The Bleachers King: Last thoughts on UAAP 75 (Part 1)
The five-peat was achieved against the four winningest teams in the UAAP – De La Salle University, University of the East (UE), Far Eastern University (FEU) and University of Santo Tomas (UST). It was running through the gauntlet of top dogs in order to be the best.
That reminded me of the Chicago Bulls’ dominance in the 1990s when they went up against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trailblazers, the Phoenix Suns, the Seattle Supersonics and the Utah Jazz – all of them the top teams in the West. Critics claim that there was no one team that battled them on a yearly basis ala Boston-LA in the 1980s. These people aren’t exactly bright.
The league was pretty much a two or three (Philadelphia) or four (Houston) horse race then. And the Bulls’ rivals? They were in the East with the Cleveland Cavaliers (Magic Johnson’s proclaimed team of the future), the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat.
As for the Blue Eagles, FEU was like our Utah Jazz. We had to play and beat them twice.
The Bulls won an unlikely six. Is that possible for the Ateneo Blue Eagles? Well, it is going to be very difficult as we might get pounded inside. If the bigs and the recruits respond to that challenge then we might have a fighting chance. Making the Final Four is as always the target. We will take our chances once we get there.
However, that is looking way too far ahead. Let’s savor this. And there’s more blue and white hoops.
When the Ateneo Blue Eagles participate in the University Games in Bacolod, Gabby Severino will coach them temporarily.
If you want to see guys like Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva and the others play for Ateneo one last time, that’s going to be in the Champions League.
As I made my way out of the media room (Norman Black, Kiefer Ravena and Nico Salva were still holding court with the press), I spotted UST head coach Pido Jarencio. He was chatting with two people. I waited patiently then stuck out my hand to shake his. We didn’t exchange a word only a smile.
I have always been a fan of Jarencio from the time I first saw him torch the baskets at the Loyola Center to his incredible shoot outs with Allan Caidic. When I saw him with Magnolia where Norman Black was his head coach, I wondered how soon before he breaks out? But that was a talented and deep team he was in. When Jarencio became a star with Ginebra San Miguel, I was elated. The team had evolved into a new one although it was still a line up of discards albeit with a few choice draft picks like Noli Locsin and Marlou Aquino.
He was "The Fireman" and he fit Ginebra’s style of play.
When he went back to coach UST, I thought he was pretty brilliant for an old school coach. After all, he did lead the Growling Tigers to a title at Ateneo’s expense in 2006. Although there were calls for his head in the years after, he always made do with what he had. His teams took on his style of play – hard-nosed, tough, and well, gunning from the outside.
In 1985, as a Glowing Goldie, he shot down Ateneo, dashed their hopes, with a late display of marksmanship from the outside. Even before the game was done, he went out and shook the hand of every Atenean. I remember that like it was yesterday as I watched that from the bleachers.
In 2006, after that stunning last second layup by Doug Kramer to take Game One of the Season 69 Finals, he immediately went to the Ateneo bench to shake every one’s hand. There he was without hesitation to congratulate the opposing team that had stolen a game from him. And he led the applause from the UST side.
I always put Jarencio in the same category I hold Yeng Guiao – animated, old school, quotable, funny, and well, amiable. FEU’s Bert Flores is in that neighborhood too but Jarencio takes the cake.
Like every one else, people will disappoint you from time to time. In 2008, following a long halftime performance from the Blue Babble Battalion (yes, we were wrong and I have no idea what the BBB was thinking), Jarencio led the UST cheers that drowned out the halftime show, never mind if Ateneo wasn’t done. I was sitting along the baseline and watched him raise his arms to egg on the Tigers crowd. I understood why but I thought that he should have not done it.
Last year, I had many a great interview with him inside the media room, inside the UST dugout, or sometimes during the PBA games. He was as always candid and very accommodating.
This season, I was disappointed once more with his protestations and comments that were out of bounds. It was a somewhat chastened Jarencio I saw in Game Two even before the match started.
If I may digress, the UAAP will have their own pool of referees in two years time. I think it’s good and I think it’s bad. The people who comprise the technical committee are all from the member schools. I think that employer-employee relationship will hurt more than it will help. As I wrote in my tirade against the board (that did not earn me brownie points with them at all), I said that it is best that an independent panel (maybe the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) handle this. It is imperative that the SBP improve the training of referees among other matters such as grassroots and national team development.
We may all disappoint each other once in a while but who doesn’t make mistakes? I was wearing my Ateneo jersey when I shook his hand following the second game. I enjoyed trying to cover him. In fact, I have a story about him in the works (it began in the late second round).
He had hinted earlier about leaving UST after seven years although he did back pedal a bit and said he’d make the decision come January 2013. In the meantime, he managed one last quip to end Season 75, “Magtitinda muna ako ng gasolina” in reference to his coaching stint with Petron in the PBA.
He started out his UST career by beating Norman Black in their first ever UAAP Finals. Black, now out of Loyola Heights, got his revenge this year making his exit all the more sweet.
As for Jarencio, he admitted to a bittersweet ending to this season. It hurt him. Losing does. But when you put it in perspective, think about it – seven years and four semifinals appearances, two finals appearances, one championship, two MVPs in Jervy Cruz and Dylan Ababou. Not bad at all.
When the Tigers return (although without Jeric Fortuna and Melo Afuang who wasn’t effective at all this campaign), they will see Kim Lo at the one, Jeric Teng at the two, Kevin Ferrer at the three, Aljon Mariano at four, and Karim Abdul at center. That is a plenty strong starting unit right there. Clark Bautista will be back for one more run but they will need a little more on the bench if they want to compete.
I thought that the pressure of playing in a Game Two told heavily on Mariano and Abdul. Watching the Cameroonian from the patron section, he looked nervous all throughout. It sure didn’t help that Greg Slaughter blocked his first three attempts.
But all this will serve them in good stead for next season. They will know what to bring to the table for Season 76.
(To be continued.)