Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coaching Search: Replacing Norman Black

With Ateneo announcing Black's departure after Season 75, Blue Eagles fans have already whipped themselves into a frenzy over who his replacement should be. Black leaves a large pair of shoes to fill, especially if he exits with a fifth straight title in hand, so there's absolutely no pressure on the next guy (that's sarcasm, by the way). Who's available and how likely is that person going to be the choice? Here's a semi-serious look at a list of candidates, with some gambling odds thrown in.

 Olsen Racela: 2-1
After retirement, Racela was installed as the head coach of the RP Under-16 team which bagged fourth place in Vietnam last October, losing only two out of their eight games. You can argue if there's more pressure coaching a national squad or coaching Ateneo, but the point guard considered by many to be the best in the business back in the day would carry a lot of good will into the job, and perhaps more importantly, will be able to steer some of his U-16 charges towards the blue and white.

Sandy Arepacochaga: 3-1
Jamike Jarin: 5-1
If you're looking for continuity in the basketball program, the best thing to do would be to elevate one of these two Norman Black assistants to the big chair when he leaves. Arespacochaga can't be blamed for a third place finish in his one stint as head coach as that was the season Larry Fonacier went down with an ACL injury. Surely he deserves a second chance? Alternately, you could go with Jarin, who steered the Blue Eaglets to multiple titles, even before a kid named Kiefer Ravena became part of the squad. That said, Jarin could be eyed to take the San Beda head coach position should Frankie Lim incur an extended suspension, though things could change in the light of Norman's exit.

Leo Austria: 25-1
I put Austria on this list despite having no clue how many years he still has on his contract with Adamson, but here are a few things I do know: Austria is possibly the most brilliant tactical mind in the UAAP next to Black, and has done great things with an Adamson team that doesn't have near the resources of an Ateneo. More importantly, he seems like the type of person Black would wholeheartedly endorse after the two coached a mix of Falcons and Eagles in Hong Kong two years ago. Plus, his other son Ged Austria, is presumably enrolling in Katipunan this upcoming school year so who knows?

Ricky Dandan: 40-1
Despite currently employed as the head coach of the UP Fighting Maroons, Dandan has quite some links to the other university on Katipunan. He used to be an assistant for Joe Lipa when Lipa was head coach, and then became the director of Ateneo's basketball program up until he left for UP. Perhaps he gets lured back to his old stomping grounds, this time as the head coach?

Yuri Escueta: 75-1
The current head coach of Ateneo's Team B could in theory move up to Team A, and Escueta was coached by Black in the past, so he could conceivably implement Black's system. However, let's not forget that Escueta has just a year under his belt at this very moment of coaching said Team B. Perhaps if Black was leaving in five years, not one.

Chris Tiu: 100-1
Well, Tiu doesn't seem interested at all in the PBA, and he was quite the disciple of Black, so maybe he makes the leap to coaching? He could probably help channel talent from Xavier School to Ateneo, and younger brother Charles could even be an assistant, splitting time with his duties on the Powerade staff.

 Chot Reyes: 150-1
Maybe we've got this MVP coaching carousel all mixed up and Reyes becomes the odd man out in the big leagues, sending him back to the collegiate game. While part of him might relish the idea of piloting his alma mater, it seems like he's destined for bigger things like the National Team, so this one feels like a bit of a reach.

Jong Uichico: 200-1
Uichico used to be part of Black's coaching staff in Magnolia, and is currently not doing anything besides consulting for Meralco. Plus, his son was a Blue Eagle (albeit, a benchwarmer) for a season or two under Black. Maybe he takes the job to stick it to La Salle for not getting him when Dindo Pumaren resigned? He has said though that he refuses to coach Ateneo, but maybe MVP can convince him otherwise? 

Rajko Toroman: 400-1
Hey, Toroman only has a two-year consultancy contract with SMC. Maybe he gets bored just sitting around consulting and wakes up one morning to find out that MVP is dangling him an offer that doubles his salary to coach Ateneo, with someone like Arespacochaga filling in the 2013 season as interim head coach. Maybe we'll see an influx of Serbian-Filipino big men don the blue and white if that happens?

Frankie Lim: 500-1
Let's say the NCAA ManCom suspends him for a year and San Beda decides for continuity purposes to get a new head coach. Well, what nice timing because Norman Black leaves after a year! Lim can certainly keep the Blue Eagles' talent pipeline brimming, and he's a proven winner at the collegiate level. Sure Red Lions fans will be calling foul, but the look on the Semerads' faces is going to be priceless as they try to transfer once again.

Erik Spoelstra: 1,000,000-1
Imagine this: the Heat get the number one seed in the East, and face off against the New York Knicks in round one of the playoffs. Linsanity breaks out and the Heat get ousted in five games. Pat Riley makes the hard decision to let Spoelstra go and takes over the team, leaving Spoelstra out in the cold. Doesn't MVP call him up immediately and ask him to fly over to Manila? Plus, the kicker: Spoelstra's high school was a Jesuit high school, and Ateneo is run by Jesuits, great fit!

Other Random Names: Kirk Long (has said in an interview that he wants to coach, but he probably didn't mean this quickly after graduating college), Joe Lipa (age might be a factor), Ronnie Magsanoc (MVP guy, but seems more likely to be an option for San Beda), Lawrence Chongson (purely for the lolz), Larry Brown (has said he will coach anything, even a high school team, but Ateneo might be a stretch)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Coach Speak - Norman Black II

This interview was supposed to run in the latest issue of Rebound magazine, but got cut due to lack of space. 

A few hours before Game 1 of the S74 UAAP Finals, I was lucky enough to get to chat with Ateneo head Coach Norman Black. Our conversation lasted about thirty minutes, much more than the five minutes I asked for, but questions beget more questions and Coach Norman is always very gracious. This isn't the entire transcript as I left out some more FEU-specific queries and some SINAG stuff as well.


AD: What aspect of coaching is your favorite? The way you and your staff make adjustments at halftime, it seems to me that you excel at the “chess match” aspect of the game.

NB: I think more than the chess aspect, it’s just being prepared, planning to anticipate. First of all, scouting them [the other teams] and finding out what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to accomplish, and what plays they’re running offensively and defensively, and making sure your players are prepared for that. Outside of that, there’s also the anticipation of what they might to, what they might come up with.

AD: That came up when you played FEU in the second round right, when you realized that they had gone back to the triangle offense used last season under Glenn Capacio right?

NB: We watched the first game and they used a little bit of the triangle in the first game, but they really used it extensively in the second game. That surprised us a bit, but they’ve been using the triangle since that game pretty consistently, so the only thing for them to do is go back to their old plays again, their flex offense, or come up with new plays.

AD: Coming into the Ateneo job, did you expect to love coaching collegiate ball so much?

NB: I enjoy coaching, period. I could be coaching in grade school and I’d be very, very happy. I could be back in the pros and I’d be very, very happy. I just enjoy coaching. I enjoy mostly taking players, recruiting them, molding them and watching them grow and get better, and as they get better, the team gets better. If you have a team and you don’t improve over the course of the conference, the year, and in the case of some of these guys, over the course of five years, then that’s a bit of a disappointment. Maybe you didn’t get the best out of them and they underachieved. To see them continually get better and improve their game, that’s what coaching is all about because coaching is basically just teaching.

AD: So you could see yourself doing this forever?

NB: Yeah, I’m a coach for life.

AD: Could you see yourself being coach for life at Ateneo?

NB: I have no idea. You know what they say about coaching, you’re hired to be fired. I know I’ll be coaching. Hopefully it’ll be in Ateneo, but if not, I’ll be coaching somewhere.

AD: Could you talk about your graduating veterans a bit?

NB: They’ve been leading the team very well. Everyone understands that since it’s their last year, their last two games, so a lot of our motivation is those three guys.

AD: Is it difficult to see veterans graduate?

NB: You remember when you recruited them, and how time flies. Last year, I couldn’t believe that Eric Salamat was graduating, because it seems like I just recruited him from San Sebastian, [and] all of a sudden, he’s graduating. Same thing with Kirk Long, Bacon Austria and Emman Monfort. You hate to see them go, but you know there are other guys that you’ve also recruited.

You know, the difference between the system of Ateneo and the system of other teams is most of the players that come to Ateneo know they may not become a star immediately. That’s why some of them don’t come to Ateneo. They know they may not become a star immediately. We normally have to recruit guys who are good players, but are willing to wait one, two years for the seniors and the juniors to graduate before their star can start to shine. The disadvantage is they don’t become Rookie of the Year or star players immediately. The advantage is they are on a winning team. They learn a winning tradition and what it takes to become a winner, and how hard you have to work to make it happen. By the time it’s their turn, in their second, third, fourth year, they’re ready to play.

Everyone keeps asking me how come your players don’t play as much as say, some other star players of other teams. Obviously, with winning 13 out of the 14 games, if I was letting my starters play 35 minutes a game, we’d probably have everyone on the Mythical Five team. But we’re all about winning and luckily for me, I’ve been able to convince my players of that, to put winning as a team ahead of individual accomplishments.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rebound 2011-12 Championship issue

The latest issue of Rebound magazine is in stores now! It's got some really great articles in there, including of course, features on the two championship teams, and some of the Final Four contenders. Some standouts include Chris Soler getting to interview new DLSU head coach Gee Abanilla, and Sid Ventura following the Sinag squad in Jakarta.

On my part, I got to pen the Ateneo four-peat article, which was a huge honor. And as you can expect, it's a pretty damn long article, so I hope y'all enjoy that.

Another fun thing that we did was we drafted fantasy-NBA style all the players in the UAAP and NCAA and formed teams. Then we got San Beda assistant Jude Roque and Ateneo assistant Sandy Arespacochaga to critique our squads.

All that and tons more for just P140 so get out there and snap that baby up!