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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Six HS hoopsters to watch out for

Six HS hoopsters to watch out for
by rick olivares

With the SM-NBTC National High School Championships over where the San Beda Red Cubs were crowned Division One champions and Assumption Montessori School of Cagayan de Oro lifting the Division Two trophy, high school basketball teams are getting ready for the summer tournaments.

In the meantime, here are a six – and there are more, mind you -- high school basketball players who should go on to make bigger names for themselves in the coming school year/season.

Peter Alfaro (San Beda)
Evan Nelle has been carting away the individual trophies while teammates like Germy Mahinay and Sam Abuhijleh have attracted attention because of their height. We would be remiss to mention crafty and steady point guard Prince Etrata who is fun to watch. But 5’11” swingman Peter Alfaro has been steady and yet unspectacular. He shoots, attacks, and plays defense. Doesn’t make too many mistakes with the ball either.

Vincent Andrew Velasco (Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu)
He missed the NBTC of two years ago with an injury so this past tournament was everyone’s first look at this tough-as-nails 6’0” swingman. Plays tough defense. Shoots the three and will attack you. Not afraid to get bludgeoned because he will bludgeon you too. However, his facial expression never changes. Impassive and intense look. Quite a few Manila-based schools liked him right off the bat.

Kelly Gurtiza (St. Jude College of Cavite)
Reminds me of Ato Agustin with the way he plays offensively. This kid plays better defense though. Makes good reads on the floor. Can pass the ball on the halfcourt set or on the break. Finishes well.

Martin Sadhwani (Xavier High School)
Tall and lanky, the son of Cebuano hotshot Raj Sadhwani, is going to be the next star coming out of Xavier. Plays the three spot and can score some (about into the 20s and 30s). Can shoot, slash. Has long arms to block shots. Needs to bulk up though to withstand the pushing and physical stuff inside the lane.

Bryan Limpangog (St. Jude College of Cavite)
Perhaps the scrappiest player of this bunch. Likes to play defense so you know coaches will love his attitude. And this kid goes hard to the basket. Like a defensive stopper who can score.

Jason Credo (Ateneo High School)
Sometimes plays the point forward. At 6’4” rings down the ball. Runs the break. Can pass. Make some really good passes. Defends the post well. Twists and turns underneath for baskets. Needs to handle the ball better though and lessen turnovers. And needs to attack with greater conviction.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Looking at the week’s key UAAP Women’s Volleyball matches

Looking at the week’s key UAAP Women’s Volleyball matches
by rick olivares

We’re halfway through the second round and every team is fighting for their positions in the standings. Yes, including the cellar dwellers. And this week offers three matches with huge implications in the playoff race.

Ateneo vs. NU (Wednesday, March 22, FilOil Flying V Centre)
This is an acid test for Ateneo. They completely fell apart against NU in the first round as they had no solution for Jaja Santiago. When they had an opportunity to put NU on the ropes they flubbed it. Since that loss, they responded by winning eight straight.

And in this second round, they’ve put away impressive challenges from UST and FEU. A win against the Lady Bulldogs confirms their title aspirations. A loss drops them into a tie with La Salle.

As much as the Lady Eagles seem to be peaking at the right time, they have this tendency to relax and commit errors in bunches that give opponents life. They were lucky to arrest the slide late in recent matches to earn the win.

If Ateneo wants to continue their streak they have to take the first set as it could send NU into disarray.

Speaking of disarray, National University has waxed and waned. That’s par for the course since the start of their own program six years ago. Like UP, they looked great early in the first round then floundered badly since. They know they have Ateneo’s number as they have a streak dating back to the last V-League. A win will resurrect their own aspirations. A loss will place them in danger of missing the semi-finals bus with their own matches against UP, UST, and FEU on the horizon.

If Jaja Santiago has her way, it will open the door for contributions from other players. No doubt they will be pumped for this match as they feel they own Ateneo.

UST vs. FEU (March 25, Saturday, FilOil Flying V Centre)
This is an interesting match-up. UST is a better attacking team while FEU is a better defensive team. But you really can’t win one way without the other. Whichever team shores up its deficiency will take the win.

Now both teams, more or less, have fielded the same line-up these past two seasons. All matches have been four-setters.

Last season, FEU owned UST and they made the Final Four leaving the latter on the outside looking in. This season, the Golden Tigresses took the first round meeting and have an opportunity to repay the favor and drop FEU further out of the semis picture.

Watching UST in the past few years, when they took the court there was an element of danger to them. They are a rising team that has been stymied by inconsistency. Make no mistake, they are actually a powerhouse team if they put it all together. If this team can find some consistent help for Cherry Rondina especially in the middle attack they could take the win.

FEU is another deep and talented team plagued by the same inconsistencies. My take on this team is how their setter performs. I think that that head coach Shaq delos Santos alternating between Gel Cayuna and Kyle Negrito has been good because it has challenged both to be at their best. I have no admit that I have never been impressed with Negrito even after previous setter Gyzelle Sy departed. But with Cayuna’s ascension, Negrito has begun to play better. If both play well, it puts the Lady Tams in a position to win because we already know that there’ll be scoring coming from Bernadeth Pons, Remy Palma, and when the spirit moves her, Chin Basas.

A win by UST gives them some breathing room. A win by FEU places them back in the thick of the fight. A loss places them in danger but they do have vastly inconsistent NU and vexing UP on deck.

NU vs. UP (March 26, Sunday, Smart Araneta Coliseum)
UP will have dealt with their bottom dwellers (I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t defeat Adamson) and that brings them back into the race. But if they take down NU that will give this struggling side much needed confidence to win.

Everyone has forgotten the 4-0 start now. But I’d still like to say that if they can find that confidence that was evident then, they will be dangerous. A must win situation for UP (and of course for NU).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Unsung (about small schools from the provinces)

The Unsung
by rick olivares

The beauty of the SM-NBTC Division Two tournament are the Cinderella stories about many of the teams. You know – small school, small student population, not enough funding but still reaching for the stars.

If the US NCAA has March Madness where smaller seeded teams knock out the big programs, in the Philippine version, it’s these never-heard-of provincial schools who capture the hearts – at least those who love and watch high school ball – of people.

One such school literally has never been heard of – at least until a couple of years ago when the Department of Education was surprised to learn that there was an Assumption Montessori School in Cagayan De Oro (it is located in one of the barangays of Balulang).

Their student population numbers a few hundred.

Their basketball court isn’t even the size of the halfcourt of the Mall of Asia Arena. And that makes their transition to the regulation-sized court all the more remarkable.

Their players? They’re all from public schools. Kids with big dreams.

Their coach -- James Clifford Racines? Back in CDO, he was a teammate of Bam Gamalinda. When Racines’ mother learned he was headed for Jose Rizal University and not San Beda like Gamalinda, she had her son return home on the pretense she was ill. Racines might have not played big time college ball but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t dream as well.

“Hard work and hopefully, we get some breaks along the way,” postulated Racines after his side bagged the 2017 SM-NBTC Division Two National High School Championship before a couple of thousand people inside a roaring Mall of Asia Arena last March 16.

Last year, ASM came here and were blown out by National University in Division One play. They got downgraded to Division Two that was a better fit and there they thrived.

During the SM-NBTC Finals, ASM spotted tough St. Jude College of Cavite a small lead, lost it in the face of a withering rally, scored what eventually was the game winner then survived three last gasp and close range attempts to win.

“The crowd was going nuts with everyone picking sides and cheering on every defensive stop and basket made,” observed David Perez, team manager of Camp David New Zealand whose team watched from the stands after being eliminated in the group stages. “Then here in the MOA Arena that is quickly becoming the mecca of indoor sports in the Philippines. And for the championship? People dream about this.”

“I’d watch the PBA, Gilas, UAAP, at NCAA on television. Many NBA players have also stepped foot on the court,” shared Milo Janao in the vernacular. Janao averaged 21.6 points, 2.2 assists, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.8 steals and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament following the win.

“For us, small town, provincial kids -- to play here is already a fulfillment of a dream.”

Perhaps even the pinnacle of their basketball lives.

The world gets crowded as you go higher up the basketball pyramid. For many kids, the high school championship is probably the last competitive match they will play. It’s harder to get into a college squad and even more difficult to be given a chance to play in the pros.

“That is why we have the NBTC,” emphasized program co-founder Eric Altamirano. “To give opportunities for those outside Manila to be recognized and for them to have a platform to perform and be discovered.”

The Cavite team – St. Jude. When they attended the press conference for the league at the Wild Buffalo Wings at Capital Commons a few days before the NBTC, one wonders why they were there. Being proximity-wise they were close. As was then-defending Division Two champions, De La Salle-Lipa. Come tourney time, St. Jude showed their mettle. They pressed and hounded foes into oblivion from the time of the Calabarzon-Cavite city tournament and to the regionals.

Even before they disposed of the Ateneo de Davao Blue Knights in the Division Two semi-finals, everyone knew who they were and that they were a force to be reckoned with. “I knew even before the game we were in trouble because of their trapping and high intensity game,” observed Davao head coach Miggy Solitaria.

The Davao team’s point guard, Kalen Doromal, also attracted some attention for his game that earned him Mythical Five honors.

When Racines was asked if a fiesta celebration awaited his squad’s return to CDO, he quipped, “Maybe not. But at least for our school, we’ll celebrate. And we’ll have this moment in our lives.”