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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Visiting Stadio San Paolo in Napoli, Italia

Went to Naples and a visit to the Stadio San Paolo had to happen so I could pay my respects to Diego Maradona and Napoli.

While I cheer for Juventus in the Italian Serie A, I've had this fascination for Napoli both the city and the club. The city I first read about during my world and military history lessons. Napoli was bombed some 200 times by the Allies during World War II as its ports were used by the Germans for their U-Boats and the oil facilities nearby. And the second reason is one Diego Armando Maradona. 

Up to the arrival of Maradona in Napoli, Serie A football was dominated by teams from the north. No southern team ever won the Scudetto. As for his impact, a Napoli newspaper wrote of the arrival of the Argentinean from FC Barcelona, "the lack of a mayor, housing, sanitation, buses, schools, employment, and sanitation makes it bearable now that Maradona has arrived." Imagine that? And some 70,000 showed up during his presentation at the Stadio San Paolo. 

The "saviour" did arrive and he led I ciucciarelli to the Serie A championship of 1986-87 and 1989-90. They also finished second in the league in 1987-88 and 1988-89. He also led them to the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989, and the Italian Super Cup in 1990. His success with the team has catapulted Maradona to mythic and quasi-religious status. "Santo Diego" as one of several Napoletanos I spoke with at the Yacht Club. 

"Maradona in my heart and in my head and in my mind," enthused another while pointing to his heart several times. And every football store I saw had a scarf, jersey, or a t-shirt dedicated to Maradona.

Some restaurants still have his pictures of jerseys of Gonzalo Higuain and Vincenzo Guardiglio hanging on the wall to name a few.

I didn't stay long in Napoli but I promise to return. And who knows? Maybe I can catch a game as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scammed in Europe!

Scammed in Europe
By Rick Olivares

I’ve just become a statistic. I have the police report from Rome, Italy to prove it that one day, I will be a part of the numbers about people who were scammed. Not once. But twice so far in this trip to Western Europe. 

You might exclaim, “What kind of dunce gets scammed twice in one trip?”

Before you react any further, read on.

In writing this hopefully, it will make your trip a little more enjoyable when you decide to visit the Old Continent.

When the tourist season sets in, prices soar and there’s practically chaos everywhere as airlines look to service as many passengers as they can ferry across the world. Hotels also hope for favorable reviews on Trip Advisor so more people can book with them. Restaurants don’t have a problem seating people. And well, the predators are out for your dollars and Euros. 

Normandy Trip
Technically, this isn’t a scam. It’s a legit tour. However, this should teach people to ask questions before booking a trip.

I booked the trip via France Tourisme from our hotel in Paris. France Tourisme has legitimate offices in Paris but one has to be careful in reading the brochure entry that goes like this: “The trip will take you back into the most important historical events which occurred in the Normandy region. Discovery of the Pointe Du Hoc, the American Cemetery and the famous landing Omaha Beach before reaching the city of Arrowmanches for a lunch break. Free time in the afternoon at Bayeux to stroll through the streets, visit the Museum of the Tapestry or the Museum of the Battle of Normandy (ticket not included).”

I cross-checked this with the website and it said: "Then, you will go to Omaha Beach, Normandy landing beach which caused important human losses. You will also visit the famous American Cemetery, a wide necropolis which overlooks the beach, and the brand new visitor centre. It is a place of memory where personal stories, photos, movies, interactive presentations and objects from that period are collected."

The trip from Paris takes about a long three hours and 3 minutes. And we weren’t in a comfortable coach but a small minivan that was rather uncomfortable. There were other tours using bigger buses so I figure the other tours were better. And how better? It didn’t occur to us until we left Pointe Du Hoc.

The one quirk here is WE DID NOT GO DOWN AT OMAHA BEACH. More than any other location in Normandy, Omaha Beach is the most famous or infamous and celebrated for the battles that were fought as well as the lives lost there. We merely drove right through. Instead we went to the American cemetery that while nice isn’t part of the battle. Arrowmanches or Bayeux are largely unimportant. I asked the guide rather loudly i we could go down Omaha even for five minutes but she ignored me and the other people on tour.   

When we passed by the British cemetery, we hardly even slowed down for a pic. Ditto for the numerous museums in the area. Quite frankly this is disappointing.

Arrowmanches and Bayeux are boring. I figured that Pointe Du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the America Cemetery would trump the other poor choices (that I figure is a deal with these communities in exchange for some Euros and dollars) but no such chance. The three misfires - not going down to Omaha Beach and going to Arrowmanches and Beyeux — do not make taking this particular tour by France Tourism worth your money.

The breakfast at the Hotel
Our booking at the Hotel Moderne at the Latin Quarter is nice. And it is situated in a very nice neighbourhood. The Paris Pantheon is around the corner.  The Notre Dame Cathedral is a five-minute walk away. So is the Bastille and Place St. Michel. The River Seine is as well and walking to your left, you will hit the Louvre in no time at all. 

So what’s the big deal? The breakfast isn’t part of our package. Now that is fine. Eating at the hotel “restaurant” you are charged 12 Euros. We only ate downstairs 14 times and that should amount to 168 Euros. Instead we were billed a whopping 220 Euros! We argued to no avail. But with the hotel transfer to Orly Airport waiting and the receptionist unreceptive we had no choice but to fork over the cash!

Even worse, the hotel transfer charged us 65 Euros (when everything was pre-paid). We showed the voucher but like the receptionist, it was to no avail. 

The Roman Centurions outside the Colosseum, Rome, Italy.
These men dressed up as Roman Centurions are no different from the street musicians. They try to earn money off pictures with tourists. 

I was watching a pair of them pose for pictures with some Asian tourists. One of them tried to grab the breasts of one of the women who expressed shock and helplessness. The “centurion” laughed and said it was a joke.

The other centurion saw me with my iPad, he came over and posed with me. My youngest son snapped a few pictures. After I slipped him a five Euro bill, he said later. The other centurion now joined us. He placed his helmet on my son and I took pictures. My youngest brother was also taking pictures when the “second centurion” placed his helmet on him.

When we were done (in about 30 seconds), he demanded 40 Euros! I said, for what? And I protested that we had no agreement and that it was highway robbery. He then hiked his price to 120 Euros each. One for him and another 120 for his partner. When we refused he got aggressive and began to reach for my pocket. He then backed me up against some horses (attached to a cart and manned by gypsies). Three gypsies stood behind me. The centurion motioned as if he was reaching for something behind him. My first thought was it was a knife. Fearing for our lives, I handed over the 100 Euros (my brother gave 50). He asked for more but I said I was going to the police. He then backed off.

As soon as he backed off, my brother and I went to some soldiers stationed nearby to tell them of the incident. One of them spoke English and he brought us over to the police none of who spoke English. They drove us down to the other side of the Colosseum to some other centurions. Since we had pictures, they recognized the other man as “Louis” or “Luis” or some name like that. We spotted the two centurions who jobbed us at the nearby souvenir shop. The man who forced the money from us pulled out a cellphone and made a call. The top policeman in the area went over to talk to him but nothing happened.

When my brother and I were pointing to the centurions the soldiers didn’t even turn to look at them. I found this suspicious. One of them even got angry at us. The English-speaking soldier told us not to make gestures or say anything.

From the road overlooking that side of the coliseum, there was a centurion looking at us. A civilian dressed in a red shirt then made the slit throat gesture to me.

I mentioned this to the soldiers who still refused to turn around and look at the centurions atop the road. The cops in the meantime were discussing something with other cops and a couple of centurions. “This is being fixed,” said the English-speaking soldier. “Don’t worry.”

They asked us to go down to the station to make a statement. We complied but now I regret going to them. I filed my complaint but do not imagine anything happening such as getting our 150 Euros back. If anything, it shook my faith further in the police. They are no different from the cops back home in Manila. 

At first, I was upset and didn’t want to go out anymore. But why let some people ruin what has been a great trip so far? My siblings, children, and I went back to the Colosseum the next day. I didn’t see the men who accosted us and my brother and I made sure to survey them closely. 

I have been to about two dozen countries and never lost luggage, never got pickpocketed or scammed. In this trip there have been several incidents already. My son even witnessed a pickpocket filch a man of something on his shirt in the Paris metro. Is the situation really bad everywhere? I have no idea.

All I can hope for is to be smarter and more vigilant and hopefully, you readers will have learned something as well. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Personal Tour of France Part 1

My Personal Tour of France Part 1

By Rick Olivares

There are the usual destinations and attractions to see when on tour. Here in France, it is the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Bastille, Versailles, and Giverny to name a few. But here are my favourites. 

The Louvre
A mind-blowing experience in so many ways unless one has no appreciation for art. As a youngster, I loved illustration and only gave it up in high school as my interests went into another direction. However, in school up to college, we had art appreciation classes that although I found boring picked up enough to understand the significance of it all.

Now to see them up close… there’s a sense of amazement and wonder that even days after leaves me tongue tied.

While the Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous work of art, I for one as more blown away by neo-classic painter Jaques Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon, the 33x20 feet tall painting that depicted the French leader seizing the Emperor’s crown from Pope Gregory (he would crown himself). The basic rules of neo-classic art are here for all to survey - how there is a line from the cross to Napoleon holding the crown to his Empress Josephine who is kneeling. Napoleon is at the centre of it all. 

I spent 20 minutes gazing at this massive masterpiece that took the painter two years to complete. If I didn’t have to move on then I would have stayed longer. To the left is David’s other incredible work Leonidas at Thermopylae. Another mind-boggling piece of work that depicted the Spartan king right before his death. 

My other favourites?

The Winged Assyrian Bulls, the Mollien staircase, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Apollo gallery, Venus de Milo, the guards of Darius, the Goddess of Sekhmet, the sarcophagus of Ramses III, and Eugene deal Croix’s Liberty leading the People… whew. There’s a lot more. As our Walking Tour of Paris guide, Alexandre, said a few days earlier, if one took one minute to gaze at every single work of art, then it would take him almost 25 days to finish the Louvre. 

Chapelle Notre-Dame du Medaille Miraculeuse (140 Rue de Bac)
Site of where the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure lies (as well as the bones of St. Louise of de Marillac are placed inside a wax body). It is one thing to read about it in a book of saints as a youngster but it is another to see the body right in front of you. More than the painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, this one had me sitting down transfixed and praying. More than anything, it reaffirms my faith.

Site of one of the most famous battles in world history. The successful beachhead changed the course of World War II. It used to be that I saw these places immortalised in films like “The Longest Day,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and the HBO mini-series supreme, “Band of Brothers.” 

It was eerie going inside those bunkers at Pointe Du Hoc with all those films running in my head. "This one got blasted,” I thought to myself. “How many people died here?”

Even the American Cemetery left me emotional. So much the price of war if only to make the world a better place.

As a child, I had this fascination and interest for all things military. At one point in my life, I even considered a career in the military. Obviously, I took another path. This trip to this hallowed land was a way of paying respects to those who paid the brutal ultimate sacrifice. 

Another of my childhood fascinations borne out of that first book of saints given to me by my mother. Joan of Arc or Jeanne D’Arc has long held sway with me. I have watched documentaries and the films and have a few items in my personal collection about her life. The medieval town of Rouen is one of two places associated with Joan of Arc the other being Orleans where she led the French army to victory over the English and their Burgundian allies. Rouen is where she was imprisoned, tried, and later martyred. 

When I opted not to go to Mont St. Michel, I went to Rouen. 

I was excited about the opportunity to see it first hand but to see it moved me differently. Like Normandy, I felt sad. To see the tower, the last remaining piece of the old castle of Rouen, where she was imprisoned left me in tears. From the ground it looks dark and lonely. The windows are small so air must have been difficult to breathe. And it must have been claustrophobic.

Such a dark and lonely tower and that was where she was imprisoned before she was dragged to the square where she was burned on the stake. 

I was looking for a huge statue to make the place. Only there wasn’t. Simply a small sign that said that this was where she was martyred. There was a statue a few feet away and a huge cross. 

I went feeling elated but left sad and unhappy. It was a most gruesome way to die. I offered some prayers for Joan of Arc, my parents and family, and those who condemned her to death.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
This trip was bourne out of an article I read decades ago in Rolling Stone magazine that featured the grave sites of dead rock stars. In the article feature, the picture of the grave of Jim Morrison in this cemetery was defaced and disfigured. And it left an impression on me. I was five years old when Morrison died of a drug overdose. I began to listen to the Doors in college and became a huge fan. The band has since been a staple of my turntable, compact disc, and digital music players.

The grave was cordoned off by a heavy metal barrier and had some police stationed nearby. When I asked the uniformed policewoman, she said that it is because people come over to write or draw graffiti on the grave. 

But coming within a few feet remains a powerful experience because he is a man whose music and writing has influenced me.

Other notable visits at Pere Lachaise, Heloise and Abelard, the medieval lovers who had an illicit relationship; Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Edith Piaf. 

Why I love taking those "Unofficial Tours"

Why I love taking the unofficial tours
By Rick Olivares


With that one word —it’s no “Avengers Assemble” or “Tally Ho” — we were off to see Paris through the Sandeman’s Walking Tour. For free! Yep, for free. The only money these guides, who are spread across Europe by the way, make money is through tips. So they know that making any good money is also contingent upon their ability to engage, educate, and make people enjoy the tour.

In many ways, I enjoy these “unofficial tours” (those not deemed to be official by the government-tasked tourism agencies) is because they are staffed with guides who are totally dedicated to their craft. Their attention to detail and trivia is engrossing and impressive.

Take for example the Sandeman’s tour of Paris, now that's three hours of a Reader’s Digest version of French history while traversing the famous and historic museums, buildings, palaces, cathedrals and churches along the Seine River. 

Our American-French guide named Alexandre began out tour at Place St. Michel at the Latin Quarter just opposite Notre Dame Cathedral. And like the significance of the fountain, Alexandre began his speil with Baron Georges Haussmann who was commissioned by Napoleon III in 1851 to beautify and develop Paris into the modern architectural and engineering marvel that it is today. While a prophet is never believed in his hometown as critics scored him for his extravagance, Haussmann’s vision of Paris remains powerful and significant as it has greatly influenced Barcelona, Brussels, Madrid, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna, and key cities in the United States.

Not only is the view and scenery is breathtaking but the history lesson is incredible; something I and possibly most who take the tour, know or understand. And later in our week-long stay in France, I understand other things the more I see them.

More than a history lesson, Alexandre made us forget the biting cold as we are still in the last days of spring with his jokes and choice one-liners that had everyone — no matter what their nationality is - in stitches. 

For example, while seated in a circle at the courtyard of the Louvre, Alexandre -- in total deadpan humour style — dryly noted that the story or urban myth about the glass pyramids that regained popularity when that “greatest historian of our times — Dan Brown incorporated that into his controversial best-seller, “The Da Vinci Code.” Boy, did everyone get a laugh out that. The American tourists included. 

When Alexandre recounted how at Notre Dame the French kings were crowned, this Frenchman with bird food placed them on top of a female tourist’s hat prompting all the pigeons to flock to her. Our guide was bright enough to sense that something more interesting was occurring. “I guess it is time for a commercial break because anything else I say will pale in comparison to a woman covered with pigeons.”

More laughter.

It was only the jokes and the historical recounting. Our guide gave up practical tips and reminders from not tipping to being mindful of pick pocket to how to properly pronounce “Champs Elysee.”

This reminded me of the time when I took the “unofficial” Beatles Tour of Liverpool — Daytrippers and McComb’s “Game of Thrones Locations Tour” of Northern Ireland. Our guides were a total joy as they were not only a chockfull of information but also fun pals.

This is in stark contrast to the Tourism France tour of Normandy that I took into my fourth day in the country. It billed itself as visiting the sites of Pointe Du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, Arrowmanches, and Bayeux. Honestly, it was a terrible tour. Not only was our guide, Elisa (she was nice though but this isn’t about being nice but efficient) not too knowledgeable about the tours as she would oft repeat words and phrases several times in a speil as if giving us the run-around but we also did NOT go down at Omaha Beach. If there is any one place one should go down in Normandy it is Omaha Beach. Not only was it the site of the bloodiest fighting but it is a battle that is world history that is pivotal as much as the Battle of Waterloo, Marathon, Stalingrad, Antietam, or Hastings to name a few. 

Arrowmanches? Bayeux? 

What the hell! Where is St. Mere Eglise? Carentan? 

Not going down at Omaha Beach (they said the view from the American Cemetery is better) is inexcusable. If they said this in their advertisements then I believe they would get fewer patrons.

I wish too our guide to Normandy had more stories in her speil. There was nothing. In fact, many of the patrons knew much much more than her. 

Because of what happened, I skipped taking the tour to Mont St. Michel that the same agency was offering. Instead, I opted to do my own tour of Rouen much like I did when I went about London. 

So I lumped the Normandy tour along with the hop on/hop off tour of Edinburgh. After five minutes, I pretty much figured out the city (use the Scots Monument as your focal point in direction because you know that where the city divides between the old and new towns.

Technically, I didn’t need to do the Paris walking tour as I’ve got an excellent GPS in my brain. All one had to do was keep to the Seine in a straight line as you’d pass through them all — Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Pont d’Alma where Princess Diana lost her life, the Tuileries Gardens and you can see that grand boulevard Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Despite that it was three hours well spent and I gave Alexandre a 10 Euro tip (collectively with my siblings and kids 35 Euros).

If you have an excellent sense of history then you can go around on your own. If not taking the guided tours won’t hurt as you probably wouldn’t know any better. Furthermore, if you can figure out the labyrinth system that is the New York subway you can figure anything out.

Having said that, there are trade offs to taking official and unofficial tours. 

The official tours provide transportation and direction. But photo opportunities are few and far in between.

The unofficial? Well, you kind of save a little more but you walk more but the photo ops are tremendous.

The official tours take you to places you don’t really want to go to such as that pearl and gift shop in Hong Kong and that tapestry shop in Bayeux.

The unofficial? If you plan your trip well you save time and money and go where you want to go. Besides you see more on ground level. 

As for that trip in Paris — that Paris Pass helped quite a lot as I didn’t have to queue for the museums and it saved me from paying for the Metro and bus rides.

At the Latin Quarter of Paris searching for a nice place to eat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Edson Battiler has his first moment as a UE Red Warrior

Edson Battiler has his first moment as a UE Red Warrior
by rick olivares

Edson Battiler drove to the basket. One step inside the lane, the ball was swiped away from him leading to a fastbreak bucket by a CEU Scorpion.

One play later, he was given the ball on the baseline and he short-armed a jumper with the rebound by another Scorpion igniting the fastbreak.

Battiler shook his head and apologized to the bench. Dindo Pumaren standing in for older brother Derrick who was late pending another appointment that took too long to finish shook his head in dismay.

Sometimes, errors and bad play can be contagious. In the UE Red Warriors’ case, center RR De Leon was soon infected. He turned the ball over and airballed a jumper.

Pumaren called for time and subbed out the two players. Battiler went to the bench with his head hung and feeling downcast.

In three previous games for UE in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, Edson averaged 1.3 points per game. Worse, he had more turnovers than points – five to four. And on defense, more often than not, he was burned.

Homesickness wasn’t the problem. After all, it has been more than a year since he moved to Manila. “Sa Holy Trinity, run and gun lang kami,” said Battiler. It was his way of saying that defense was an anathema to his team.

Unfortunately, Derrick Pumaren is a defensive-oriented coach. That fullcourt press has been a staple of his squads for more than two decades.

Battiler admitted it is taking time to get used to what his coach wants. But he is quick to say that his Red Warriors mentor is the best coach he’s ever had. “Sobrang galing ni Manong (as Pumaren is fondly called by his players because of his fatherly approach off the court). Ang dami ko natutunan. At marami pa akong matututunan.”

The Red Warriors have been offensively challenged since the departure of some of its former stars. This season, they have struggled to put points in the basket. Their 3-0 record is the result of defense. Winning ugly by putting the ball into the hoop or through free throws.

Against the offensive juggernaut that is the CEU Scorpions with its bevy of talented players who have gained a lot of experience in the D-League, it was a yin yang challenge – offense versus defense. Youth and inexperience versus championship caliber and loads of experience.

For three fourths of the match it looked like the latter would prevail as UE fell behind by 12 points in the middle of the third as the Red Warriors struggled to hit the side of the building.

With Edgar Charcos, the hero of the win against Mapua, misfiring (he finished with a measly two points; with Pau Varilla unable to get going (until the final minute of overtime); with Renz Palma, the adjudged Player of the Game also against the Cardinals on the bench, UE was in need of a hero.

Into the breach first stepped Chris Javier and rookie guard Philip Manalang.

Javier had hoped for a bright college career. He was a stud on a San Beda Red Cubs team alongside Alfonso Gotladera. When he got to UE, the team was an underachieving one that had gone through multiple coaching changes. Yet somehow, he looked to be doing well particularly after hitting consecutive game winning shots first against UP and then Ateneo. His confidence and morale greatly eroded with the arrival of Charles Mammie and then Moustapha Arafat. Against Mapua, Derrick Pumaren consigned him to the bench after Cardinals center Allwell Oraeme blocked his ill-advised shot and forced him into two turnovers. “Kung ayaw mo maglaro ng maayos umupo ka na lang,” sternly thundered Pumaren. Even if UE eventually won the game, Javier wore a long face.

Manalang was not picked up by the National University seniors team. “Too loaded, they said. So he went on to tryout for Adamson and UST before deciding to go to UE. It hurt the young point guard that he was left to find a team. But Manalang was all to glad to be going to UE.

During that third quarter crash and burn, both Javier and Manalang presided over the rally. The former by putting points on the board; the latter with his defense.

In the waning moments of the fourth period, however, the torch was passed to Battiler. He scored first on a fastbreak lay-up off a long pass by Bertrand Awana. Then with time running out, he hit a triple from the top of the arc to bring UE within four, 58-54.

Come overtime, he hit another triple, badly missed an open one, before using a Javier pick to hit a fadeaway shot with 33 seconds left “that was in the flow of the game” as Pumaren would later describe. “It was all net,” beamed Pumaren. “All net.” It was the game winner as both sides would not score again. UE had won, 65-62, and were now 4-0 in the Filoil Cup.

As the buzzer sounded, Battiler’s teammates mobbed him at center court. The Pumaren brothers shook his hand with Dindo giving him a playful rub on the head. Inside the press room, “Manong” was effuse in his praise for his first ever recruit for UE. “Today he showed what I saw in him two years ago. Hopefully this will give him the confidence to be consistent.”

The kid from General Santos City who scored 15 points in what is hoped will be his breakout game, had his UE moment. “Sana hindi to ang last,’ he quipped. He then packed his bags and left the empty dugout.

He was the last one on board the UE bus where his teammates once more clapped and yelled.


Additional reading: Edson Battiler during his time with the Holy Trinity Wildcats

Sunday, May 10, 2015

10 Reasons to Watch the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup Part 1

This appears on the May 11, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.

10 Reasons to Watch the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup 
Part 1
by rick olivares

The Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup has gone from a merely tune-up tournament that teams didn’t take seriously and where they only wore practice jerseys to one they take seriously. It also provides an ideal setting for squads to test rookies and schemes from new coaches.

Here are some reasons for you to check out the best hoops played outside the PBA this summer.

Is this the last run for this San Beda era if dominance?
It has been an unparalleled era of dominance for the Red Lions. This year, they stand to lose seven seniors following the NCAA wars and there is word that the pipeline of studs to wear the red and white has dwindled. But that bridge will be crossed when they get there. For now, these guys keep on trucking and they still play some of the most entertaining basketball around with some really savvy players in Baser Amer and Art dela Cruz. And there’s Ola Adeogun who not only has become a very good basketball player but someone you watch for his funny antics and good-natured heart.

This tournament is one of three major tourneys San Beda will compete in this season with the others being the NCAA and the Champions League. Can they achieve a "grand slam" of sorts?

A prayer was answered for these Perpetual Help Altas
Before Aric del Rosario decided to agree to coach the Altas the team was in the midst of the fallout of a major tussle with the NCAA for allegedly fielding ineligible players (it is not true but merely the usual power tripping to knock down as team on the rise). True to their promise, they became really good but relied on a Fab Four of players whose production was 90-plus percent of the total team output.

After losing three of those do-it-all players, they are still trucking behind the amazing Earl Scottie Thompson and newcomer Bright Akhuetie who is probably the best reinforcement in college basketball at the moment not named Alfred Aroga. Akhuetie has a great attitude and incredible athleticism. Really fun to watch. With more experience he will be really outstanding. On the homegrown side, Gerald Dizon is emerging as a go-to player but the Altas will be a whole lot more dangerous if Gab Daganon and Ric Gallardo focus on the task at hand. Aric magic on display for those who missed UST’s great basketball of the early 1990s.

How does National University respond to the challenge of the hunted?
It isn’t like the NU Bulldogs have become instant challengers overnight. They have been good over the last three, four years. They won every tournament in sight save for the UAAP. That is until last season. Now there is the confidence of a defending champion in their gait. But it also means that teams really go hard at them. “If they used to go hard at us before,” noted junior gunner JJ Alejandro, “now they redoubled their efforts. They want to prove something to us even if we are clearly not the same team as last year.”

How different is this team? They try to push it up with a three-guard line-up at time with Rev Diputado, Gelo Alolino, and Reden Celda on the floor at the same time. This team is going to run if they can.

The CEU Scorpions are probably the best team you have never heard of.
Okay so the NAASCU champions played in last year’s Filoil tournament and turned a lot of heads with their third place finish while beating some good teams.
Now, if you claim to be a fan of college basketball (and not merely that of your alma mater), then you must watch these dudes of coach Edgar Macaraya who play the game the right way. Pass, rebound, hit the open man, play terrific defense, and hit the open man. Kind of repetitive? Nope. They average 18 assists as game as led by the amazing Mon Abundo who his an underrated passer. They’ve got a very good shooter who can attack the rim as well in Samboy De Leon (named after some Skywalking dude from Letran). They’ve got a power forward with some nifty moves in the post and probably the best three-guard rotation in college hoops in Abundo, JK Casiño, and Aaron Jeruta. And oh, there’s the amazing Rodrigue Ebondo who will give everyone a lesson in hustle and heart.

How will these FEU Tamaraws fare?
If you ask me, they could be plenty dangerous. More so if Prince Orizu can be counted on to score from the post and rebound. Last year, you weren’t sure what you were getting from Anthony Hargrove day in and out. The key here is Orizu who backstops a talented team that will lose a lot of veterans following this season. They still have Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, Mac Belo, and Russell Escoto, and Achi Iñigo to lead this team. Picking up the slack from the graduated Carl Cruz is Monbert Arong who first showed his wares two years ago while playing for Southwestern University during their first stint in Filoil. Arong is a better offensive player than Cruz and he will add another dimension to their attack. And there’s guard Jojo Trinidad who will get a lot of minutes if Francis Tamsi cannot get going.

The trick for the Tamaraws of coach Nash Racela is trying not to peak to early and in time for the UAAP season. If they manage that well, these Tamaraws will challenge once more for a Final Four slot.

Games to watch out for this week at the San Juan Arena:
Wednesday May 13
3:15pm UE vs. CEU
5pm CSB vs. NU

Friday May 15
5pm CEU vs. San Beda

Saturday May 16
3:15pm NU vs. FEU
5pm  DLSU vs. UE