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  1. The Big and the Small

    Gonzaga got the Number 1 seed for the national collegiate basketball tournament, otherwise known as the NCAA or March Madness. I dare anyone out there to name at least one of the three superstars for Gonzaga, or even where it is exactly. Most ordinary basketball fans probably remember Gonzaga only as the school that produced Utah Jazz legend and all-time NBA assists leader John Stockton. As to their superstars, I'll give you a hint: one is a lean 7-foot forward-center with a hard-to-pronounce, hard-to-spell surname.

    If you say Victor Oladipo you've got the wrong guy. Oladipo is a college basketball superstar indeed, but he belongs to powerhouse Indiana. I can't blame you since you probably mistook Gonzaga's 7-footer for Indiana's 7-footer, Cody Zeller, and got yourself all confused.

    All of this is understandable. There just doesn't seem to be a marquee name, or heck even a marquee school throughout the last couple of months leading up to the national basketball tournament. Duke has been the "all-hype" pick if the social media and message boards are to be believed. And they don't have a big-name, sure-top-draft-pick player on their roster. Their story has been the return of 6'10" forward Ryan Kelly, and really not much else.

    Speaking of marquee names, Kentucky, the erstwhile defending champion, didn't even make the tournament this year, going 21-12 in the Southeastern Conference, their season dying with much-hyped recruit Nerlens Noel. Their humiliating fall from grace was made all the more so when they bowed to never-heard Robert Morris in the NIT. John Calipari, who made a living recruiting one-season wonders like last year's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Number 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Davis, simply said "It has been humbling." Making $3.8 million this year will either make things easier or harder on poor Cal.

    Kentucky seemed disbelieving at first that they would not even get a chance to defend their national title. They did still have a good enough core, although of course not as deep or as talented as last year's champions. They also have to seethe through the thought of seeing hated rival Louisville, and their own millionaire coach Rick Pitino, play in the bluegrass school's home court. "We will come back a tougher team next year," Calipari insisted.

    Gonzaga in the meantime went 31-2including 16-0 at home while playing superb team basketball built on having no freshmen leaders. Indiana also did not rely on a single freshman. Zeller, who thought about being a one-done guy and making the jump to the NBA last year, is now a sophomore. Oladipo, a strong contender for consensus college player of the year, is a junior.

    Brackets be damned and all, but this is one March Madness season that incredibly enough might be a fitting end to so-so conference play throughout the last five months. There just wasn't much to be excited about. Now though, this might be the time we see the coaches making a tithe of the millionaire coaches whipping big-team deriere. This might be the time we see the small schools upsetting fancied bigger programs. This might be the time we might even see a cinderella school finally take the title.

    This is also a fitting time to look at the NBA talent playing in the next couple of weeks. Aside from the aforementioned, other NBA-ready talents who made the national tournament include 6'5" guard Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse, 6'6" swingman Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, and 6'8" forwrd Otto Porter of Georgetown. Others might have a good enough tournament to catch the eyes of NBA scouts, like undersized 6'7" UNLV forward Anthony Bennet, or gargantuan 7'5" New Mexico center Sim Bhullar.

    As for the tournament itself, could it be a Gonzaga-Indiana match in the Finals? That certainly looks good for the TV folks. Syracuse, with its New York following, could also hold some promise; the deathless Jim Boeheim is always great television. And of course there is the cinderella syndrome still working for Butler and youthful head coach Brad Stevens. Personally I'd like to see Stevens and his Bulldogs bring the trophy home to Indianapolis. Tom Crean however wants to bring another trophy home to Bloomington. An All-Indiana State Finals perhaps?

    Anyway, put the office, dorm and neighborhood pools together, folks. The big and the small have seemingly switched places, and it looks like it is all for the better in the 2013 edition of March Madness. I'm putting my money on The Orange.
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  2. Christmas Timeout

    I'm calling time for the holidays. Let me digress from my usual basketball writing and bore the three or four people who read this drivel with something else, it being the holidays and all.

    On Christmas Day the missus and I had lunch at the Dusit Thani in Makati. Now the Dusit Thani is a hotel that I am pretty familiar with, having known it by its original name of The Manila Garden Hotel back in the 1980's. A few months back I had the pleasure of interviewing three-time NBA champion and Australian basketball royalty Luc Longley (thanks to the venerable Tessa Jasmines) when he was billeted there for his NBA Cares tour here in the country.

    But what really brought me to the Dusit Thani for Christmas Day was Chef Greg Galang, the Senior Sous Chef of Basix, the all-day outlet of the hotel. Greg is a relatively recent acquaintance but a good friend. He used to put his culinary prowess on display at the Makati weekend markets, but has since hooked up with the Dusit Thani. It was he who told me about the crossover-themed lunch buffet at the hotel for Christmas Day.

    It was quite a spread, and an experience I must say.

    Diners had a run of everything that Basix and the three other dining outlets of the hotel had to offer, Tosca (Italian), UMU (Japanese) and Benjarong (Thai and Southeast Asian).

    There were the buffet staples of any 5-star establishment such as American prime rib roast at both Basix and Tosca, sashimi and sushi and tempura at both Basix and UMU, and the usual hot and cold entrees that run the gamut from meat and seafood to starches like grains and pasta (prepared to order at Tosca of course), and a whole bunch of other entrees to satisfy practically any hankering or craving.

    Old school fellow that I was I asked Greg to park me as near to the prime rib in Basix as he could. True to form he had me at a table less than two yards from the carvery. I must have had easily two kilos of that prime rib. I also had a taste of the tempura, sushi, sashimi, pasta, dimsum, lobster, oysters and some stuff from the hibachi teppan grill of UMU. Not one to miss a good cheese tray, I also sampled some above-average bree and camembert, as well as the lamb and shrimp from the Tandoori grill and the regular grill.

    My wife also had a ball sampling little bites from almost every outlet. She was particularly drawn to the noodles, such as the pasta, soba noodles of UMU, and of course the Pad Thai of Benjarong. She also had quite a sampling of the cured / smoked meats from Tosca. I thought the Parma (or was it prosciutto...) was on the bland side of cured, not quite biting enough with the salt for my taste, although the salami was excellent, best I've had in this country in probably the last 12 years.

    Did I mention drinks were included in the buffet? That's right. They had a soda dispenser, variou juices and iced tea, as well as San Miguel Beer, both pale pilsen and light versions, and wine. How's that for value?

    One thing that ruined what should have been a homerun for Dusit Thani though: two pieces of Hakaw I got from the dimsum station weren't properly done yet, as in the insides were still frozen; not cold mind you, frozen. Other than those two aberations though eveything else was either spot-on or truly exemplary.

    A tip on the prime rib: Ask to get the ends cut off first so you can see how the whole roast turned out. Personally I prefer medium rare to medium at most for my prime rib, so I avoid the ends and at all cost since those are the parts that are of course the most well done having taken most of the heat from the roasting process.

    I also suggest you have the lobster and the prawns in the seafood station grilled even if just two minutes per side. Coming off the ice may make them fresher longer but I have this thing against cold seafood. If you're all right with seafood cold like the crazy white people then go ahead and knock yourself out. Their smoked salmon and salmon carpaccio are also top-notch.

    Speaking of value, how much did this all cost? The princely sum of only P2,000 net per person. That's right, a 5-star hotel buffet with lots of cooked-to-order food, plus beverages, for all of two grand. Greg was generous enough to extend his employee discount to me and I saved quite a bit off the final check.

    If they have this again on New Year's Day we will definitely return.

    A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!

    Updated 12-28-2012 at 10:12 PM by gameface_one

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  3. PBA Finals Game 1: Simon Says

    Over 13,000 paying fans came to watch what many described as the most evenly matched championship series in a long while. They were not disappointed. BMEG started the game with all guns blazing then finished strong to hang on for the 88 – 82 victory over heavily favored Talk N Text.

    Coach Tim Cone took no chances with his starting unit, going with his two best local gunners in former MVP James Yap and Peter June Simon. While Yap would go on to have a so-so game, at least by his personal standards, Simon would shine at various critical stages of the game. Simon scored eight of his 18 points in a pivotal fourth-period spurt to overturn a five-point TNT lead. Not bad for a guy who was a fifth-round draftee some 11 years ago. “Nagkataon lang siguro maganda shooting ko,” said the soft-spoken shooting guard out of the University of Mindanao.

    Cone was a little more appreciative than his so-called second star. “We basically rode PJ in that stretch,” said the multi-titled bench boss. “He was making his shots and he was really filling the lanes so he had a little bit of everything going for him,” Cone added. Simon connected on nine of his 11 shots, a mind-boggling percentage in an era of volume shooting.

    Simon however was not the only reason the Llamados were able to draw first blood in this series. Averaging a little over 100 points per game, the Tropang Texters were held down to only 82 points by the stifling BMEG defense. Forward-center Jean Marc Pingris led the defensive effort, mostly matching up against TNT import and NBA veteran Donnel Harvey. Credit also goes to the pesky perimeter defense of pointguard Josh Urbiztondo, who started for Cone in this game. “We just hunkered down on defense when we got into a bit of a dry spell, and lucky for us they weren’t making their jumpshots,” Cone said.

    Pingris also chipped in 11 points, mostly with the bigger Harvey on him. Urbiztondo put the clamps on reigning MVP Jimmy Alapag, while setting the table for the Llamados. “Jimmy is always a tough match-up, you just have to get in your stance and try to make things a little more difficult for him,” Urbiztondo explained.

    Making things even more difficult for TNT was their awful shooting from the foul line. TNT just could not seem to sink a shot from the 15-foot line. “You can’t win a game if you miss 20 free throws,” Coach Chot Reyes rued. “I can’t help them there; I can’t shoot free throws for them,” he added, with frustration clear in his voice.

    BMEG basically played three great quarters of solid basketball, essentially giving up the third period to TNT. “That is not a good recipe to follow,” said Cone. Indeed, with a team as deep and talented as TNT, all it takes is a good run of a few minutes for them to overturn a deficit and suddenly charge ahead and bury opponents. “We can’t give Talk N Text a quarter because they can blow you out in that span.”

    Cone could not get anything from his bench in that third period, as guard Mark Barroca, power forward Joe Devance and forward JC Intal suddenly could not buy a basket. Barroca and Devance made some baskets coming off the bench in the second period but suddenly went cold for much of the third. “They should probably bring back at least one of their three scorers – James Yap, Simon or Denzel Bowles,” noted TV panelist and Rain or Shine Coach Yeng Guiao.

    Luckily for Cone things turned around just in time in the payoff fourth period as Simon rediscovered his scoring touch along with Bowles. “If he hadn’t gotten into foul trouble I would’ve kept him in the game throughout the entire second half,” Cone declared with a slight grin.

    Bowles led all scorers with 25 points, matching the production of the older Harvey. Bowles is the leading contender for the Best Import Award for the Commissioner’s Cup.

    Simon was the leading local scorer with 18 points. Alapag had 12 for TNT.

    Updated 04-25-2012 at 11:45 AM by admin

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