FEU hopes to finally get over the hump
Anthony Divinagracia on Sep 05, 2015 10:28 PM
"We honestly felt that we overachieved last year. Nobody expected us to go all the way to the finals. It just so happened we didn't have that depth sa bench namin.” --- FEU coach Nash Racela
Mike Tolomia looked at the scoreboard.
It read: 58-73.
And with 59.7 seconds left, Glenn Khobuntin nailed both charities off Tolomia’s foul to make it a 17-point lead for National University (NU) in Game 3 of the 77th UAAP men’s basketball finals.
No doubt, Far Eastern University (FEU) was in a galaxy of trouble even the quantum physics of basketball ingenuity would fail to fathom. Simply put, the Tamaraws were on their way to another heart-breaking bridesmaid finish in five years.
That became clear as a whisper in the ear when FEU coach Nash Racela shook NU counterpart Eric Altamirano’s hand with 16.1 ticks left, typifying the Tamaraws’ surrender against a team whose time has come.
But the guilt of failure hardly lingered on Racela’s mind.
“We honestly felt that we overachieved last year. Nobody expected us to go all the way to the finals. It just so happened we didn't have that depth sa bench namin,” he said.
Short of making excuses, the veteran mentor thought NU was a deeper and better team against an FEU crew which practically utilized an eight-man rotation the entire season.
“That took its toll in the playoffs, and even in the Finals. NU were ten to twelve-man deep. Kaya mo silang sabayan sa start but in the end ‘pag nag-rotate na ng tao (kakapusin ka na because) they have fresher legs.”
Yet come Season 78, Racela hopes to unload more warm bodies off the Tamaraws’ player fridge as the three-year FEU tactician downplayed their heavyweight billing despite sporting a practically intact core of veterans.
“Ang hina-highlight ng lahat is we kept the core of last year. But what they don't notice much is that we have seven rookies. These are not really young rookies and they still have to learn the system and get the feel of the UAAP,” he said. “Hopefully umabot kami ng ten players sa rotation.”
Making up FEU’s rookie class this season are Monbert Arong, Wendelino Comboy, Kevin Ebon, Ken and Steve Holmqvist, Joe Allen Trinidad, and 6’8 Nigerian Prince Orizu, who is deemed to replace Anthony Hargrove in the middle.
Hargrove and Carl Cruz, two of FEU’s reliable front-liners, have already played out their eligibility.
Orizu will reinforce a big-man unit already shored up by Russell and Richard Escoto, Raymar Jose, and Mac Belo, FEU’s hands-down go-to-guy this season, who has further boosted his stock and experience as part of the gold-medal winning Gilas cadets in the recent SEA Games.
Belo, one of the team’s leading scorers in Season 77, is tipped to light up the charts anew with a more polished inside-outside game. Playing with the Gilas cadets as one of its main gunners certainly augured well for the 6’4 pride of North Cotabato.
Tolomia and Roger Pogoy remain as FEU’s most potent guard combination with their ability to run the floor, distribute the ball, hit outside shots, and attack the basket. Achi Inigo will again man the point for the Tamaraws after a vastly-improved season going up against the league’s best court generals.
“Good thing about those guys (Belo, Tolomia, Pogoy, inigo) they've embraced the responsibility of leading the team. It's more of their leadership and sacrifice (that make them) valuable assets in the team. They can be relied upon not just it scoring but also in decision-making,” Racela said.
Racela also expects the Escoto brothers, Jose, Ron Dennison, and Francis Tamsi to provide more energy and hustle to keep FEU’s up-tempo game in sync.
“We always emphasis on the transition game because that's one of our strengths the last two seasons. Sana meron din kaming improvement in terms of our halfcourt execution. Hopefully we become unpredictable.”
Heading into the season, the Tamaraws joined a couple of pre-season tournaments notably among was the annual FIl-Oil Flying V Cup. The team also played three-tune up games against Talk N Text (twice) and Blackwater.
“It (tune-up games) helped us improve mentally and compete at a higher level. We don't normally look at the results. We look at the process of learning,” he said. “I always talk about improving on a day-to-day basis.”
Racela though keeps the Tamaraws in check from peaking too soon as he paces his own schedule with FEU and the Gilas Pilipinas national team.
“I have no particular role with Gilas. I’m only helping out in practices and executing the drills whenever they are in Manila.ÂÂÂ This year I'll focus more on FEU. I have made that clear with coach Tab (Baldwin),” said Racela, who served as Gilas assistant coach the past two years.
Last season’s Final Four cast – save for his wards – tops Racela’s list of favorites.
“NU will still be there for sure because of (Alfred) Aroga,” he said of the defending champion Bulldogs’ 6’6 Cameronian import who cut the FEU bigs to size in the Finals.
Five-team champion Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University are as potent as well, given its veteran roster coupled with top-caliber high school recruits. Racela though was quick not to dismiss the other teams.
“Every team is now a danger. UP and Adamson have really good imports now. UE and their fullcourt pressure defense is also dangerous. Kahit anong lineup they're consistent with the way they play. And then there’s UST which has a good core of veterans.”
With a championship-grizzled line-up, FEU may not just “overachieve” this season. Racela could think otherwise. But the scoreboard?
“After a month we'll see.”