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  1. My Best Basketball Moments of 2015

    When this was a column and not a blog it used to be called The Morning After. Now that it is the middle of January it might as well be called the year after. And in truth the year 2015 was quite a year for basketball, not just here but everywhere else. Here are my best memories of basketball for 2015, in no particular order, just listed down as I recall them:

    1. Junemar Fajardo finally emerges as the best damn PBA player ever. He led San Miguel Beer to two out of the three conference championships at stake last PBA season. He is without a doubt the best player in the league. He has the size and strength advantage over everyone except Greg Slaughter, but is a much more instinctive player; the game just comes so naturally to him. Fajardo will compile the numbers, the individual accolades, the championships, and hopefully the international titles that will eventually make him the greatest PBA player ever.

    2. The San Miguel Group decides not to join the National Team. Well, except for Marc Pingris, and even that was perhaps due to the fact that he was the least superstar-y of the players the Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas wanted for Gilas 3.0. Fajardo, Slaughter, Marcio Lassiter, LA Tenorio, Japheth Aguilar all were simply not made available for Gilas 3.0, whether or not that really was SMC Management's call or not, perhaps only Al Chua will really ever know. In truth not all of them were needed. But the ones who were - Fajardo (backup at 4 and 5 to the naturalized Andray Blatche), Lassiter (arguably the best game-time shooter now in the country), Aguilar (FIBA-level size and atlheticism at the 3, 4, 5) really could have made a huge difference in FIBA competition. The basketball public just plain hammered the SMC Group for this decision.

    3. Gilas 3.0 gets royally screwed by the Chinese in the FIBA Asia Finals. Seriously, no one who knows the game, or even those who only casually follow the game, all said the same thing: Chine, as strong as they already were, still decided to pull a fast one on the Philippines during the FIBA Asia Finals. Jayson Castro's inexplicable travel while he was STILL DRIBBLING was only the highlight. Throughout the entire championship game, the officiating was all about making absolutely sure that China would make a return trip to Olympic Basketball. We should've known. They already pulled the same thing against Iran in the semis. Still, a silver medal finish with a team that was less than ideal, and heavily derided, isn't bad at all.

    4. Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva get some unequivocal love from the fans thanks to their Gilas 3.0 stint. Abueva probably said it best, "Ngayon lang ako nakaranas na buong Pilipinas sinusuportahan ako, ganito pala feeling." When The Beast made the cut and was named to Gilas 3.0 many fans were wondering how the barely 6-foot-2 forward would fare against the giants of international play at his position. Turns out he either stayed toe to toe with them or best them using the same things he uses that infuriate non-Alaska fans: toughness (ok, gulang, and even good old fashioned pananalbahe), a nonstop motor, that extra gear, and his all-out relentlessness on both ends of the court. Romeo on the other hand could not have picked a better time to dye his hair. He put so many veteran international players on skates. He shot over guys that supposedly would finally be big enough, athletic enough, and tough enough to cover him, and that he would never get away with what he gets away with at home. Yeah, right. I was never a fan of either of these guys for purely non-basketball reasons. But as a basketball fan, c'mon people, these guys had a heck of a coming out party with Gilas 3.0.

    5. Letran pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball memory, wresting the crown from San Beda. How on earth a team that small, without an import, could have made the run that they did, still amazes fans to this day. When last season's NCAA Finals match-up turned out to be San Beda-Letran, everybody and his brother just knew that this would be another cakewalk for the Red Lions, all the way to their sixth straight NCAA championship, and ninth in the last ten trips to the NCAA Finals. Lo and behold, the Knights played their own version of small ball and show-mismatch all the way to the title. Too bad the coach that led them here then signed up with Lasalle just a few weeks after.

    6. FEU ends its own 10-year title drought by taking home the UAAP championship. Just like Letran in the NCAA, the Tamaraws last had a championship in 2005. Unlike the Knights however, the Tams were simply overwhelming last season. There were games they seemed to simply be on cruise control, toying with opponents they knew they could easily take, and literally taking them to school. Their comebacks never had that feeling of dread in them at all. It just seemed inevitable that regardless how big the deficit ...
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  2. Coach This 3

    Can you imagine that? In Black's six trips to the UAAP Finals, only Pido Jarencio, at that time a rookie coach to boot, beat him for the championship. Yet I'm sure even the most diehard Jarencio fans would never say that Jarencio > Black as a coach. In his 5-Peat title reign, only Lawrence Chongson of UE, hardly mentioned as among the paradigms of great coaches, beat Black (by a big margin at that) in a game in the UAAP Finals. Again, I'm sure no one would ever say Chongson > Black as a coach.

    The point I am trying to make is not to sing praises about the greatness of Black, or Tommy Manotoc, or Franz Pumaren, or Louie Alas, or the late Ron Jacobs. Many people, much greater than I, have already done that.

    Instead, what I submit is that, perhaps there really is no such thing as great coaches, so much as there are great talents put together on great rosters.

    Think about it. With the possible exception of Brown and Detroit versus the Lakers in 2004, and Ayo this season in the NCAA versus San Beda, the more talented rosters with the more talented players in aggregate, have won championship battles. And even in these two instances, the talent Brown and Ayo had respectively was nothing to sneeze at.

    Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and the Wallace boys were all star-level players, who had always been dependable, consistent producers on whatever team they were on. Ben Wallace was not much of a scorer, but his defense and board work were all star caliber, almost Dennis Rodman-like.

    Mark Cruz outplayed the more fancied Baser Amer in the NCAA Finals, using speed and a quicker pull-up. Running with Rey Nambatac and Kevin Racal, and even McJour Luib and Jomar Sollano, Ayo's boys proved to be the match-up from hell for the Red Lions who relied almost exclusively on their size and power advantage with 6-8 import Ola Adeogun and 6-4 forward Arthur Dela Cruz.

    Yes, a good coach would know how to maximize the talent he inherits from a predecessor, and then build his own roster over time. But again, it is not necessarily about just grabbing every all star available (see Jail Blazers of previous entries). It takes maybe two or three superstars, and a bunch of interchangeable, hardworking role players. Black did that first with Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao, and Chris Tiu. Later on he had Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, and Kiefer Ravena. Pumaren had Don Allado, Renren Ritualo, and Mike Cortez. Koy Banal and later on Bert Flores leaned on Arwind Santos and Mark Isip, with Denok Miranda and later on Jonas Villanueva.

    It does not necessarily come down to brilliance in the X and O, so much as brilliance in recognizing what will work best, and then building your roster to achieve that. Coaching becomes easier when you have the elite talent making your favored system working. "Maghanap ka ng magagaling na players, para dumali ang trabaho mo. Isipin mo naman, papano kung ang sentro mo 6-1, na may katabaan, mahina tumalon, mabagal. Kesehodang may good fundamentals 'yan, lalamunin 'yan ng 6-5 na atleta na malakas, kahit hindi magsing-ganda fundamentals nila. Matuturo mo pa skills eh, pano punwesto sa box out, pano mag-ball denial, pano mag-hook shot. Anong turo gagawin mo para maging five seconds or less ang baseline to baseline? Anong turo gagawin mo para maging 36 inches ang vertical ng isang player na 12 inches lang ang kaya?" expounded one longtime UAAP assistant coach and scout.

    I recall how Koy Banal, then the FEU head coach, discovered Arwind Santos. FEU went to Pampanga to take part in goodwill games. They played a Pampanga street ball team that featured the wiry Santos. He promptly made mincemeat of Leo Avenido, at that time the FEU star and one of the best players in the UAAP. Santos, a pedicab driver, without any formal, structured training and coaching, made mincemeat of Avenido, a well-trained UAAP star. Did Banal become less of a coach because he could find no solution for a natural talent like Santos? Santos is now a bona fide PBA superstar and an MVP. Does anyone even know what has become of Avenido?

    Eric Altamirano was a champion coach last year. This year he lost two of his starters, and his chief backup at center, and he went 7-7, barely making the Final 4. He was hailed as a genius last season. Has he suddenly become a fool this season?

    Juno Sauler was a champion coach two seasons ago. Again, he lost a lot of key personnel, and he went 6-8 this season, not even making the Final 4. Was he a genius two seasons ago and suddenly a fool now?

    Black's Meralco squad is the worst team in the onging PBA conference. Are we to hold this conference as the ultimate judgement of Black's entire coaching career?

    Baldwin, Pumaren, Ayo are in the UAAP. Will they automatically be three of the Final 4? I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.

    Great coaches ...
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  3. Coach This 2

    Where were we?

    Oh yes, coaches.

    Generally fans have this idea that the coach is the guy who crafts plays, shuffles substitutions, calls timeouts, gets in game officials' faces, during games.

    This is where these same fans get the mistaken notion that anybody with a modicum of game know-how could become a full-time basketball head coach.

    I am friends with actual coaches who have been doing this thing for years, a few of them have been at this coaching thing for decades, a number of them have even won major championships across the various levels of basketball competition in our country and in international tournaments.

    One common thing they tell me is that at least 80% of coaching happens away from the arenas and stadiums. 80% of the job of a coach is in practice, practice planning, breaking down game video, scouting, evaluating and trying to get good talent to play for them. Anything else that the fans get to see during games is probably the least work coaches have to do, because all of the real work happened during the offseason, or during the days leading up to a game.

    "A lot of people do not realize that coaching really is a full-time job, and it is not for dilettantes, it is something you constantly do, and you have to know your stuff," said a long-time Gameface member who used to coach a small Quezon City school. "Ensayo pa lang paplanohin mo mga drills, scrimmage, mga itatakbo ninyong sets, depende pa 'yan sa scouting report mo sa kalaban ninyo. Hindi 'yan kaya ng kung sino-sino lang," he exclaimed.

    Arguably however the one thing that seems to be most important to the success of any coach is getting the talent he needs to put together as strong a roster as he possibly can. And this is made easier if you are a winning program. "When we first came in back in the 1970's nobody wanted the job, because the team was so awful. Nalaman namin unang-una wala pala sa kondisyon ang mga bata, so imbes na ensayo, we got them into tip-top shape. Katwiran namin, how can we play a game that demands a lot of running and jumping if we get tired easily? Awa naman ng dyos nung nag-take over kami within one year nag-champion ang team," explained a long-time coach with multiple high school and international titles.

    When they won it became easier for talented players to come to their school and play for their team. "Dere-derecho na 'yon. Kahit hindi kami mag-recruit, lahat ng magagaling na bata gusto sa amin mag-aral at maglaro. You cannot win without talent. Papano ka mananalo kung lahat ng players mo 5'8" lang na mga lampa at mababagal? Tapos kalaban niyo lahat 6-footers na malalakas at batak sa laro? Hindi chicken or egg 'yan. You try to win first, because when you win mas madali na recruitment. And when you have the best player, you win more, you keep getting the top recruits, ganun lang 'yon," he added.

    And therein lies the crux of the matter. As with any other sport, in basketball, generally talent is directly proportional to success. Talent here means the talent of the players, over and above the talent of the coach. The coach does not play, and there is only so much he can do with a poor roster. He might make them competitive, but turning them into champions only happens in Hollywood.

    Again, look back on the last 10 UAAP and even NCAA champions. With the possible exception of this year's Letran Knights, all the other champions had the superior talent.

    In the NCAA, San Beda's title reign was interrupted only twice, this year and in 2009, when the San Sebastian Stags dethroned the Red Lions after a grand slam title reign. Even then, those Stags had Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual, Ian Sangalang, all of whom are legit PBA players now.

    In the UAAP, the Ateneo had five of the last 10 championships during their 5-Peat title reign. FEU owns two of those title, first in 2005 during the Arwind Santos-era, and now in 2015 in the Mac Belo-era. La Salle had that 2007 title, while Santo Tomas took home the 2006 title with a mature, talented, tall, and athletic crew led by then "veteran rookie" Jervy Cruz, Jojo Duncil, and Dylan Ababou, again all three are legit PBA players.

    Exactly how much of a factor were the coaches in each of those title teams? Could any other coach have handled those teams and gotten the same result?

    It might be instructional to look into the case of San Beda. Eight of the last 10 NCAA championships belong to San Beda, with the aforementioned Grand Slam, and their own 5-Peat title reign cut by Letran this year. They went through the following coaches: Koy Banal, Frankie Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, Boyet Fernandez, and this year Jamike Jarin. Magsanoc in fact sat in a one-season "interim" capacity only, bridging the eras of Lim and Fernandez. So five different coaches win titles with basically the NCAA team that ...
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  4. Coach This

    In the 1987-88 NBA Season, the San Antonio Spurs were coached by a guy named Bob Weiss.

    Doesn't ring a bell?

    I know. I had to Google it.

    Apparently the Spurs sucked under this guy, very far from the powerhouse Spurs most modern basketball fans now know.

    In the 1988-89 season the Spurs hired a new coach, the legendary Larry Brown. That season they turned things around so drastically it literally made NBA heads spin.

    Brown is somebody probably most of us in Gameface know, or at least have heard of. After all, Brown has been one of the most successful and in-demand coaches in both the US NCAA and the NBA for the better part of 35 years. His last NBA title came in 2004, with the Detroit Pistons of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace. They pulled a real number on the heavily favored LA Lakers of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton.

    Going back to 1989, the Spurs became a 50-win team that season under Brown.

    Of course some of you might remember that was the same season the David Robinson finally put on the black and silver of San Antonio. He spent a mandatory two years in Service as a graduate of the US Naval Academy, even though the Spurs drafted him in 1987.

    Robinson was literally and figuratively the next big thing in the NBA at the time, as the athletic and high-skilled 7'1" center quickly showed. He also got plenty of help that season. All Stars Paul Cummings, Maurice Cheeks, and another talented rookie, Sean Elliot, were all on the 1989 roster.

    Without looking online, can anybody recall even one All Star on the Spurs team that Weiss coached the year previous? I think Alvin Robertson was there. I'm not absolutely sure.

    So who really turned around the Spurs? Brown, or Robinson and the three All Stars?

    I wonder because what if Brown had simply inherited the team Weiss had? That team could not even play .500 basketball, and to my recollection, was never even in the playoff picture. Could Brown have turned this sad sack San Antonio squad into the 50-win juggernaut that became The Admiral's team?

    I bring this up because of the current haul of "superstar" coaches into the UAAP Family.

    De La Salle, just two years removed from their last UAAP championship, bade farewell to Juno Sauler. He has been replaced with Aldin Ayo. Ayo is best known as the rookie coach who helped guide Letran to the Season 91 NCAA Championship over a heavily favored San Beda team looking for its umpteenth straight title.

    Adamson University, who last made a Final 4 appearance in 2011, brought in multi-titled Coach and current Quezon City Councilor Franz Pumaren. Pumaren's last championship came in 2007, with La Salle, where he spent his entire previous coaching career. It has been almost a decade since he was last on the bench calling the shots for a UAAP team.

    The Ateneo, three years removed from an historic 5-Peat reign, did not renew the contract of the much-maligned Bo Perasol. His replacement is Gilas National Team coach Tab Baldwin. I know, there is some controversy to this, which others have already commented on extensively.

    Good Lord, at the rate UAAP teams are going, you would think each of these men had wizard powers and could instantly, but with a wave of their magic wands, transform the fortunes of these three teams and turn them all into champions again.

    A good to great coach can work wonders of course. I have often wondered though, was there ever a good to great coach who turned a roster with objectively limited size, athleticism, and talent into champions? If this has happened, how often has it happened? Looking back at the last 10 years in the UAAP, I'd say the answer is zero.

    (To be continued)
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  5. Glory B wins FMC Div 2 Crown

    Quote Originally Posted by Joescoundrel View Post
    Ateneo's Team Glory B hung tough against a talented Arellano B side to win the Fr Martin Cup Division 2 championship 107-100 on an overcast Sunday morning at the FEU Gym in R Papa.

    It was a game of runs and spurts, as both sides clearly came to play hard for the title.

    The B Eagles came out with an early 5-0 lead, but the B Chiefs responded soon enough. CJ Perez looked like it wold be a short morning for him, picking up two quick fouls in the opening period. Baby Beast was on-track early, taking it to the rack at every opportunity.

    Arellano however showed its snappy halfcourt game, going to the low post as 6-4 center Mark Santos had his way with some nifty hook shots against the man defense of KMark Carino.

    Anton Asistio found the range early from the three-point arc to make it 17-10 for the Ateneo, but 6-foot 2-guard Mike Calleta and 5-11 guard Mark Viloria responded for the Chiefs to bring them within two 20-18 to end the first period.

    That set the tone for the rest of the game, with the Ateneo racing to a lead only to have Arellano rally back and stay within striking distance.

    In the third period however, Glory B leaned on the scoring of Asistio, Perez, Dan Wong, and timely hits from Cole Micek and Shaggy Allmond, Jr. Asistio was having a dickens of a time trying to keep up with the tough, strong guards of Arellano, but Micek and Allmond were able to provide a stronger match-up on defense.

    Big men Kris Porter, Tim Cu, and Jay Javelosa took turns manning the low blocks and the lane, and matching up against Santos and the other Arellano forwards. Javelosa however had to miss the payoff fourth period after taking a couple of knees to both thighs. Ateneo held a 79-70 advantage at the end of three quarters. At this point Asistio had already tallied 32 points, and he was not yet done.

    Arellano kept trying to fight back behind Calleta, Viloria and Santos, even briefly taking the lead at 81-82 early in the fourth period.

    Asistio however decided to put on a shooting clinic, giving the lead back to the Ateneo and even padding it, with help from the high-flying, all-motor rack attacks of Perez. "Parang (Gabe) Norwood, kompleto atake, medyo kelangan lang maka-develop ng jumpshot," remarked basketball legend and Arellano head coach Jerry Codinera after the game, when asked about Perez.

    Arellano came within 102-100 with still a minute and change to go. Steady freethrow shooting however preserved the victory for the Ateneo.

    Perez had a tournament-high 45 points, Perez added 20.

    Calleta led the B Chiefs with 25 markers, with 14 from Viloria.

    This is now Glory B head coach Yuri Escueta's third championship, same with Tomas Ramos and Mark Gamboa. It is the team's second title for the semester.
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