP and Ateneo Gyms. Now, there are at least 40 media types assigned to the games.

As I mentioned, if there are good matches and that is communicated via local television, radio, print and digital media then it will take off. Digital is the easiest and most cost efficient way to get the news out.

I shake my head at the old school way of writing who won, the biggest lead, deadlocks, and the ubiquitous quote from the coach that you can cut and paste among everyone else. Who the hell writes that way? I have been to over 20 different countries and I do not see sports written that way. Not even in Southeast Asia. No one will remember the freaking score or who scored what at the three-minute mark. Tell the people what happened. To borrow a line from the late American sportswriter Jim Murray, “There is no city ordinance that says they gotta read you.” Added the great Rick Reilly, who has won so many sports writing awards in the US, “Make people want to read you.”

If the dinosaurs insist, go with the new media guys. They are more dedicated anyways and aren’t hacks who lack imagination.

It sounds like a quest even too tough for Hercules, right? Maybe. But you’ll never know what could happen if you get down to it. All I can say is, it’s madness all right.

Friday, March 28, 2014

On that final play of the Indiana Pacers' win over the Miami Heat

This appears on the NBA Philippines website

On that final play
by rick olivares

The Miami Heat’s March woes continued when they were pipped by the Indiana Pacers 84-83 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana.

The two-time NBA defending champions had a chance to win it at the buzzer but Chris Bosh badly missed a shot with 7’2” Roy Hibbert charging out.

Heat head coach drew a play for Bosh with 1.8 seconds left after the Pacers’ George Hill missed two free throws.

In the ensuing play, Bosh faked off Hill but Hibbert, who later said, he thought the play wasn’t designed for LeBron James by reading the Heat’s star’s facial expression, ran out to help and the shot was some two feet short.

The Associated Press quoted Spoelstra as saying it was his fault for the final play. “Unfortunately, that is what I diagrammed,” the fourth year head coach said. “It probably wasn’t the best call and might be a little bit too gunslinger. With the game that LeBron had, obviously, you’d want to get him the ball.”

James, who caught the inbounds pass and whipped the ball directly to Bosh, declined to elaborate when asked about his thoughts on the play call.

“That’s the play we drew up,” James said in a hushed tone. “We ran a play.”

BUT… in defense of Coach Spo… in the previous play, it was Bosh who hit the three from the same spot he would later attempt the game winner that cut Indiana’s lead to one, 84-83.

There are two schools of thought here.

I thought of two plays.

One, Game Three of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks with the latter holding a two games to none lead. With 1.8 seconds – the same amount of time that Chris Bosh had -- left and the score tied at 102-all, Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson drew the final play for rookie Toni Kukoc to take the shot. Bulls star Scottie Pippen was miffed that he wasn’t going to take the final shot and he asked out of the play.

Here is what many people conveniently forget. In the Bulls’ penultimate play, there was a 24-second shot clock violation when Scottie Pippen missed a trey attempt that only hit the top of the back board.

It should also be noted that Patrick Ewing scored on two consecutive drives to the basket that evened up the count. So does it mean that when a player is feeling it and is hot then he should get the basket?

Kukoc on the other hand, had hit three game winners for Chicago that season. So Phil thought of that too. Both Phil and Kukoc were redeemed on that play when the Croatian Sensation nailed the turnaround jumper (am not sure if it was over Charles Oakley) for the 104-102 win.

So maybe Spoelstra was going with the rhythm of the last few seconds. 

But the other school of thought is to go to your Main Man. Would Phil give the ball to Michael Jordan if he were in a Bulls uniform that day? You bet he would.

So here was my other thought. The scene from Hoosiers where Gene Hackman calls the final play for Brad Long’s character of Buddy Walker instead of star Jimmy Chitwood (played by Maris Valainis) who got them to the State Finals. There are long faces when the play isn’t for Chitwood and Hackman’s Norman Dale character asks what’s wrong. Chitwood then says, “I’ll make it.” The play is redrawn and Chitwood makes good on his promise for the State Championship.

In hindsight, should the play have gone to LeBron James since he scored 14 points inside against the Pacers, the most he’s done in three matches against Indiana?

Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

If Bosh had hit the shot then he’d be hailed a hero and Spoelstra a genius in the vein of Jackson. Okay, as good as Spo is maybe that’s still a stretch but still…. Spo has earned his spurs.

This is just basketball. Some teams win. Some teams lose.