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.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Legend says goodbye to a Legend (From Sonny Jaworski to Coach Baby Dalupan)

The Big J with that tender moment with his late coach.

A Legend says goodbye to a Legend
by rick olivares 

Robert Jaworski patiently waited his turn as the congregation at the Mass of the Resurrection at the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola  for the late Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan lined up to pay their last respects. A teammate of his from the University of the East, Joseph Wilson, who was ahead of him in the line, was failing in maintaining his composure. He fought back the tears and said, “I owe what I am to that man.”

A few minutes later, Jaworski found himself in front of Dalupan’s coffin. He looked at his old coach during his collegiate playing days at UE then placed his massive right hand, that hand that once easily gripped and palmed basketballs as if they were volleyballs, on top of the glass. The man they called “the Living Legend” never gave in to pain on the hardcourt. He was a tough man who played even tougher. 

Yet on this day, Jaworski showed a tenderness that he was also known for to friends and fans to a man who channeled his talent, who coached him and coached against him, and who was at once a father, mentor, and friend to him. 

“Paalam, coach,” he said as he coast a loving look at the late 92-year old coach who succumbed last Wednesday, August 17, due to complications arising from a recurring battle with pneumonia. “I have always cherished you when you were alive and now that you’re gone, I cherish you even more.”

Jaworski said no more and bowed his head. He played for Dalupan at the University of the East for college winning championships in the UAAP from 1964-67. He also suited up for the coach for the World University Games in 1967 and the Asian Games in 1970. From there, the two parted ways as Dalupan further carved out a name for himself as a brilliant coach. The man dubbed “the Maestro” won a grand total of 52 championships not only in UE but also in his return to his alma mater, Ateneo, but also in the pro ranks with the dynastic Crispa Redmanizers and the Great Taste Coffeemakers but also later with Purefoods.

Jaworksi, the protege, likewise cut his eyeteeth on the court; hence, “the Living Legend.” He won nine championships in the PBA and coached 4 title teams as playing coach. As an ultimate honor, when the first all-professional national team during the 1990 Asian Games where the team took home a silver medal. For his blood and guts, never-say-die approach to the game, Jaworski endeared himself to a legion of fans. By the time, he hung up his sneakers in 1998, he had joined his coach in the basketball firmament as one of its all-time greats.

Now with his old mentor one last time as he was soon going to be cremated, the Big J, in a final gesture, kissed the glass. Stood to compose himself then turned to hug the coach’s widow, Nenang who sat nearby. “He always talked fondly about you,” she told the Big J who fought back the tears.

The Big J gave her a long and tender hug and whispered words of love and encouragement to Nenang. No more had to be said, theirs was a shared history longer than with most people. Jaworski planted a kiss on her forehead then let go. He nodded then joined Wilson near the altar as the coffin was prepared for a funeral procession. 

“When I won my first PBA championship (the 1986 Open Conference that saw a Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett reinforced Ginebra team defeat Manila Beer in five games), I shared this with Coach Baby,” shared Jaworski later with Wilson and some family members of the Dalupans and the Floros nearby. “He told me to cherish and celebrate the championship with the people who got you there because they understand how difficult the journey was and in doing so we formed a bond.”

“I think looking back at those words from what — 30 years ago — they ring even more true,” added the Big J. “And here inside this Church, I see former teammates and colleagues who share that bond. Even the players on his other teams from Ateneo or even Great Taste they are here. All are here because of those bonds. And that makes this special. It is what makes Coach Baby special. And we should be thankful for that."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The gods must be crazy: Steve Fongue’s journey from Cameroon to the Philippines

This appears in the Wednesda, August 24, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The gods must be crazy: Steve Fongue’s journey from Cameroon to the Philippines
by rick olivares

You remember the film, “The gods must be crazy”? 

That 1980 film featured an African busman who lives in the Kalahai desert and whose life is changed when an empty bottle of Coca Cola that is dropped from an airplane hits him on the head. It sends him on a whirlwind journey of discovery that is hilarious and at once poignant.

For Steve Fongue, the Yaounde, Cameroon native, the “bottle” that bonked him on the head is a leather spheroid; one that sent him scurrying to go online. However, we’re getting ahead of the story.

Fongue grew up loving football. It is not only the world sport but the national sport. I woke up, ate some breakfast and went out and played. I played until the sun went down,” recalled Fongue. “I had dreams of playing for Real Madrid. The Bernabeu. The Galacticos."

He then lets out a laugh. "Except that I wasn’t so good and I became too tall.”

At six-foot-six, Steve was asked if he wanted to play goalkeeper where he could use his height and length to stop a lot of shots. “Not it’s not for me. I didn’t seem like a good idea that people would score goals on me.”

The young lad’s dreams of glory on the football had taken a detour albeit to the basketball hardcourt. He excelled in the game and soon had dreams of following his countrymen in the NBA — Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (Portland Trailblazers 2011-03), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), and Luc Mbah a Moute (now with the Los Angeles Clippers). He was then asked if he would like to play abroad and get an education while at it.

“The US? Europe?” he asked with his excitement brewing. “I could be close to watch LeBron (James) and all the other NBA players."

“No, the Philippines,” he was told. 

His face contorted in dismay. 

“Where is that country?” he wondered. He couldn’t hide his disappointment. 

“You’ll like it there,” he was told.

Steve when online to “google” the Philippines. The first things that were displayed on his computer were tsunami, typhoons, traffic. “They all start with the letter ’T’. I hated the letter ’T’.”

“No. No. You’ll like it there.” he was assured. 

Still intrigued, Steve looked up some friends Cameroon who had gone on to the Philippines. There was Alfred Aroga and Ben Mbala. “Come on over,” they invited him. “You’’l like it here.”

“Do they speak French there?” he asked Aroga.

“No. English."

With not much money and a whole lot of trepidation in his heart and mind, Steve Fongue made his way to the Philippines. Another of his high school teammates, Bertrand Awana who would later play briefly for the University of the East Red Warriors, joined him.

A few months later, Fongue’s mobile phone rings. It’s his mother in Yaounde. 

In rapid-fire staccato, she barraged her son with questions, “I saw there was a huge typhoon! It destroyed a whole city there (referring to Tacloban that was hit by Typhoon Yolanda)! Are you dry? Are you safe? Are you all right?”

“Ma, I am all right,” Steve reassured his mother. “That city was in a different part of the Philippines. But I am all right. I am quite safe."

“Is there a tsunami?”

“No, ma. There is no tsunami.”

“The traffic?”

“Yes, the traffic is bad. But I am safe. I am having fun and am going to school.”

A few years later. One NAASCU Juniors championship and a Milcu Got Skills Seniors Championship both with St. Clare College, the Business Adminsitration major fields another call from his mother.

“Steve, how are you?”

“Am fine, ma.”

“What are you eating?”

“There’s adobo. Liempo.”

“What’s that?" 

“It’s delicious, ma."

Steve Fongue took a detour hoping he’d follow his basketball dream to the United States or even Europe. Instead, he’s balling and enjoying studying at St. Clare College. “In all this time I’ve been here, I’ve seen LeBron James, Kobe Bryant come over to the Philippines. I’ve seen an Olympic Qualifying Tournament played here with all these NBA stars. And I’m getting a college education!” 

With Aris Dionisio, Paeng Rebugio, St. Clare head coach Jino Manansala, and Steve Fongue

The best college basketball team you have never heard of is battling for respect

The best college basketball team you have never heard of is battling for respect
by rick olivares

In three days’ time, NAASCU (National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities) caging gets underway at the Cuneta Astrodome. 

Fourteen teams will be vying for the crown that has been vacated by Centro Escolar University that has left the league for unspecified reasons. Among the favorites to win the championship is St. Clare College that has lost the last three years running to CEU in the title game. 

If you ask St. Clare College Saints head coach Jino Manansala whether the Scorpions are playing or not, the goal is to win it all this year. “We feel we have the team to win this since some of our players from the juniors team have come up,” said Manansala who guided SCC to its first league title during the 2012-13 season but has since been stymied. 

The Saints just like CEU are some of Philippine college ball’s best kept secrets. When they were invited as a guest team several years ago in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup, they played the NCAA and UAAP teams close; losing only in the final two minutes of play. They have also played well in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League and most recently made waves in the Milcu Got Skills tournament where they defeated De La Salle University for the crown. And most recently, in the PBA D-League, many of them suited up for Racal Motors. 

“I think people are starting to know our school,” said six-foot-six Cameroonian center Steve Fongue. 

The Yaounde native has a lot of friends in the local basketball scene. He’s friends with countrymen La Salle’s Ben Mbala and National University’s Alfred Aroga while former University of the East center Betrand Awana was a teammate of his back in high school. “We’ve had some good matches with them in recent times,” added Fongue. “Now they know our name.”

They sure do. In fact, the Bulldogs recruited two of their players.

But make no mistake, these hungry Saints are hungry to make a name for themselves.

“I think it’s hard when you played in the smaller leagues,” noted Manansala. “People don’t mind you.”

In fact, the first SCC alum to be drafted in the PBA is Milan Vargas who was selected by the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters in the fifth round of the 2015 PBA Draft. Although some people opine that it was his brief stint with the UST Growling Tigers in the UAAP that introduced him to a mass audience.

While players from the NCAA, UAAP, and CESAFI (outside the Fil-foreigners) are generally drafted, many other NAASCU schools have seen their players drafted once in a blue moon. PSBA has seen its Jaguars alumni Mark Pingris and Vic Manuel) make it big. CEU’s recent title teams have seen Alfred Batino, Joseph Sedurifa, Samboy De Leon all drafted. Heck, New Era College saw its first players selected in 2002 and 2003 in Paolo Malonzo (40th overall in the seventh round by FedExpress) and Ramil Ferma (by Red Bull Thunder) respectively. Even Manuel L. Quezon University has had two picks by the San Miguel Beermen in Marlon Legaspi and Arnold Calo who were both drafted in 2003.

Despite their manpower losses to NU, Manansala’s Saints remain stacked and loaded.

There’s spitfire point guard Paeng Rebulio who is both crafty and shifty and can score from anywhere. Rebulio once played for Vergel Meneses over at Jose Rizal University but he opted to transfer just to get minutes. “I know it’s the NCAA and you’ll be seen on television and written about by media,” said the Hulo, Mandaluyong native. “But I need to play and show what I can do.” 

Aris Dionisio is part of SCC’s tough frontline along with Mark Puspus, Godwill Calapine, and Fongue. The Bulacan native once played for Philip Cezar’s PSBA Jaguars but opted to transfer. “I like this team’s work ethic,” said Dionisio. “I want to give it my all so we can give glory to school. If we get drafted in the PBA and what player doesn’t dream of that — that is good.”

Manansala will also count on high scoring guards Nico Principe and Michael De Leon, forwards Jordan Rios, Rey De Mesa, and Macky Perez. 

“One of the things I have to watch out for is giving everyone minutes,” explained Manansala who is the son of former PBA great Jimmy Manansala. The son was once team captain for Aric Del Rosario’s UST teams of the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium. “I try to give every one their minutes. The only thing I ask is that when they are on the floor, they give their best at all times.”

With CEU’s departure, some say that the door is wide open for St. Clare to reclaim the crown. “I don’t think so,” parried Manansala. “There are 14 teams in the league this season. It’s going to be a very long one. At any time things can change because of injuries, fitness and conditioning, and other factors. We just have to take it one game at the time and when we get to the play-offs, hope we’re still solid.”

Nevertheless, these Saints are insanely talented, deep, tough, hungry, and well, fun to watch.

“Right now, we’re playing for respect.”

The 2016-17 St. Clare College Saints: Paeng Rebugio, Irven Palencia, Nico Principe, Michael De Leon, Ronjay Santos, Russel Funetes, Jordan Rios, Rey De Mesa, Macky Perez, Normel De Los Reyes, Junjie Hallare, Bong Managuelod, Aris Dionisio, Godwill Calapine, Steve Fongue, Mark Puspus, and Leo Esguerra.

The Saints open their NAASCU campaign this Thursday, August 25 at 10am versus AMA Computer College at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

LA Clippers mascot Chuck the Condor does Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Blake Griffin & Manny Pacquiao

Post–War Blues III: Clipped Wings & Choly’s Last Ride

Post–War Blues III
Clipped Wings & Choly’s Last Ride
by rick olivares

When the 1952 edition of the Ateneo Blue Eagles took to the floor, conspicuously absent from the line-up was the team’s rebounding king Olegario “Ole” Orbeta. 

Orbeta feuded with Coach Dick Francisco in the off season and as a result was left off the roster. Orbeta was crushed by the snub since it was his last year of eligibility and the team was finally good enough to make it all the way. Ole was the team’s rock and conscience something he carried with him since his secondary education years. During his senior year at the Ateneo high school, the Blue Eaglets were getting beaten up by the physical game of the Jose Rizal Light Bombers that during half-time, the team that sat glumly in the locker room was a broken one.  Fr. John Delaney S.J. knew that his team was folding because of strict team rules that forbade rough play or retaliation. The good priest thought about it for a moment then with a sigh eventually acquiesced to play an eye for an eye. Before anyone could contemplate the implications of a fighting Ateneo squad, Orbeta spoke up and said that “with all due respect, he’d sooner take off his white Ateneo jersey than resort to thuggery.” Fr. Delaney couldn’t have been more proud. The Ateneans took to the court in the second half playing their usual game albeit with a more focused intent. They embarked on a spirited rally that saw them fall short only because time had run out on them. This new season, Orbeta would continue to bring his mental toughness but it was to the football team and could only helplessly watch from the bleachers as his teammates took to the hardcourt. 

In these exciting post-war years there was an air of togetherness and enthusiasm forged by a common goal of rebuilding a newly independent country. Among the biggest draws in town was collegiate basketball that was more popular than the fledging pro MICAA league. Ateneo was so far the only NCAA team that had yet to win a post-war title. After years of futility, the team with its battle-hardened corps of veterans was ready to contend for the title. It was a preposterous notion when all one had to do was cast its eye towards the line-up and the only player over six feet was Casto Madamba at 6’1” who one basketball observer noted as the only redwood among the acacia trees. Opponents heckled the team’s bantam-sized players Antonio “Choly” Gaston, Oscar Battalones, and Freddie Campos as being grade school kids in a man’s game. But height notwithstanding, it was these three players who not only spearheaded Ateneo’s vaunted running game into high gear but stood tall with their incredible fighting hearts. But clearly, this was Choly’s team. Despite being much smaller than most on the court, his fighting heart and his all-around hustle could alter the outcome game. In an exhibition game against the visiting Mexican National Team, Choly, the Cagayan Cyclone outjumped the taller 6’3” Mexican during a jump ball. 

Despite being seeded by pre-season prognosticators, the road to the championship wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. San Beda was still very much the heavy favorite to retain the title even with the graduation of Pons Saldaña for they still had the great Caloy Loyzaga and Eddie Lim, Olympians both. La Salle with its stratospheric line-up of six-footers was dangerous. Letran was a mite weaker with the transfer of Herminio Astorga to FEU. Jose Rizal and Mapua though much weaker were dark horse favorites who could play the spoiler’s role if one took them lightly.

It was the final year of team captains Choly Gaston and Poch Estella. Ramchand Motomuul after watching the team from the bleachers in the previous season was in the line-up and ready to bombard from another area code. Swingman George Hussey was ready to spell Kalawang when the freckle-faced junior needed a breather from his daredevil drives.

Dick Francisco molded the team into his likeness playing a frenetic brand of basketball that saw the Blue Eagles run their foes ragged when they could. Despite the clear height disadvantage, he knew that his fleet of blue comets of Gaston, Campos, and Battalones could easily turn the tide of the game with their razzle dazzle ball. 

With Loyzaga and Lim overseas for the Helsinki Olympics, teams were salivating at the opportunity to knock off San Beda in the tourney’s early goings. 

When National Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay declared open the 1952 NCAA Basketball Tournament on August 3, 1952, Ateneo squared off against La Salle in what many declared a preview of the teams seeded to slug it out with San Beda for collegiate hoops glory.

La Salle Coach Totit Valles’ game plan was simple: pound the rock inside. With Captain Tony Banggoy and the luxury of four six-footers in the persons of Martin Urra, Fred Anderegg, Juan Munos and Rene Wassmer, the Green Archers figured to make short work of the Loyolans. 

The game was significant for two reasons: 1) this was the first game between the two emerging rivals wherein the cheerleaders led their rivals’ battle songs during the warm-ups; and 2) Ateneo served notice that despite being Lilliputian by basketball standards, they were going to be a force to reckon with. 

La Salle seized the upper hand early on by utilizing their height advantage to the hilt. Coach Francisco sued for time and shifted from trying to match La Salle with size to turning the game into a track meet. The strategy worked superbly for Ateneo tied the game 16-all at the end of the first canto. The Greenshirts had trouble bringing the ball past half-court that they had to bring in better ball handlers to help out Alex Montilla that eventually sacrificed their height advantage. The tide had shifted and the game degenerated into a rough one. For awhile there, Montilla thought he was playing linebacker and nearly decapitated Rusty Cacho and was thrown out of the game by an irate Arturo Rius (the ex-Bedan stalwart) who was on the tournament’s technical committee. Whatever gentlemanly gestures there were between the two galleries quickly dissipated as the blue side chanted “Your arrows will break, will break. Your arrows will shake, will shake.” The green side retaliated by chanting “the eagles will die, will die. Your feathers will fall, will fall.”

The only thing that fell on this day was Motomuul’s two-handed jump shots from the outside that broke La Salle’s zone and backs. By the time the dust cleared, Ateneo emerged victorious 55-44.

Ateneo had a chance to win three straight (after Letran was ran off the court for win no. 2) when they faced San Beda sans its missing Olympians and were still winless. Overconfident they let the Mendiola five dictate the pace from early on as the team played listless ball. By the time the Blue Eagles snapped out of their stupor, the Red Lions who had battled the heavily favored Ateneo to a standstill found the confidence to steal a victory. Ateneo lost when rookie Ceferino Salvador drained two pressure-packed charity shots with almost no time left that stunned the 6,000 strong blue and white gallery. It was a huge win for San Beda for the following game, they had their stars back and they just walloped Mapua by 21. 

The greased lightning offense of the Loyolans was on frightening display as they rebounded from the loss by thrashing JRU and Mapua in succession. The high scoring quartet of Gaston, Littaua, Motomuul, and Cacho was too much for any defense to take for long. Ateneo’s four wins meant the least they could avail of was a play-off for the first round gonfalon since La Salle kept pace with a 4-1 slate. Poch Estella, the Blue Eagles’ lanky swingman wondered if the loss to San Beda would come back to haunt them. Even if Ateneo handled La Salle well in the first game of the season there was no telling the outcome of the one game play-off especially against this rival who seemed to get up more for Ateneo than any other team in the league. And the unlikely happened as the Green Archers behind Rene Wassmer upended the Blue Eagles with a game winning shot to capture the first round championship 76-74. The Archers clogged the lane and dared Ateneo to beat them with the outside shot. The blues and whites obliged and kept the score close. But on this day, Wassmer would be too much as he scored a game high 28-points including the dagger with five seconds left that dashed the hopes of the blue nation. 

Gaston who had kept Ateneo in the game by scoring five points in the final minute of the game was inconsolable. The team despite its lack of ceiling was seeded to contend. Had they overachieved? Time was running out on his collegiate career. The current campaign was so far the best that the team had played in his years with the squad. Fr. Delaney sensed the team teetering on the brink of breaking down that he set about lifting their spirits with a stirring Homily in their return to Loyola Heights. Coach Francisco on the other hand made sure that despite the huge setback to his alma mater’s championship dreams, the team was ready to fight on for the second round flag was still up for grabs. 

The Blue Eagles kicked off the second round campaign on September 18 by once more blitzing Letran. With Murder Inc. now a thing of the past, the Knights with a new crew of recruits didn’t offer much resistance. Mapua and La Salle were also swept away by Ateneo’s fast-break. The game against the Taft-based cagers was its usual rough and tumble self replete with spills and thrills. La Salle tried to slow down the tempo of the game but Ateneo’s high-octane offense got on track by the second quarter. The team gained a measure of revenge but immediately in their sights was San Beda which was beginning to hum like a well-oiled machine with Loyzaga and Lim back in harness. The men in red were on a collision course with the men in blue. The Red Lions were just steamrolling the competition and were likewise undefeated in the second round. After a boisterous “Hail Ateneo Hail,” the cheerleaders led a thundering Artillery Yell aimed at the Mendiola crew. “Range... San Beda! Target…San Beda! Boom Chika Boom Sis Boom Bah!”

But before the eagerly awaited return bout with the reigning titlists, there was just the matter of the JRC Heavy Bombers to shoot down.

On October 2, 1952, the booming heard across the Rizal Memorial Coliseum was not from the Blue Babble Battalion and their Artillery Yells but from the Heavy Bombers finding their mark. Coach Guillermo Victoria’s Bombers matched the Eagles speed for speed and crashed the boards to prevent them from unleashing their patented fastbreak game. At the half, with JRC leading 38-24, a black cat ran across the court just as the Ateneo cheerleaders were about to exhort the blue gallery to inspire the team to fight. The skittering feline hushed the crowd for a moment and sport writers seated along press row wondered if that was an omen of Ateneo’s fate. The start of the second half did nothing to dispel that notion. The Bombers hounded Ram Motomuul into a horrid shooting night and stonewalled Cacho’s sorties into the paint. Not even Ateneo Athletic Moderator Fr. Edgar Martin’s exhortations from the sidelines could get the team going. The good Padre was so stunned by the Mandaluyong squad’s total domination of the Blue Eagles that the glowing tobacco pipe that he puffed on during games remained unlit despite the floor being littered with spent matches. 

In the dugout, Dick Francisco pondered the just concluded game. It was another sure win that got away from them: a case of a bad team beating a good team on a bad day. Will the loss come back to haunt them as did the first round upset of San Beda? With San Beda undefeated so far, the next game was either the season for Ateneo or moving onto to the next round.

They were in contention all right… for only one quarter. With Loyzaga having a miserable game, the Blue Eagles kept it close 12-10. By the second quarter, Loyzaga began to play smart ball as he drew the defense to him then kicked out to the wide-open  Pablo Cuna, Eddie Lim, and Ramon Dee who were all spread out across the court to loosen up Ateneo’s double-teams.

Despite being down by 10 at the end of the third quarter, barring a miracle, it was obvious that the 2nd round flag was going to San Beda. Ateneo had bled for its points. Cacho and Littaua led the fight for Ateneo scoring in twin digits, but the only shot given to them by the suffocating Bedan defense were hurried long toms which resembled a feeble attempt to bombard a well-protected castle. In their final game for Ateneo, Choly Gaston was held to six points, Cecil Hechanova scored five, Poch Estella had four while Oscar Battalones and Freddie Campos were scoreless.  While the final tally stood at seemingly close 54-48, it was no indication of the Jesuits hoopsters’ titanic struggle to puncture the hoop.

As the gun barked to end the game and the Eagles up-and-down season, the blue and white gallery showered its graduating players with cheers and thanks. Gaston his eyes wet with tears waved his hand that elicited out a loud cheer. Choly along with former teammate Moro Lorenzo typified the Eagles’ ill-fated drives these past years. The Red Lions and their gallery likewise cheered for their vanquished but valiant foe. And as the Blue Eagles strode off the court to leave their victorious foe to bask in their glory, the Atenean gallery erupted into song:
“With a shout, with a song,
We will help the boys along
Under banners of white and fair blue.
While we do, while we dare
Proudly waving everywhere
Are the banners of white and fair blue.”

Aftermath: The San Beda Red Lions made short work of the La Salle Green Archers for the 1952 cage diadem for their 5th overall title. Rusty Cacho, Mike Littaua, and Choly Gaston made the NCAA’s 2nd Mythical Second Five. Choly Gaston joined the Philippine Air Force (where he would go on to dominate athletics winning medals in almost every category) instead of the fledging MICAA. Gaston moved on to the Great Hereafter when the plane he was flying crashed while on aerial maneuvers in 1955. When the MICAA opened its 1955 season, the league observed a minute of silence for Gaston who never even played for the league. That’s how revered and respected he was. In his four years of weaving and slashing for a bucket for the good old Blue and White, he was a crowd favorite. Andres “Dick” Francisco would step down as Ateneo coach to make way for Bing Ouano the following season wherein Ateneo would finally nail that elusive first post-war crown.

Flip the script: Mark Muñoz’ lesson about bullying


Flip the script: Mark Muñoz’ lesson about bullying
by rick olivares

The Air Jordan III is one of now retired mixed martial artist Mark Muñoz’ favorite things. That is, of course, outside his family. Mark has worn them for 25 years now. Like many kids growing up fixated with Michael Jordan and the whole sneaker culture, the shoe is a symbol since the shoe is quite expensive back then and today. It is also a reminder of what happened on a dark day day back in 1991 when Muñoz’ world changed.

“I was 13 years old and in eighth grade then,” recalls Muñoz as his mind races back to his middle school days. “I  was walking down the corridor when some guys were checking me out. One of them said, 'Hey, yo! Break yourself off those MJs.’ That meant they were going to beat me up for my shoes. When they said that I felt instantly fear and then a little later, anger. All I knew was I needed to get away from them so I scurried away.”

"One day, they (five of them) finally caught up to me. I got held down, beaten, battered, kicked, and punched because of what I had on my feet. As I was held down, I had this the feeling of helplessness. There was nothing I could do.
I was in a situation I couldn’t control. When I went home, I was overcome by a whole gamut of emotions — profound sadness, a feeling that I was an ugly person, that I am loser, and more. It left me depressed."

After the bullying incident, Mark found it tough to go back to school. Before he would pass through a hallway, he would scout it first for any signs of the kids who took his kicks. If the coast was clear he’d pass right through. If not, he looked for other ways to get around. His self-confidence was shot and it affected his schooling. 

That all changed when a friend of his introduced him to wrestling. "Because of me being bullied, I dove into wrestling. It taught me discipline and tempered the raging fires in me,” Muñoz said with a calmness that shows a man at peace. 

Muñoz became two-time State Champion, High School National Champion. He won a silver medal for the US Junior National Team. "And it got me a scholarship to Oklahoma State University,” he grinned. 

The bad situation turned into a good situation. While competing for the OSU Cowboys, he was named an All-American twice. He compiled 121 wins and won a NCAA National Championship in 2001 as a senior. After working as an assistant coach in OSU, they won another national title in 2003. He later transitioned into MMA where he compiled a 14-6 record. 

“The discipline I learned from wrestling helped me overcome more than just my fear of being bullied,” explained Mark. “It also gave me the inner strength to deal with setbacks.”

Muñoz strung up a string of impressive victories over C.B. Dollaway, Demian Maia, and Chris Leben to hike his record to 12-2. The came a devastating loss to Chris Weidman in July of 2012 that left him with a broken foot, a bum elbow, and his confidence in tatters. After a year-long sabbatical, he came back to win against Tim Boetsch in UFC 162. However, he followed that up with three consecutive losses that sent his MMA career in a nosedive. “Prior to the losses to Lyoto Machida, Gerard Mousasi, and Roan Carneiro, I had only lost in the first round once and that was to Matt Hamill in my sixth fight. All those three consecutive losses came in the first round and that had me thinking that I’m done.”

Except that good things happen to good guys. Muñoz got the send-off he wanted in 2015 with a win and in front of thousands of rabid Filipino fans in the first ever UFC event in Manila in May of 2016. “It’s the perfect way to end my career and I couldn’t ask any more,” he proudly said. “The bullying incident got me into wrestling. Wrestling got me into MMA and now I am here in the Philippines to talk about wrestling and bullying and how to deal with it.”

Years after winning the national wrestling championship with OSU, Muñoz had become a local celebrity in Vallejo. He was in the papers, doing local television and radio shows. The mayor even declared  April 30 as Mark Muñoz Day.

While watching a football game, Mark saw one of those kids who bullied him all those years ago. Their eyes met and Muñoz made his way towards him. The other guy handed over his child to his wife and raised his fists and got ready to fight Mark who was now a muscled six-footer. Except that Muñoz totally flipped the script. “Hey, I want to thank you,” he said to his albatross. "Because if it weren’t for that experience I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

They shook hands and went about their own business. "Forgiveness is a huge thing” said Muñoz reflecting on the incident that changed him forever. "Forgiveness is not for the other person but me. If I harboured all that resentment and anger then I would want to beat him up. But two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Mark doesn’t know where the other guy is or how he is doing. On the other hand, Muñoz has gone on to be a MMA star and is universally respected by his peers. In the UFC, he known to be the nicest fighter on its roster. His record of professionalism has seen him rewarded as the fight organization has appointed him as an ambassador for the UFC.

And aside from running his own gym in Lake Forest, California where he teaches wrestling, Mark Muñoz gives talks everywhere about the ills of bullying and what they can do to combat it. And he wears his Air Jordan IIIs while at it.

Mark's fave Air Jordans

Saturday, August 20, 2016

LA Clippers' mascot Chuck the Condor is ready for Robin Lopez

Chuck the Condor and his sidekick Brandon say they are ready for the mascot killer, Robin Lopez. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

The challenges of Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams

Interviewing Michael Carter-Williams. Before the interview proper, I told him the premise of the piece which is about adversity and asked if he is all right with that topic and the subsequent line of questioning. He agreed and the man is a trooper. I wish him all the best.
This appears on

The challenges of Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams
by rick olivares

“Sometimes I think that adversity is my middle name.”

Michael Carter-Williams, the Milwaukee Bucks point guard who is in town for the NBA3x3 event, stifled a chuckle.

“Right now, I feel tired. Jetlag,” he offers. “That’s actually the easiest of my concerns."

It seems that all his young 24 years on this planet, Carter-Williams has had to deal with adversity. As a high school freshman, the precocious talent led Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School to a league championship. And he stood only five feet and nine inches tall then (Michael now stands at 6’6”). 

In his college frosh year in Syracuse, he mostly sat on the bench. However, he bounced back in his sophomore year putting up stellar numbers.

In his first year in the NBA, Carter-Williams, drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, was named Rookie of the Year giving the perpetually underachieving ballclub some good cheer. Yet after his injury-shortened second season, he was traded to the Bucks. 

In the midst of his second year with the Bucks, Michael’s hearing things about he isn’t the solution to their point guard woes and that he can’t shoot.

Does it bother him? 

“Yes, it does,” he admits and wonders if this is some cruel sophomore jinx. “In college, I was angry because I wasn’t playing. I performed well in practice and I thought that I could be in the rotation and help out. It’s hard for me to deal with being benched because I generally have a positive attitude and I try to pick up teammates who are feeling down because of being benched or their poor game up. But at the same time, I was struggling with not playing and I found it increasingly hard to practice what I was preaching.”

It’s hard for a young baller to do some reflecting and soul searching when there are constantly cameras and audio recorders in his face. However, during the quiet and long moments during the flight to Manila, he’s had time to think.  

“Back in ‘Cuse, I found a way to deal with my unhappiness,” he recalled. "That meant putting in a lot of hard work in the gym and practice. I got myself stronger and did everything I could to improve. It all paid off.”

In Philadelphia, he had that dream start to his professional career that doesn’t happen to most NBA draftees. Selected 11th overall in 2013 by the 76ers, Michael was named Rookie of the Year. However, as a team, the Sixers took a step back from the previous campaign’s 34-win season, stumbling to 19 in Carter-Williams’ rookie year. The following season, they won one fewer match. And Carter-Williams was traded away for future draft picks.

The trade was a sobering moment for Carter-Williams. “When you enter the league, you know trades happen and that it’s also a business but you never think it will happen to you. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect. I never got traded before. I felt like the team gave up on me. And when you’re rebuilding and trying to do something special, it hurts.”

“The pro game forces you to grow up fast. One good game is just one good game. Tomorrow is another day where you can have a bad game. In the NBA you need to have a short memory because you have to let go of the losses and bad games and come out and play the next. So a huge part of what we do is mental. You hear ‘mental toughness’ thrown around a lot in sports and as you get older, you realize how true it is.

“In Milwaukee, the guys are great; they welcomed me. They also lost some players so there’s a rebuilding process. And it was a little rough at first.”

At this point, Carter-Williams paused. He’s heard the analyses and radio talk about his shooting woes and wondering if the Bucks were better off keeping Brandon Knight, the guard he replaced in Brew City. During his second year with the Bucks he was in and out of the starting line-up as Gianis Antetokounmpo thrived in a starring role. Sharing the point guard duties is another Syracuse alum in Tyler Ennis. And this current off-season, Milwaukee’s front office brought in former Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova.

Pondering the point guard logjam in Milwaukee, Carter-Williams considers this a challenge. “In the NBA you have to be strong. As I said earlier, you need a short memory with the bad. So far, I have always been trying to prove somebody wrong. In the first two years, I wanted to play well against the teams that didn’t draft me. Now it’s working on my all-around game and jumpshot."

“When I was in college, I was upset that I was sitting. Now I understand that you do what you have for the team. If it means me starting or coming off the bench, it’s fine. The coach knows what’s best. I just have to get ready.”

“What this has all taught me so far — college and pro basketball? I have to constantly remind myself of that everyday it’s all about working hard every single day of your life and not taking anything for granted. And handling adversity."


Michael Carter-Williams paused one more time. “Maybe a few years from now, I’ll laugh and say, ‘Adversity? Oh, I had that for breakfast.’"

Post-War Blues II The Legend of Moro, Choly, and the Quest for the Holy Grail of Collegiate Sports

Post-War Blues II 
The Legend of Moro, Choly, 
and the Quest for the Holy Grail of Collegiate Sports
by rick olivares

Even during those early days of basketball, height was already might. Imagine then the towering La Salle Green Archers with 4/5 of their starting unit of Martin Urra, Tony Banggoy (brother of San Beda Red Lion Lito Banggoy), Ramoncito Campos, and Juan Muñoz who all stood at least six feet tall (guard Alex Montilla was the only a shade or two less) when they confronted an Ateneo team whose starting unit had a pair of 5’4” players in team captain Choly Gaston and Oscar Battalones and the 5’5” Freddie Campos. Ole Orbeta was the tallest Blue Eagle at 5’11.” The Blue Eagles were built for speed and fast and furious excitement. They were the Ginebra San Miguel of their time for their popularity extended beyond the gates of Ateneo’s Padre Faura campus where its perimeter was still littered with crosses from the war dead. 

Gaston, dubbed “the Cagayan Cyclone” (he was actually from Negros but studied at both the Ateneo De Cagayan and Ateneo De Manila) by sportscaster and sportswriter Willie Hernandez, was a pest on the court. Choly not only inherited jersey #11 from brother-in-law Baby Dalupan but picked up from where he left off with a hellacious form of defense. No lead was safe when Choly was on the court. If a player wasn’t too careful with the spheroid, the next sight he saw was Gaston hightailing it to the opposite end for a two-handed lay-up off the window. During an exhibition game against the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, the hardcourt wizards’ Marques Haynes asked for a volunteer from both Ateneo and NU to strip him of the ball. Haynes’ claim to fame was being acclaimed as the world’s best dribbler and taking the ball away seemed a daunting if not improbable task for anyone. NU’s Tony Villamor went first and was toyed around by the dexterous skills of the Globetrotter. 

When it was Gaston’s turn, the people who had packed the coliseum to the rafters began chanting: “Choly! Choly! Choly!” Haynes smiled at the Errol Flynn-mustached Gaston and dared him to do the impossible. Three seconds later, the Globetrotter’s toothy smile was replaced by shock and horror as the Cagayan Cyclone did the improbable by swiping the ball away as the jam-packed coliseum erupted into cheers.

Sadly though, those moments were all the post-war Ateneo teams had. They fielded some pretty good teams and played some great and memorable games but still a seventh cage title for Ateneo seemed like the search for the Holy Grail.

Moro Lorenzo broke NCAA scoring records but it wasn’t enough to get the team over the hump. Lorenzo lamented the focus on him and tried to deflect praise and attention. “Often times the glory of a victory is given to the point-making forwards,” pointed out the Blue Eagles’ three-time team captain. “No one says anything about the men who control the rebounds, about those who feed the forwards, and those who stop the opponents’ offense even at the cost of their own disqualification. Does anyone congratulate Ole (Orbeta), Pepot (Gonzalez), or Tits (Tañada)? Some don’t realize that there are five men on the court and sixteen men on the team.” The losing seemed to get to Lorenzo that after a bit, he looked forward to the football season for some respite. 

Even on the pitch with the country’s top-rated goalie in Louie Javellana, the NCAA Football championship was just as elusive as ever. In a game against San Beda at the football field at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, two late and controversial penalties were called on Ateneo that the Bedans gleefully took advantage of. A downcast Ateneo gallery booed off the referee as their rivals from Mendiola escaped with a 2-1 victory. Suddenly, a livid Chito Tinsay stormed out of the dugout and lunged at the referee. It was a sight that elicited both laughter and horror for there was the referee, ball in hand looking back with utter terror on his face with a steaming mad Ateneo football player hot on his heels. “The referee broke track records that day,” joked one Ateneo supporter who was on the stands. In the dugout after game, Fr. Austin Dowd chastised the team and a thoroughly embarrassed Tinsay who had a towel draped over his head. “What a disgraceful game that you played,” thundered Fr. Dowd (as if he didn’t have a loud enough voice already) reciting a litany of the team’s transgressions during the game. “And you, Mr. Tinsay, a most disgraceful thing that you did to the Ateneo.” By now, Tinsay was nearly in tears. “You should be ashamed of yourself… you missed the referee!” With that moment of levity, the heavy cloud of gloom that hung over the Ateneans’ locker room dissipated. “That was classic Fr. Dowd,” remembered Fr. Bert Ampil. “He always knew what to say at the right moment. He didn’t really mean what he said but he had a way of waking up spirits.”  
But there was a student-athlete then who held sway and transfixed the post-war generation with his fighting spirit... Luis “Moro Lorenzo. “We’d be 20 points down with two minutes left in the game but you’d be hearing him egging his teammates on: “Pwede todo via. Pwede todo via. Kaya pa ‘yan,” recounted Orbeta who played with Lorenzo for two years. “Kung may Filipino idol noon, it was Moro Lorenzo,” fondly recalled Fr. Ampil who was in high school then. “Even the players from other schools recognized that he had something about him that the others didn’t have. Probably other players were even better than he was somehow pagtayo ni Moro dun sa harap ng audience o pagtayo niya sa basketball court there was something about him. There was a leader there that we all wanted to be also. That’s what he did for the Ateneo.” It was Lorenzo’s indomitable spirit that inspired the young Fr. Bert to join the cheering squad. “It was that first cheer rally that we had back in the old gym and Moro was introduced to the student body. The first words that came out of his mouth were, “My fellow Ateneans.”  He went on to talk about what it meant to play for the Ateneo and how the team badly needed cheers. “I was not a cheerleader then,” recalled Fr. Bert. “And I thought at that time, ‘If it truly means that much to them then I’ll cheer. I’ll never get a chance to play basketball for the Ateneo. I’ll never get a chance to play football for the Ateneo. But I can do my bit on the stands for the Ateneo.”

Little did Fr. Ampil know that an incident up in the stands will forever be lodged in his memory even if it’s a bitter one. In a 1948 basketball game against De La Salle, Ateneo had all but wrapped up another win against the rival Green Archers. The Blue Eagles held a one-point lead with two seconds remaining and the blue and white gallery had just struck up the opening strains of “Roll Up the Victory” when Archer Eddie Decena took the ball, dribbled into La Salle’s side of the court, stepped back onto Ateneo’s side (that was clearly a backing violation) then threw up a heartbreaker of a shot at the buzzer. “Drama talaga” recalled Fr. Bert who was on the first-ever expanded cheering squad that year (the cheerleaders numbered an unlucky 13 that year). “I remember, we were already singing the part of "Roll out a Victory, we ask for nothing more!" and then – WHAM!!! Tapos. Ang sakit. Hanggang ngayon. I can still feel that song ending with a squawk in the throat!”

“I don’t remember too many of the games I played back then,” confided Baby Dalupan who was on his last playing year then. “But I will remember that game as long as I live. We protested because Decena clearly was guilty of a backing violation, but the technical committee didn’t see it our way.” 

Cheerleader Totoy Avellana in another déjà vu moment was so angered by the loss that he led the Ateneo gallery to another wave of non-stop cheering that prevented the La Salle side from belting out their victory song. “La Salle couldn’t get a word in,” chuckled Avellana’s longtime classmate and friend, the late Bonny Ocampo. “They got tired of waiting for Ateneo to stop cheering so they packed up and left. It was another moral victory.”   

Ateneo would gain a measure of revenge two years later in 1950 despite being cellar dwellers with a 2-8 record. Their only two wins that long and lost season? Against De La Salle. “Winning those two games against La Salle was our championship,” consoled Poch Estella who played on those hardluck teams.

The post-war teams did not immediately produce championships. The “luckless” years taught the value of hard work and patience. One best exemplified by Jose Cacho who was Ateneo all the way. Called “Kalawang” or “Rusty” on account of his freckles, Cacho whiled the time away during the Japanese occupation by playing football. After the war, he once more donned the immaculate white tank tops (the only blue on them was the name “Ateneo” and the number of the player) for the Blue Eaglets whose fortunes mirrored that of the senior squad’s. “Losing bothers me sure,” explained the 5’8” forward. “But you don’t wear your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.”

Sometimes the team called on Divine Intervention just to get that win or two that would propel them to the next level. “We prayed a lot of Hail Marys then,” said a wistful Lorenzo. “But in the end, we were just as we prayed in the Athlete’s Prayer -- standing by the road and cheering the winners as they go by.”

It wouldn’t be too long before Ateneo fielded a winning team. The start of the 1950’s found the Blue Eagles gradually getting better. It wasn’t that their opponents got weaker. Far from it. In fact, Ateneo ran smack into the San Beda Red Lions that paraded its storied line-up bannered by “the Big Difference” Caloy Loyzaga who displayed a polished game far beyond his young years. Mapua had the explosive Tanquintic brothers Tancho and Cadi. Letran countered with the legendary Murder Inc. behind the prolific Louie Tabuena, Lauro “the Fox” Mumar, former Blue Eagle Nilo Verona, and Ramon Manulat. Ateneo in the meantime was bolstered by its former team student-manager, Mike Littaua. But Littaua would prove to be no scrub. He would provide the team with much needed scoring sock and endgame poise together with another deadshot in Ramchand Motomuul. “We knew we had a team that could compete,” recalled Orbeta. “And we just wanted to win one for Choly and Poch who were graduating.”

Choly Gaston was quite a sight to behold in and out of the court remembered many who were at the school at that time. “He was like this larger-than-life character despite his small size,” said Moying Martelino. “He had this movie-star mustache and would drive to school in the chopper (motorcycle) that made him look real cool.”  “Despite being the smallest one on the court, he was certainly one of the most exciting,” chipped in Poch Estella. Choly would sky to collar those rebounds and his zigzagging through less agile defenders for a deuce that would bring the crowd to its feet. “Tremendous athleticism that young man,” added Estella who helped set screens for Gaston to puncture the hoop. “The moment Choly stepped onto the court as a Blue Eagle, he was a superstar.” 

Talented and exciting as the Blue Eagles were, they still had to win the NCAA cage title (for San Beda was lording it over the league at this point). In the wake of Moro Lorenzo’s graduation (he would take up higher studies at Cornell) and the sudden loss of recruits Lauro Mumar (to Letran), Bonnie Carbonell and Lito Banggoy (to San Beda) who were expected to vault the team back to elite status, Fr. Edgar Martin, the chief architect of Ateneo’s athletic program, puffed on his pipe, grunted, and pulled out the schematics for Plan “B.” 

Plan “B” wasn’t some fresh faced recruit. The team had enough stockpiled for a championship run and all it needed was a little more seasoning. The back-up plan called for bringing back a familiar face. One who helped steer Ateneo to the first grand slam in local cage history from 1931-33 and would eventually coach the Blue Eagles… Bibiano “Bing” Ouano. Ouano was the MVP of that storied Blues and Whites team that won an amazing 25 straight games in 1931 and featured such heavy hitters as Primitivo Martinez, Raul Torres, Amador Obordo, Jing Roco (the person he was replacing as bench tactician), Jess Suarez, and Pete Schlobohm among others. And that move would prove to be the right one for a return to the glory days was just around the corner.