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  1. What Are They Doing, Really? Part 2

    At our most recent lunch over the last weekend, Mr Libog was at it again.

    "O ayan, talo tayo sa Lyceum at UE," he said in between bites of crispy pata and long looks at the waitress of his favorite Filipino restaurant. "Biruin mo, sino ba naman ang Lyceum at UE para talunin tayo?"

    I said its only the off-season anyway, plus those were only one-basket losses, no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Plus a player or two who rode the pines last season are now getting some much needed burn.

    He just chortled, swallowing his umpteenth mouthful of the crispy pata. "Kahit na ba summer league lang, gano ba naman kalakas ang Lyceum at UE para talunin tayo? Kahit pa chamba, dalawang chamba 'yan ha, hindi ba nakakaalarma 'yan?"

    I don't really know with him, but the summer leagues, especially the Fil Oil, was never much of an indication of UAAP fortunes as far as I can tell. Lasalle swept the Fil Oil all the way to the championship last year, and then went on to win the Season 79 UAAP diadem as well. But taking a look over the last 10 years, there was never a co-relation between Fil Oil success and UAAP success.

    Even during the 5-Peat reign of the Ateneo, the Fil Oil and the Fr Martin summer tournaments were really just for tuning up for the regular UAAP wars. One might even say the annual US training junket of the Blue Eagles is actually more important in the team calendar, since they would willingly play daily games alternating between the Fil Oil and the Fr Martin just to keep in step with the schedules of those tournaments before they made off for the US. They would then come back just in time for the last few elimination games of the summer tournaments. More often than not they'd make the Finals of either or both tournaments. Heck they even won the now-defunct Nike Summer League in 2008, which was their springboard into the first of their five straight UAAP titles, and the launchpad for Rabeh Al-Hussaini's UAAP stardom.

    So, really, I don't know why Mr Libog was in such a tizzy.

    "Alam mo hindi naman kasi 'yan dapat nangyayari, kahit sa summer, 'yang matalo tayo sa mga patakbuhing teams. Seriously, mukha bang nagfa-Final 4 ang mga 'yan? So bakit tayo natalo sa kanila," he asked rather exasperatedly.

    I said these things were bound to happen. Even back in Magic's day, when the Clippers were a joke of a franchise (the days of Benoit Benjamin and Company), there was one time or two that they upset the Showtime Lakers. "Bilog ang bola," as Wang-bu, Jake Salazar, and other old soul Pinoy basketball sages would say.

    "Hindi kaya the actual fact of the matter is that sadyang mahina ang team natin? And if this is the case, papanong nagkaganun?" He was warming up to something, I could see the signs already.

    "Balikan ko lang 'yung pinagusapan natin dati. Magkano ba ginagastos natin sa team? Every year may US training hindi ba? May gumaling na ba diyan gawa niyang training na 'yan? Si (Frank) Golla ba naging Reynel Hugnatan man lang after niyang mga US training na 'yan? Si Juami (Tiongson) ba naging Terrence Romeo man lang? Hindi naman ah. Magkano ba gastos sa isang biyahe nila? Maybe P4 to 5 million? Just for that trip? Baka annual budget na 'yan ng UST or UE team. And yet in spite of that kind of spending we get beaten by Lyceum and UE. Granted its the off-season, but still." I was sure he wasn't done yet. He was in financial management / cost-benefit mode.

    "Kung ganun kalaki ginagastos mo hindi ba nakakahiya na ang team na hindi gumagastos ng ganun kalaki tinatalo ka? And I don't even buy that excuse that we don't take the off-season all that seriously. Assuming that to be true, during the 5-Peat years I don't think we ever opened the Fil Oil with back to back losses to shit teams. Even when we 'weren't taking this seriously', as you say."

    "So the only logical explanation is mahina ang team natin ngayon. Which brings us back to the question of bakit ba tayo humina. Hindi kaya humina tayo kasi may problema sa recruitment strategy natin? Do we even have a recruitment strategy? Or do we just see who happens to be the UAAP or NCAA Juniors, or Tiong Lian superstar of the moment and just go get that kid, not even thinking to much if he will continue being a star in college?" He's about to get to his usual point.

    "After the 5-Peat we just couldn't seem to get or to hang on to real talent, or we didn't know how to maximize them. Look at New (Chris Newsome). The two years he played he had to take a backseat to Phenom (Kiefer Ravena). Why? Have you seen what New is doing in the PBA? You think Phenom can dunk on an import in traffic? So why did Phenom get to chuck up 30 shots a game while New was second fiddle?"

    "We went out and got CJ Perez, at sa Fr Martin pa lang nagpakita na kagad siya, tapos hindi pala natin naalagaan sa aral. ...
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  2. What Are They Doing, Really? Part 1

    Mr Libog treat my self and my wife to lunch over the weekend.

    As is the usual practice, talk at our table centered mainly around basketball, specifically recruitment.

    "Malapit na Fil Oil ah," he stated, referring to the Fil Oil-Flying V Premiere Cup, the summer basketball tournament organized by the local petroleum company that bears the same name.

    I nodded, knowing this tournament would begin after the Holy Week, so it was only about a week or two away.

    "Sino mga bago natin?" he inquired, referring to who the new players might be on our varsity roster.

    I shrugged. Apart from transfer student Gab Reyes, and two players who failed to make the last season's regular roster for different reasons, I actually had no clue who any of our new talent (if any) there might be.

    I told him about Reyes, and the other two guys: Tyler Tio and Gian Mamuyac. He was of course familiar with all three, since we had followed their developments even as far back as their high school days. I said they were doing well in the offseason tournaments like the Fr Martin Cup and the Milcu Got Skills Challenge Cup.

    He didn't sound too impressed. "That's it?"

    I nodded.

    "So what we have is an athletic forward who Lord only knows has been doing what the last couple of years we haven't heard a thing from him, a guy who should have been lined up last season were it not for paperwork that had nothing to do with his game, and another guy who we both agreed should have been lined up ahead of at least three other guys who didn't actually do shit for us last season. Would that be accurate?"

    I nodded again. Although I did add that at least we're getting three guys who aren't total greenhorns and who could come in and play right away within the system of the team and the coach, which is always valuable.

    "Valuable, yes, but doesn't guarantee us a title does it?" he asked, rhetorically as usual.

    My wife was busy putting fried rice, squid heads, beef, broccoli, tofu, and clams on our plates while we were engrossed in our little discussion. It pays to marry the right woman, I tell you. She will make sure you can keep enjoying a good meal without having to skip a beat in your in-depth basketball conversation.

    I said that with Reyes, Tio, Mamuyac we would have a better perimeter now, that can provide firepower, defense, experience, and much-needed speed.

    "I hardly think Tyler and Gab will provide speed, only Gian is a natural runner in that bunch. You are correct though that Tyler can provide additional firepower, Gab too, because Gab I think is a better shooter than Thirdy Ravena. But then again Gab might be what, in his fourth year in college by now, dapat lang naman sigurong gumagawa na siya, athletic naman siya, may pukol, sa edad niya dapat lang naman kaya na niya gumawa. So once again we have to thank Lasalle for another guy they couldn't use, because now he gets to play in a blue uniform," he expounded.

    "Alam mo totoong tanong diyan: ano ba ginagawa nung mga tao na dapat naghahanap ng talent para sa team? Bakit pa sila pinapasweldo? Troy Mallilin hindi nakuha. Justin Baltazar hindi nakuha. Ricci Rivero hindi nakuha. Aljun Melecio hindi nakuha. Lahat ng mga players na gusto ko, 'yun ang mga hindi nila nakuha. Wala na ngang clearance na kailangan, wala na ngang residency, hindi pa din natin sila nakuha."

    "So sino-sino ba mga nakuha natin? Mga good students? Kung good students kailangan natin huwag na natin padala sa US ang team tuwing summer, magtayo na lang sila ng separate scholarship fund specifically for good students who make the basketball team. OK lang naman kung ganun ang gusto nila eh, pero pupusta ko lahat ng yaman ko, never mananalo ng UAAP championship ang team na good students ang lahat ng players. No way," he declared.

    So was he saying we would have a losing season?

    "Far from it, I think we will return to the Finals at the very least, where once again our problem will be how to match up against (Benoit) Mbala. Sino pantatapat natin sa kanya, sina (Chibuezee) Ikeh at George (Go) na naman? Hindi porke nakapalag tayo kahit papano last year ganun-ganun lang magagawa natin ulit 'yon this year."

    "We can be thankful na wala na si Jeron (Teng), and he really is a big loss for them, kasi hindi ganun kadali replace ang scoring at veteran leadership niya. Kaya lang papano kung mag-step up naman sina Baltazar, Ricci (Rivero), Melecio, makabalik din ng maganda 'yung Gboy Gob, or maka-contribute right away 'yung Troy (Mallilin), talented players lahat ang mga 'yon ha."

    "Pero sabihin na lang natin na lahat nung mga locals nila hindi gumawa as expected, andiyan pa din si Mbala eh, at 'yon walang katapat sa buong liga. So papano na tayo niyan?"

    We ...
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  3. The Real Thing

    File this under "Wala Lang, Walang Kinalaman Sa Basketball", specifically under "Food and Drinks".

    I just had a long discussion with an old college friend and one of my best friends of all time, Babymaker.

    Babymaker is from an old Albay family, really old school, old roots Bicol, and he makes a mean "laing".

    For lack of a better translation, let me roughly describe this to those unfamiliar with the dish as the top leaves of tubers, cooked in coconut cream, with the usual Filipino spices and seasonings.

    "Here is the basic 'recado' (ingredients): Bagoong Alamang, the colorless variety (a kind of aggressively salty, fermented fish paste), Tinapa (smoked fresh fish), leftover Adobo (a kind of pork braise in soya sauce and vinegar), garlic, onion, ginger, siling labuyo (the red devil chili), siling malaki (the long green finger chili), and native suka (vinegar), and of course kakang gata (first pressing of the coconut cream)," he enumerated.

    "The cooking is very tricky, and only the old masters get it right most - I repeat, most - of the time, that is to say, even the master cooks of Old Bicol will never get the cooking of laing done just right every time," he noted.

    "Genuine Bicol laing, at least as I grew up with it, ends up dry-ish, dark green, all leaves, absolutely no stems, and the coconut cream must have rendered out its natural coconut oil without burning of course, and you cannot, indeed must not, stir or mix while cooking, again while making sure it doesn't scorch or burn. It is as much about timing as it is about technique," he expounded.

    "The stuff you get here in Manila is utter and absolute crap," he teased with his usual derisive guffaw.

    I've tasted his laing a number of times, and indeed he never claimed to be a master cook of the dish, so those times were I would say 50-50, at least in terms of him hitting all the marks of the traditional laing he grew up with.

    One thing I must note however: Although he says he hit the mark maybe only half the times when he served it to me, to my unbiased mind and taste buds, I'd have to say he actually made a delicious laing maybe 9-out-of-10 times.

    That got me to thinking: If the stuff was delicious, even if it wasn't the genuine article, or the real thing, especially to someone who grew up with the dish, and was from the dish's native locale, doesn't that still make it the real thing after all?

    Consider: we cook in order to eat, and of course since we go through the trouble of cooking, we try (or at least I'd like to think most reasonable people try) to cook something delicious. You're going to eat it, you cooked it, you might as well make it taste good, right?

    Now if something is considered genuinely delicious to an eater - whatever that eater's threshold is for "delicious" - does that not make the dish successful, and therefore the real thing?

    It is like that old publicity gimmick, the blind taste test. You get a product, you get two of your competitors' products, you make a bunch of people sample each of the products, and hopefully they choose your product as the best tasting among the lot they tasted.

    To a non-Bicolano, especially to someone who doesn't know how to cook, if a dish strikes us as delicious, then that should be the happy ending for all and sundry, yes? It may not have been cooked perfectly according to the cook's knowledge of how the dish should have been cooked, but if the eater still found it genuinely delicious, then that dish should by all accounts still be considered a success, yes?

    For all we know, had the cook cooked that dish the "right" way, and it had come out "perfect" per the cook's standards, the eater might not have liked the dish. What are we to make of the dish then? That the real deal is actually unpalatable and the "wrong version" of it is the one that is actually delicious?

    My friend of course, known for his bullheadedness on all matters, especially his native cuisine, would have none of it. "I've never had a complaint yet about my laing," he huffed.

    "But my friend," said I, "if your laing was only 50-50 on the mark the times you made it for me, and I still found it delicious 9-out-of-10 times, isn't my opinion of more weight than yours? You are after all cooking it for me, a non-Bicolano."

    "If you were a barbarian, sure, no problem," he gruffly retorted, "but I know you are a civilized man with a sophisticated palate, and I tell you that laing can only prepared the way I have described it, using the ingredients I have enumerated, and anything short of those two things blending in perfect harmony, is a failed laing! And if you think a failed laing is delicious then perhaps I must rethink my opinion of your civility and the sophistication of your palette!" ...
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  4. With These Beermen, No Contest

    Sam Miguel usually handles the PBA, but this time he let me have a go at it.

    It was over one of our regular dinners with Mr Libog that the subject of comparing the great San Miguel Beer teams came up.

    Coincidentally I just had an interesting exchange with the great Bill "William the Conqueror" Velasco the afternoon earlier about this same topic.

    Here's the deal: Which of the three great San Miguel Beer teams is the best, the 1989 Grand Slam team, the 2-Danny's team of the late 1990's to early 2000's, or the current 2017 team of June Mar Fajardo.

    Of course the discussions we had were much too free-flowing, so maybe let us set some "parameters" if we can.

    First off, it is easy to be tempted to look at individual players and their stats and just say this guy scored more, rebounded more, passed more, etc etc, and therefore he is clearly better than the other guy. We can't really do that. Remember, those stats were not made against each other, these teams never played against each other, so those stats were only for a particular point in the fabric of the basketball time-space continuum. They might be useful but they cannot be the be-all and end-all of this discussion. The same thing holds true for individual awards like the MVP trophy. You all know how I (and Sam) feel about the very concept of an MVP in the first place.

    Secondly, we have to look at them as teams, and from the particular eras in which they dominated. This must hold especially true for the 1989 team because of the presence there of Ramon Fernandez, the man widely recognized as the best Filipino basketball player ever. (More on this particular point later.) In 1989 Fernandez was a year removed from the last of his four MVP awards, and was no longer the stud he was from say the late 1970's to maybe the earlier half of the 1980's. He still had great game of course, but he was no longer at the peak of his powers here. This will be very important to keep in mind.

    Third, since this is 2017, we will compare these three great teams through the prism of current PBA officiating, so in terms of officiating we will look at this in terms of what is allowed, and no longer allowed by current PBA rules, such as the Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2 distinctions.

    Fourth, and I cannot stress this enough, if you do not believe that both the game and the players have somehow or other evolved, at least from 1989-onward, then we can end this discussion right here.

    Fifth and last, let us pretend that all three teams could be put in a mini-tournament, triple round robin eliminations, so each team gets six elimination games each, with the top two teams facing off in a best of seven Finals.

    Bearing all of these in mind, let me get straight to the conclusion Mr Libog and I agreed on: the Finals would be between the 2-Danny's team and June Mar's team; the Grand Slam team would get its licks in but in the end would not have enough size and talent to knock off either of the later-generation teams.

    Let's get the admitted facts out of the way first.

    Mr Libog and I agreed that Allan Caidic, hands down, is the only one from the 1989 team who could still play the game as it is being played in 2017. Caidic is without a doubt the best damn shooter ever that this country has produced. Ever. Take all of the best shooters across all the generations and Caidic would be the best among that esteemed lot.

    June Mar Fajardo will go down in history as the best player ever, regardless of position. At his young age he will probably win at least a dozen more PBA championships, and maybe at least a half dozen more MVP awards. He has truly changed the game just by being here. You're talking about a 6-10, 260- to 270-pound player who has touch, good footwork, agility, and mobility, and can even run in transition. Yes, Fernandez displayed far more skill, coming close one season to averaging a near-triple double for an entire year. But Fernandez never changed the game the way Fajardo did, simply because for all his wondrous talent, Fernandez was a normal-sized Filipino big man, in that 6-5 to 6-5 range. Had Fernandez been at least 6-8, then maybe we'd have a different opinion. But Fajardo is completely different owing precisely to his sheer size, and he isn't the barely-skilled lumbering lummox that say Bonel Balingit, or Chris Bolado, or EJ Feihl, or Dong Polisitico were. Fajardo, far more certainly, is better than fellow skilled skyscraper types such as Marlou Aquino and Yancy De Ocampo. And let us not forget, he is not only tall and long, he is thick-bodied and massive. It is that complete package that has allowed him to amass the titles and accolades he has, and he isn't even 30 years old.

    "Dynamite" Danny Seigle will go down in PBA history as the best player never to win an MVP award. This is a very ...
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  5. What A Difference A Year or Two (or Three) Makes, Part 2

    (Continued from the previous)

    "May mga cases kasi talaga na ang galing-galing nung high school player pero it turns out he's just older than the kids he plays against, at nabibisto din naman siya pagdating pa lang niya ng Seniors," Mr Libog exclaimed.

    I then recalled that a coach from a well-known high school basketball program actually admitted to me something that has long been making the rounds in local high school basketball: Yes, he admitted, when a recruit comes to their program, and that recruit is either just the right age or a little younger for his curriculum year, they make him repeat a curriculum year and max out his age eligibility for junior division play.

    He went on to explain that this wasn't done willy-nilly, that there were practical reasons for doing so: First, their program wanted to maximize the recruit's available playing years, especially if he is a transfer who has to sit out a year to establish residency anyway. Let's say a recruit already finished Grade 8 in his previous school, and he was only say 13 years old, or a little young for a Grade 8 student. When he goes to their program, they talk the recruit into repeating Grade 8, and make that repeat year his residency year. That way they will still have the recruit for four playing years, from Grade 9 to Grade 12. By the time he is in his last year of junior ball he will already be 18, in this given case. There were even times they made recruits repeat two years if they were really young.

    Second, they recognized early on that a player who is older than average in junior ball can more easily take on younger players, even if those younger players are objectively more athletic and more talented than he is. Forget about the difference between a 17-year old and an 18-year old; imagine instead the difference between a 15-year old and a 17-year old. Only in the rarest of cases can a younger player whip an older player at the high school level.

    Third, there is of course that adjustment period needed for a player to get used to more organized, more regimented basketball, especially if he came from an unstructured or barely structured background, like say if he came from the countryside and there really wasn't a regular varsity tournament where he comes from. It'll take at least a year even for the most talented and smartest high school player to get used to a more rigorous system than the one he was used to.

    The bottom line, the coach therefore emphasized, is that it makes sense to use older players in high school basketball, just so long as you do not break the rules. If the rules of your tournament allow you to play high school ball up to age 19, then the perfect team, as far as this coach goes, is one where all of the players are 19, or at least half of them are 19 and the other half are 17 to 18. Pit them even against a team of sky walking, slam dunking, running and gunning younger players, and he will put even money on his older team every time.

    "Diyan na lumalabas nga 'yung big question: Kapag nakakaita ka ng player sa Juniors na obvious naman sa itsura pa lang na mas matanda kesa sa mga kalaban niya, at nilalamon niya mga kalaban niya, hindi ba dapat lang naman ganun ang mangyari? So maybe what we are looking at is not an elite player who will be a sure PBA star in the future. Maybe what we are really looking at is nothing more than an older kid beating the shit out of younger kids, in a manner of speaking of course," expounded Mr Libog.

    "Bigyan kita ng example. You remember when we went to watch Rey Nambatac mga six or seven years ago sa Buddha Care? Sino 'yung nakaagaw sa pansin natin? Kilala mo 'yon," he inquired.

    It took me a few seconds. "Si (Koko) Pingoy?" I asked-answered.

    "Correct. Si Nambatac ang pinuntahan natin, pero nakaagaw ng pansin natin si Pingoy. Guess who's older sa kanilang dalawa?" he asked.

    "Si Pingoy?" I asked-answered again.

    "Si Nambatac, by about a year. Pareho silang born 1994, pero Nambatac was January, Pingoy was December, pero parehong 1994," he said.

    "So magkaedad lang pala sila technically speaking, mas matanda pa nga si Rey," I said.

    "Correct. Coincidence kaya na silang dalawa 'yung pinakamagaling sa respective teams nila at that time? At that time they were both around 18, or sa case ni Pingoy pushing 18 na din siya," he said.

    "So nung nag-champion ang Letran under Ayo, legit 21 na si Rey. Nung time naman na nag-champion sa Fr Martin ang Team B ng Ateneo, 'yung first championship nila dun sa Trinity, turning 20 na din si Pingoy, and take note may mga imports siya that time," he added.

    I pointed out that Joma Adornado was on that title team too, as was Mikey Cabahug and a then under-residency Ponso Gotladera.

    "Yes they were. And how old were all of those ...
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