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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

MMA fighter Seo Hee Ham's Train out of Busan

Seo Hee Ham's Train out of Busan 
by rick olivares

Martial arts and Korea goes hand in hand. It is even said that it dates back to the pre-historic times as Koreans have had to protect themselves against constant invasions from neighbouring tribes and countries. Everyone knows how to fight so it is no surprise when Seo Hee Ham took up taekwondo at an early age. 

"At first, I wanted to learn Taekwondo from the gym,” related the female mixed martial arts fighter in a conversation with this writer. "But the Taekwondo gym where I visited also taught kickboxing so that’s how I got to practice both taekwondo and kickboxing." 

"It was at first to learn self-defense and then to compete and see the world."

A career as a mixed martial arts fighter has afforded Ham a trip out of Busan. Not to say that she wants out of the sprawling city of 4.6 million that effectively makes up South Korea’s second largest. It is home, after all. As a fighter, however, she dreams of moving up the food chain of MMA outfits. 

She’s fought in Japanese promotions Deep, Smackgirl, Jewels, and Gladiator as well as her hometown outfit ROAD FC. However, with all due respect, that’s the minor league system, to borrow a baseball connotation. And since 2014, Ham is now in the world’s top MMA promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). “As a competitor, you want to test yourself against the best and keep improving,” said Ham. "Unfortunately, the UFC hasn’t been a smooth ride." 

Ham came into the UFC in 2014 with a 15-5 record. In three fights thus far, she’s a lackluster 1-2, sandwiching a win with two losses.

"Fighting in the cage is always tough,” reflected Ham. "But fighting in the UFC Octagon is much tougher since UFC is the world’s top MMA organization. I’m a type of person who doesn’t dwell on defeat. My primary objective is to enjoy the fight. However, I will be lying if I said I’m not at all pressured by the possibility of being kicked out of the UFC after a losing streak.” 

All three UFC fights - against Joanne Calderwood, Cortney Casey, and Bec Rawlings - have gone the way of the judges’ scorecards. Reflecting on them, Ham opined, "My initial thought was that it’s a high wall to climb to survive in a global stage and I feel this through my whole body. But I think I’m getting better and better by each fight. I'm focusing on developing my power and strength during training."

On October 15, 2016, for UFC Fight Night Manila: Lamas Vs Penn (at the Mall of Asia Arena), Ham will take on American counterpart Danielle “Dynamite” Taylor in a Strawweight bout. The match is the very first Women’s UFC bout in the Philippines and she can add Manila to her passport. 

“I am just enjoying the preparation,” summed up Ham with barely a month left before her dateline in Manila. "I’m aiming to survive in the UFC, and hope to enjoy more fights with more fighters. From my knowledge, contract renewal is up to the UFC, not the fighters.” 

A win and she’ll most likely stay in the UFC. A loss? That’s tough. Unthinkable but eminently possible. She hopes not because the 29-year old Seo Hee Ham could be taking that train back to Busan.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pinoy HS tennis player makes waves at Rafa Nadal Academy

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Pinoy HS tennis player makes waves at Rafa Nadal Academy
by rick olivares

Some people experience a life changing experience when they are older. For 15-year old Santino Vistan, it came last July when he trained for a week at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain.

“There’s something about being in the presence of greatness that rubs off on you,” postulates the young Filipino tennis player of seeing Nadal train in his own academy that he opened in his hometown this past May. “What struck me is that in spite of everything that he has achieved, all the Grand Slam championships he has, he trains just as hard when he was coming up the tennis rankings.”

“He - what? - trained for four, five hours?” chimed in Santino’s father, Leo, who accompanied his son during the trip and saw first hand everything his son experienced. “In the heat. The brutal heat.”

“His focus and work ethic was amazing to see first-hand,” related Santino who came in a Roger Federer fan but left a Nadal convert. “All of us were watching. He didn’t take time off. Just worked hard every minute and every day. I told myself, I want to be just like Rafa."

“I couldn't sleep during the entire flight to Spain because of my excitement. When I got there, I was overwhelmed with what I saw — all these tennis courts (there are 27 regular-sized courts), swimming pools, basketball courts, and football pitches. There was a gym. Even a school where you can attend to your studies. It was like I was given the tools to succeed and now I just had to go out and take advantage of it.”

When the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar was put up, it was to provide a world-class facility for tennis players to learn and hone their craft without sacrificing their studies. This tennis school was built based on Nadal’s experiences with the help of his uncle, Toni who has guided his career. The Nadals with the help of world-class coaches like former pro Carlos Costa, Marc Gorriz, and Joel Figueroa to name a few have made it their mission to impart that knowledge to young tennis hopefuls all over the world.

There was some concern that Vistan would not quite match up to the tennis aspirants from all over the world. In a group that included youth from Puerto Rico, Serbia and Montenegro, and Spain, Vistan quickly learned that he is just as good and could be just as good if not better. “I noticed that the others were very aggressive and confident in their abilities. You level up with that. You have to.”

Santino Vistan made the finals of his age group but lost to his Spanish roommate. 

Vistan cites the passion of the coaches as a huge factor in his experience. “They do this not for the money but the passion,” said the second-year high school student at the Ateneo de Manila. “They do not look at the time; they make you go on until you get it right. When they point things out, it’s for you to get better.”

Upon returning, the young lad’s parents, Leo and mom, Tricia, have noticed a greater dedication to fitness and conditioning, a sharper focus and attention to discipline, and a meaner forehand by their son. “While studies are important, if going to school in Europe, in the Rafa Nadal Academy, is in the cards for his being a professional tennis player, that is where we are going,” pronounced Leo. “Hopefully, that will serve our country well in the future."

“For me, training there opened my eyes to the world,” summed up Santino. "Because of the whole experience there, it pushed me to become a better player and to better opportunities.”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Red Warriors down

Red Warriors down

by rick olivares

It seems almost inconceivable that the University of the East Red Warriors are languishing at the cellar of the UAAP Men’s Basketball standings with a 0-5 record. They suffered their fifth straight defeat, 84-69, at the hands of the Ateneo Blue Eagles last Saturday, September 24. And this early, the season seems to have slipped away because it looks like the agony will not yet end as unbeaten and favored La Salle on deck with the much-improved and second running Adamson Falcons closing out their first round campaign. The Red Warriors are potentially staring at a 0-7 record to close out the first round of the eliminations. 

Entering this campaign, they were a team with so many questions. 

Will the veterans Paul Varilla, Renz Palma, Edgar Charcos, and RR De Leon will raise the level of their game?
Can Edson Batiller be almost automatic like Jeron Teng from medium range?
Will anyone replace Chris Javier’s points and presence in the post?
After two seasons of imbibing Derrick Pumaren’s pressure defense, will they finally press foes into oblivion?

The answer to all is… no. 

When you dissect UE, the first thing you look at is their defense.

In season 78, they went 6-8 and surrendered 72.2 points per game; good for sixth. No ideal but had their last two minutes ended up differently in a couple of games, they could have competed for a Final Four slot.

This Season 79, UE is conceding 77.2 points. That’s five more points.

Rebounding is likewise down from 44.2 to 41.6. To compound matters, their opponents haul down 49.o boards against them. Luckily for them, they haven’t been hurt by second chance points.

With regard to turnovers, UE gives up the fewest turnovers with 17.4 a match. In all their losses, they do not concede many turnovers especially in the fourth period. 

What has really killed them is their poor shooting. Yes, they can defend even with no legit center but they cannot hit a basket even if their life depended on it.

The Red Warriors have jacked up the most number of shots in the league with 381; that’s five more than La Salle and 67 more than Ateneo. They have knocked down only 122 of those attempts for a league worst 32%. And here is where it gets worse, from the 15-foot line, UE has attempted the most number of free throws with 141. They have scored on only 85 of them for a 60.3% accuracy rate. Yes, you guessed it — it’s the worst in the league.

While defense wins championships, the game is all about putting the ball inside the basket. And UE cannot simply buy a basket. Their haphazard offense is murder on themselves. What they need to do it take better shots and in the flow of the game instead of jacking them up like there is no tomorrow. If you had a Ben Mbala or a Papi Sarr to rebound for you then it’s fine. But you don’t. You’re mostly undersized and have to play better team ball and take better care of that rock. And they have to play a whole lotsmarter than what they are currently showing. 

We have harped on the veterans not playing their part and are vastly underperforming. They might want to look at giving a few more shot attempts to Mark Olayon and Ralph Penuela who have shot the ball best for their team. Especially, Olayon who seems to be playing the best ball for them. In contrast, Batiller, whether because he is a marked man or not, has shot only 29%. 

Olayon, has started three of UE’s five matches and is second in the team in scoring (10.2 points) and second in rebounding (4.2 boards). If Varilla and Palma, who seem to have more hops and speed than Olayon cannot get going maybe it’s time to hand the ball to the returning Red Warrior who is hitting over 54% of his two-point attempts. He is second to - gasp - Clark Derige in three point shooting. Better than their supposed snipers Batiller, Charcos, and Philip Manalang. Yet, he is only fourth in minutes if I am not mistaken.

Maybe and just maybe, Penuela needs more minutes.

The Warriors are incredibly tops in the league in assists with 17.4 a match; two assists better than second place Adamson. The bulk of that comes from their fastbreaks. 

The line-up is filled with a bunch of hard-working stretch players. I was a little surprised that they didn’t bring in any center. Rugged forward Alvin Pasaol is a big addition but it only disenfranchised Derige who was last year’s revelation along with Batiller. 

There was so much optimism for this team in the past four years. Of course, they have seen a lot of players graduate or removed since that time. Instead of moving forward, they have taken a step back. Two steps back even.

There might be time left to revive the season. They could pull off the mother of all upsets against La Salle and Adamson and turn the season around. After all, La Salle is the only one pulling away with everyone else in the middle of the pack. A coupel of wins and they could be back in it. They could summon enough pride to end the season strong. 

If they don’t…. they’ll find out that this early, the sun too, sets in the east.

The Altas are in need of help after Omorogbe-Akhuetie brawl

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The Altas are in need of help after Omorogbe-Akhuetie brawl
by rick olivares pic by mark cristino for rappler

With the Perpetual Help Altas on the eve of a return trip to the Final Four; the first of the post-Aric Del Rosario era, all is not smooth sailing in Las Piñas. First they lost two consecutive matches to San Beda and Mapua respectively, and now their top player and head coach are at literal loggerheads and at each other’s throats. 

Forward-center Bright Akhuetie who is currently third in the statistical race for the Most Valuable Player (behind Arellano University’s Jiovani Jalalon and Letran’s Rey Nambatac) has had major disagreements with first year head coach Nosa Omorogbe since the latter took over from Del Rosario at the start of the year. It has led to some benchings of Akhuetie during the summer and just last Wednesday, a day after their loss to San Beda, it turned downright nasty as the two engaged in fisticuffs.

According to eyewitnesses, the two Nigerians clashed during practice when Omorogbe was incensed with what he perceived to be the non-interest of Akhuetie in taking part of the drills during practice.

“He (Akhuetie) was suspended because of an attitude problem,” said the former Altas center turned head coach. “He got into a fight with me.”

According to Omorogbe, Akhuetie prefers not to practice “and only waits for the scrimmages. During practice, he wasn’t joining the drill so I told him that he can leave the gym. And he said 'don’t ever talk to me like that. And don’t tell me to leave the gym because you do not have the authority to do so.’”

The coach alleged that Akhuetie pushed him and he shoved back which led to him breaking a chair while the player went for the stick (from a mop). The two tangled and exchanged blows before security officers were able to separate the two.

According to Akhuetie, he wasn’t feeling well during the match against San Beda as he had a fever and a bad cough. “During the practice, I was having a difficult time because of my condition and I informed the physical trainer about how I was feeling. But I was there. And Coach pushed me twice before I pushed back."

The player also alleges that the coach hurled a few expletives towards him which caused him to lose his temper. He also said that Omorogbe threatened to further inflict bodily harm on him.

The entire basketball and volleyball team witnessed the fracas. According to athletes who refused to be named, they said it was disappointing to see this happen and that it has also hurt morale. “We just want to play basketball and try to make the finals,” said one player who was disappointed that his team isn’t playing to its full potential given the rift between its center and their head coach.

Omorogbe said that Akhuetie is still with the team but was suspended for the last match. “I don’t care how he plays or what his decision is."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Analysis: NU’s loss to Adamson by rick olivares

Analysis: NU’s loss to Adamson
by rick olivares

There’s a misnomer at the top of the defensive standings.

Two of the top three-ranked defensive squads in this young UAAP Men’s Basketball season are at .500 or a 2-2 slate if you will — #1 National University, and #3 Ateneo de Manila University who respectively surrender 66.3 and 68.0 points per game. And both squads are coming off loses.

After its impressive victory over Ateneo, the NU Bulldogs have come crashing down to earth with successive defeats. First to La Salle in beguiling fashion (as Alfred Aroga became the Invisible Man) then to Adamson (where the rest of the Bulldogs turned in their best disappearing act); a disappointing 64-51 loss.

Like Ateneo, Far Eastern University, and the University of the East, NU (and Adamson) have young squads with few veterans; hence, a lack of game maturity and vision for the game. Not everyone is Kiefer Ravena or Jeron Teng who seem to have been born ready.

After only turning the ball over six times in the first half, NU committed 14 errors in the last 20 minutes with 9 coming in the last quarter; and four in succession by veteran guard JJ Alejandro. At the start of those shocking errors by Alejandro, NU was down by five, 56-51; however there was only 1:49 left in the game. In all the successive turnovers, Adamson tacked on a point or two effectively ending any chance of a comeback. Alejandro’s misfortune is just as shocking as NU’s last two losses.

This isn’t to say that NU could beat La Salle; they had a chance except Aroga did his best interpretation of a traffic cone for Jeron Teng to slalom around (aside from committing every possible infraction outside an outright disqualifying one). And in this match against Adamson, they had put the defensive clamps on the Falcons except that the Bulldogs misfired.

In their first two wins, it was Aroga, Rev Diputado, and Alejandro who carried them in the fourth periods. In the last two loses, in one game, Alejandro was there in the pay-off period with the others missing and in the last game, it was only Aroga with the other two absent. It is no coincidence that all three (aside from Dave Yu who has fallen off the depth chart) are the last holdovers from their champion squad of two seasons ago. Matt Salem is a huge addition to this team and his work ethic is a joy to watch (he previously never really crashed the board when he played for La Salle for two seasons) but he needs to find his groove in the fourth period where teams tend to shackle him.

Incidentally, this is their first match where NU has been outrebounded.

The secret of this team’s success has been solid recruiting, a very good and organized system that gets its cues from defense with different offensive sets culled from head coach Eric Altamirano’s solid basketball mind. Yet as in the case of their title squad, it takes years to build them. That team was ready and went through several heart-breaking defeats before they picked up the requisite experience, maturity, and motivation to take it to the next level. This team is young.

But that does not excuse the poor play of Aroga who is a pale shadow of his old self that wowed crowd in the summer of Season 76 and the entire Season 77. Since then, he’s pulled a Houdini — now you see him, now you don’t. This isn’t to disparage him as we know he is a great talent. But he is far from the frightening form that dunked on foes on the break or the half-court set, who swatted shots all the way to the ringside seats, and well, scored pretty much how and when he wanted to. 

While Aroga's general stats the past two seasons will show that he has bettered them a few points, it is in the big games where he isn’t present. Last season, he opened NU’s campaign by scoring only 9 against La Salle, averaged only 10.0 points in two loses to a UE team with no one tall enough to guard him, a mere 10 against Ateneo and seven points to close out their elimination round against La Salle once more.

Or maybe it is because he was a perfect complement to a stud-team that included the likes of Gelo Alolino, Troy Rosario, Glen Khobuntin along with valuable role players like Kyle Neypes and Paolo Javelona? During their championship season, Aroga, Alolino, and Rosario led them in scoring. Last Season 78, people opined that NU “is only Alolino and Aroga”. This campaign, it’s Aroga and Matt Salem. They need another player to pick up the scoring slack.

Furthermore in my opinion, it isn’t skill but a mental challenge at this point as they are performing below par and what we have seen they can do. The Bulldogs have a top-notch coaching staff and support group who can handle that. Except that they cannot afford too many missteps at this point lest other teams get up on them in the standings.

As much as NU is suffering from poor play from its veterans, Adamson has played very well. Of their “Big Three” of Papi Sarr, Rob Manalang, and Jerrick Ahanmisi, it is only the former who played an overall very good game. Ahanmisi came through in the final period after a great defensive job dropped on him by NU. Manalang wasn’t able to break free of the shackles unlike how he did versus Ateneo. But this time, they had rising star Sean Manganti as some other of its young players in Khristian Bernardo and JDee Tungcab score big in the clutch for the win.

Despite the misfortune of NU, they are still in the upper tier of the standings but bunched with teams like Ateneo, FEU, and UST who all tote similar 2-2 records. But it doesn’t get any easier than that as they take on UST, UP, and FEU in their last remaining first round assignments.

If they want to stay within striking distance of Adamson that is now in solo second with a 3-1 record (behind La Salle’s 4-0 slate), they need to have their veterans lead this young team. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jerry Codinera’s 3-guard Arellano trio best he’s been a part of in his career

Codinera’s 3-guard Arellano trio best he’s been a part of in his career
by rick olivares

Jerry Codinera has played with some offensive dynamos in his playing career — Allan Caidic with the University of the East and power-packed line-ups with Purefoods that had big guns like Alvin Patrimonio, Nelson Asaytono, Jojo Lastimosa, and Dindo Pumaren. But he has never had the kind of three-guard line-up that he routinely employs as head coach of the Arellano Chiefs.

“With UE, it was just Allan who could shoot from anywhere on the court,” Codinera pointed out the differences between his fabled squads of old with his new one. “In Purefoods, more or less, complete team yun from every position possible.”

“Here in Arellano, I have a team that thrives on small ball,” pointed out Codinera who is used to pounding opponents inside the post. Against the Cardinals, Codinera’s three-guard line-up of Jiovani Jalalon, Kent Michael Salado, and Donald Gumaru scored 65 points! As a result, his Chiefs seized their 14 victory in 17 matches, a 95-82 win over Mapua last Tuesday, September 20 to take the all-important twice-to-beat advantage come the Final Four of the 92nd season of the NCAA.

Jalalon averages 21.8 points while Salado chips in 14.0 points a game. Gumaru has had an up and down season, sometimes contributing and sometimes, shooting blanks. It was his highest scoring game this season with 15 markers as he averages 4.6 points per game. It was trio's best outing this season. 

The only other high scoring guards corps is from the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers with Teytey Teodoro firing 16.1 points while Paolo Pontejos adds 10.8 of his own.

“A lot of the offenses in the NCAA are run and gun unlike in the UAAP na mas-set up yung offense,” noted Arellano’s coach. “I think I am lucky because my small men can do a lot of things.”

Codinera oft uses his guards to play anywhere from the one to the three spots. Aside from Jalalon, Salado, and Gumaru, there’s also sniper Zach Nichols, Brylle Meca, Kraniel Villoria, and Ariel Aguirre. 

During the win against Mapua, Aguirre didn’t score a point but he chalked up two brilliant assists wherein he sent the ball to where his teammates were supposed to run. “That takes a very good understanding of your teammate,” pointed out Codinera.

Referring to his trio of Jalalon, Salado, and Gumaru, “Sometimes, you just wish you could sit back and enjoy the show. And I have the best seat in the house."

Is third time the charm for the NU Lady Bulldogs?

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Is third time the charm for the NU Lady Bulldogs?
by rick olivares 

Maybe the third time is the charm for the National University Lady Bulldogs volleyball team.

After wrapping up the recent Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference with a two-game sweep in the finals of the Ateneo Lady Eagles (incidentally, all three of NU’s SVL titles have come at the expense of their Katipunan-based rivals), the question that should be asked is, “Are they now ready to win the UAAP?”

While the defending champion, La Salle Lady Spikers are still the favored team, NU will no doubt be a contender. Say that again, a top contender.

This is the first time where the Lady Bulldogs eschewed a guest player in taking a SVL title. In their previous two championships, they heavily relied on a guest players - the first with setter Rubie De Leon, and the second with former NU player Dindin Santiago and De Leon in tow. This time, the team that was fielded for the entire tournament was the line-up they’d go to come UAAP.

En route to the championship, they only absorbed one loss, to Ateneo. However, they repaid that with a two-game sweep in the finals. 

There are several key components to look at in this tournament for NU.

One, is their supposed maturity. Of the team that won their first SVL title in 2012, only middle hitter Jaja Santiago and utility spiker Aiko Urdas remain with both heading into their fourth season. The rest are a smattering of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.

Jorelle Singh, Joy Doromal, Roselyn Doria, and Gayle Valdez are on their third year. Setter Jasmine Nabor is in her second season and they also have rookies Risa Sato, Audrey Paran, and Larnie Aberin. Sato isn’t exactly a rookie having trained and played with Ateneo for a couple of years before moving to NU. Essentially, this line-up has been playing together for over a year dating back to Season 78 and what a year they’ve had. 

I raised maturity given all the upheavals they have endured in the past two seasons that saw them crash and burn. They went from pre-season contenders to an underachieving clueless bunch that only won because of its guest players. They endured a coaching change and pressure from outside sources that nearly undid the team. That’s enough to take a few years off you in age. 

That all changed in the Reinforced Conference of this current SVL season where the team looked more loose, energetic, and for all intents and purposes, better. However, it also involved moving some pieces across the chessboard.

If you look at that line-up that's 11 players. Good feng shui.

Second is the promotion of Jasmine Nabor from middle and utlity player to setter. Nabor was a setter in high school who was converted to the utility and open positions sometimes playing the middle. Unlike some who struggle with the different position changes, Nabor thrived. The young lass from Tarlac soaked in everything and the move back to her more natural position has made her a deadlier and far better player. She can not only set, be she can really hit and even block. 

More to her playmaking in which she has gotten better with every tournament, is her aura. Disposition if you will. Her happy nature has rubbed off on her teammates. Last year’s team could mask its feelings. When the going went rough, the rough stayed on the court.

Nabor led all setters in the past two SVLs but ultimately lost out to Philippine Air Force’s Wendy Semana and Ateneo’s Jia Morado. No doubt, that will fuel her drive as the UAAP approaches.

The third is, it is time for Jaja Santiago to ascend to the throne as college volleyball’s best player. With Alyssa Valdez graduated, all eyes are now on the 6’4” Santiago who is ready. She is as close as to an unstoppable force in volleyball with her height and power. Now she has a very good setter to help her. Furthermore, she’s played in the finals of the Philippine Superliga with Foton (where she lost) and the finals of the Shakey’s V-League (where she won). Leading NU to its first ever UAAP title will be a massive accomplishment for Santiago and would be a fitting end to this season.

It will not be easy as Ateneo, UP, and UST all figure to crowd La Salle and NU at the summit of the most prestigious volleyball crown in the land. All will be watching their poise and determination to see if they can parlay their pre-season success into UAAP glory.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Analysis: FEU 67 vs UE 59

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Analysis: FEU 67 vs UE 59
by rick olivares

This game was the perfect antidote for FEU. After that stinging loss to Ateneo, they needed to rebound. And rebound they did against an old University Belt rival. More than bragging rights, UE was perfect because these Red Warriors are way struggling.

The fearsomeness UE brought to the game with their fullcourt pressure and bad boy tag (they played highly physical and seemed like the UAAP’s version of Letran) is now gone. In my opinion, these guys are struggling because the veterans have not stepped up and their helter skelter-type of play hurts them just as much as it does to their opponents.

The Red Warriors force a lot of turnovers but they have been unable to convert because of the haphazard way they play. They force shots, take a lot of bad shots, and aren’t smart with their selection. They happily bomb away like they had a stud like Ben Mbala to rebound. But they don’t…. so why continue to shoot like there’s no tomorrow? They are mid-pack in total rebounds; fifth to be exact. The result is they are dead last in field goal percentage, three-point and two-point shooting accuracy. 

UE shoots a poor 31% from the field and they fired even more duds against FEU with a 29% accuracy clip. I think they are among the most wasteful when it comes to taking shots.

With all due respect to the comebacking and talented Mark Olayon, this team’s usual leaders - Bonbon Batiller, Paul Varilla, Ed Charcos, and Renz Palma with new firebrand Alvin Pasaol all sputtered offensively. If these guys can’t get going no one will. And Clark Derige who was last year’s revelation inside the lane (aside from graduated captain Chris Javier) played his best game this 2016, summer included, as he finished with nine points. But that isn’t much and it goes to show how much this team’s offense is in a funk.

One thing the Red Warriors do well is score in transition yet the Tamaraws jammed their outlet and ran quickly back that UE managed only seven fastbreak points (they average 18 points a game) while scoring only six of their own. The Warriors did manage 18 turnover points. 

When you go up against a team that shoots itself in the foot with poor shot selection and even worse accuracy, you have a chance to win.

What made this victory by FEU even more impressive is that they were missing Wendell Comboy and Richard Escoto who have led their team in scoring.

While Monbert Arong finally came through with his best performance this tournament (well the top two guns weren’t there so he has to show up), I thought that the all-around performance of forward-center Raymar Jose was very impressive (11 points and 22 rebounds including 2 assists) and that Kimlee Bayquin and Ron Dennison continue to impress. 

I somewhat expect Jose and Dennison to kick it up a notch since they are veterans who are in their last playing year but Bayquin quietly slipped into the starting line-up and provides quality 15 minutes a game. This kid could be their next Roger Pogoy.

Dennison is huge plus! He is second in assists to Axel Iñigo (he has seven to the latter’s eight and who incidentally doesn’t have to guard the opposition’s top gun) but if he wasn’t in foul trouble against Ateneo, he’d have more. As this season wears on, he could be this team’s Ping Exciminiano who plays tough defense but is also deadly for his rapidly improved court vision!

FEU pounded UE inside and that including their steady shooting and control of the game helped them eke out this big win.

No one expected UE to be winless in three starts so there’s quite some concern setting in. More so as their next opponent is UP that is also searching for its first win. A loss will be very painful because this team was, is supposed to kick it up to another notch as they finished sixth and was a win short of probably going to the Final Four. Who would have thought they’d be fighting to stay out of the cellar.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What drives the Arellano Chiefs' Jiovani Jalalon?

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What drives the Arellano Chiefs’ Jiovani Jalalon?
by rick olivares pic by richard esguerra

Sports anchor Andrei Felix has an interesting story behind the dubbing of Arellano Chiefs’ blindingly fast point guard Jiovani Jalalon as “the bus driver.” While working a game with analyst Mikee Reyes, the both agreed that he takes the opposing guards to school and that he is the engine behind the Chiefs’ run and gun machine. “While some may say that we cribbed something from (American basketball star) Kyrie Irving, with Jiovani it came about naturally and as a spur of the moment thing,” related Felix. “There is nothing conscious about it. Just as natural and improv about his game.”

He’s as close as there is to an unstoppable force. When on the backcourt with his running mates Kent Michael Salado and Donald Gumaru, they are weapons of mass destruction; wreaking havoc on both ends of the court. Running, gunning, and stuffing highlight reels. 

What drives Jalalon?

The memory of his father’s unrealized basketball dreams. They grew up poor in Cagayan De Oro. His father, Vicente, was just as small but he could get up and dunk. The lack of a proper education and opportunities curbed any hoops dreams so he became a construction worker. Jio lives his father’s unrealized basketballl dream.

What drives Jio?

It’s having not much to eat. Sometimes, it would be nothing but salt. Salt and a lot of water. Sometimes, salt and rice. And for a very long long time, it was never having much. It was trying to sleep in the oppressive heat in a home with not much ventilation. It was lying awake during countless nights and wondering how to help his family get out of their hardship. Of being in pain because he was hungry. He would tell his father that he was hungry and his father would break his back to put food on the table. 

Being the third of a brood of six, aside from his parents, Jio has been the breadwinner for his family. He has been since he moved to Manila, playing first for Informatics in NAASCU and then for Arellano in the NCAA aside from the national team, Gilas.

What drives Jiovani Jalalon?

It’s leading his school, Arellano University to glory. He remembers his first year with Arellano playing backup to John Pinto (who is now in the PBA). He struggled with is handles, oft turning the ball over. “I was learning to handle my speed,” he says in the vernacular. “It affected my ball control.” When he finally got it down pat, a thousand ankles were broken on his way to the hoop. Aside from his speed, the other weapon he brings to bear is his speed of thought. He is able to read the court, see plays before they unfold, and make the right decisions up to the last moment. 

Speed kills.

Jalalon remembers making it to the NCAA finals three years ago. It was an incredible season and making the finals — the Chiefs were just thrilled to be there and that made them easy pickings for a dynastic San Beda team. It was never a series. 

Flash forward today, Jio’s team is on track to make it back — to win it all for his school, teammates, coaches, and for his loved ones. It means something because he isn’t sure if he is even coming back for his final year. “I cannot think of the future today,” he shares after another rollicking win. “I’d like to concentrate on what I can do today and hope for a better tomorrow.”

What drives him farther?

It’s also about giving honor to flag and country with the national team. "Not many people are given this opportunity. My family wasn’t given anything. It was one small hope we had and it was through basketball.”

The plaudits have be thrown his way… the best player in college basketball today. The next Jayson Castro. A potential top five PBA draft pick.

Jio does know that there is small room for error. He knows all too well about staying on the path that has been set before him. 

“Sige lang,” he adds not with a tinge of arrogance but more of an attitude where he welcomes the challenge. He notes the pressure of expectations, of potential. He isn’t worried at all. After all, he has seen worse growing up in CDO with nothing to call their own, nothing to eat, and with hardly any opportunities.  

Those are the things that the 24-year old Jiovani Jalalon sees on his way to the basket. Obstacles to be hurdled. 

What drives Jiovani Jalalon?

Pay attention because it is quite a lesson he is dishing.

Analysis: Adamson 62 vs Ateneo 61

Adamson head coach Franz Pumaren talks about that game winning shot by Dawn Ochea.

Analysis: Adamson 62 vs Ateneo 61
by rick olivares

This is a feel good win for the Adamson Falcons. One, it is their second win over Ateneo this millennium, and two, it is a massive confidence builder for this team and raises the believability factor in their new coach, Franz Pumaren.

Pumaren picked up the biggest win yet in his return to college ball by taking down an old nemesis. That last play where he pulled out Dawn Ochea from the bench with five seconds left reminded him of a play they ran in a tune-up match versus Athletes in Action. In that tune-up match, main gunners Rob Manalang and Jerrick Ahanmisi were covered the the third option was Ochea. The veteran forward hesitated and Adamson lost. Not so this time around. And it was a difficult shot with Ateneo’s Vince Tolentino all over him. 

Ateneo had a chance to reprise a game winning play with 1.9 seconds left. That had me thinking of Norman Black’s brilliant inbounds play by Macky Escalona to a streaking Doug Kramer for a game winning lay-up versus UST in the Game One of the 2006 Finals. It was as Tab Baldwin diagramed. Except that Thirdy Ravena wasn’t able to fully get the ball and the high-arcing jumper he took over the outstretched arms of Sean Maganti bounced harmlessly off the ring.

Ateneo came out and played great defense. Even better than what they displayed against FEU. They denied Ahanmisi and Manalang their touches and looks. They did find daylight on some occasions and were able to unleash those big shots they are already known for. Even when they led by 10 points entering the fourth period, they still had a massive chance to pull out a win in the face of a searing Adamson rally that saw Manalang catch fire while center Papi Sarr pounded Ateneo inside. 

What was Ateneo’s downfall?
It would be easy to say turnovers but not really. Both squads committed five turnovers in the fourth quarter yet neither squad was able to capitalize on them until Papi Sarr’s huge steal off Adrian Wong.

What hurt Ateneo is its anemic offense and lack of a post presence. The Blue Eagles scored five points in the fourth period. FIVE. 

As I previously mentioned in my analysis of Ateneo’s win over FEU, it is dead last in scoring with 67.0 points per game. Again, we hold opponent’s down to 68.0 points per game so that’s a negative. Can defend but can’t score. As a result it’s a negative.

Assist totals are down as well although Matt Nieto played his best game of the season.

The defense held for much of the game but when you can’t score that is eventually going to hurt more so when the Falcons have consistent scorers in Jerrick Ahanmisi and Papi Sarr.

Anton Asistio was the only Blue Eagle in double figures with 12 points. The Nieto twins, Matt and Mike were superb. Others also chipped in and helped out. But when push came to shove, Adamson's Big Three of Ahanmisi, Manalang, and Sarr came up big and all scored  in double digits.

And after midway through the first period, Ateneo began to settle for jump shots. You say Adamson packed the lane? Why should that stop one from attacking the lane?

As I previously mentioned, Ateneo’s bigs have to contribute . It would be nice for them to put up huge numbers but they aren’t that sort. Just doing well enough is good. Chibueze Ikeh had his moments and he was active again for the second straight game but Sarr came up big in the fourth period with four points and eight rebounds with three off the offensive glass. And there’s the matter of Sarr's steal that lead to the game winning basket.

Vince Tolentino has become a reliable player on both ends of the court but he isn’t the sort who will score a lot although he does a lot of the other things such as pass, rebound, defend, screen, and hustle. And Kris Porter nailed some big shots too. And while that is good, I’d love to see him pound that post like he did during the pre-season.

Two concerns, one of which may have burned the Blue Eagles. From the outset — and I pointed this out to other people at the game and not in hindsight — I wondered why put Thirdy Ravena on Ahanmisi? The result was two quick early fouls that robbed the team of its one true slasher with Aaron Black out; a person who can create and attack the basket. At that moment, I was suddenly reminded of that move when Norman Black had Nonoy Baclao chase UST’s Dylan Ababou across the court — the result was foul trouble for Ateneo’s defensive stopper. For one, they aren’t good perimeter defenders. Why not maybe Tolentino, Wong, or even Mike Nieto? His numbers have really dipped. Of course, it is a team game but to my thinking, I would not risk that.

Second concern is Chibueze Ikeh going out in the mid-fourth. Sure maybe he needed a breather and it is expected that Gboy Babilonia hold his own against Sarr. In my opinion, I’d still play that Ikeh-Sarr match up. Besides Chib wasn’t in foul trouble. As it is, Adamson’s three main men — Ahanmisi, Manalang, and Sarr all played the entire fourth period. I think you want your main men on the floor. It isn’t like Ateneo was leading by a mile and had that luxury of substituting. 

While Adamson didn’t make much headway in Ikeh’s less than two minutes on the bench, Sarr did pick up four huge rebounds including two off the offensive board. Wasted opportunity to score for Ateneo.

I am not crazy with Jolo Mendoza or even Anton Asistio in bringing down the ball. Yes, I know they are used at the one. I think they expend too much energy just trying to break the pressure applied to them and more oft than not take shots under duress. That was why Jolo missed his first two attempts - he was under duress. His big three? That was in the flow of the game. I figure he and Matt Nieto have a keen understanding of each other having played together for so long. Why not give it a try?

And why not press? Yes, I know we need a five to hold the fort in the event of a break through. But look at UE and UP, that doesn’t stop them from pressing. And they are second and fifth in points in the paint respectively while Ateneo is sixth. UE is first in fastbreak points while UP is third. The problem is they get killed because of the lack of a quality big man. Just like Ateneo although Ateneo doesn’t run and press. 

Ateneo nearly followed up its big win over FEU with another “ugly” masterpiece (I mean that in a positive way and not a negative one) of a gritty game but they fell short. And this hurts.

How did Adamson pull this off?
By hanging tough. In a close game, you don’t want to give too much of a lead so you are within striking distance. Franz Pumaren is one of the masters of set plays and his mantra is to keep it close so he can coach. Can’t coach when you are being blown off the court.

When he saw Terrence Mustre drop his shoulders betraying a body language that he thought detrimental to his team, he immediately pulled him out. And he called upon his main man… Rob Manalang.

Credit goes to Manalang who was mostly stifled but was smart enough to deal with the defense. He drove at his attacker and gained confidence by scoring from close range. With the defense sagging off him, he found himself open to hit two triples in the fourth. 

Papi Sarr had a solid outing. In Adamson’s two wins, Sarr posted a double double. In their lone loss to FEU, he wasn’t much of a factor. He did score 11 points in that game against the Tamaraws but he only grabbed seven rebounds. 

Credit also goes to Ochea for not losing his head. He was in foul trouble all match long and played only five minutes. He grabbed one rebound and made only one of two shots. But he hit the most important one of all. 

And this victory propels them into their tough sked this week, first against NU and then La Salle. The win was an acid test for these young Falcons who are no doubt flush with confidence. 

This match thus far was the best game of the young Season 79 tourney.