FRESH from a three-game war in the UAAP men’s basketball finals, key players from champs Far Eastern University and rival University of Sto. Tomas faced each other once again, this time as 'hugots' in the Marikina City-based DeLeague.
Some rivals became teammates as UST's Karim Abdul and FEU’s Mike Tolomia suited up for Sta. Lucia, a team that also had FEU gunner Roger Pogoy in the lineup last Monday but opted not to play Tuesday night against his collegiate school’s affiliate FEU-NRMF that has Finals MVP Mac Belo and Russell Escoto in their official roster.
But even without Belo, the departure of key players Jonathan Fernandez, Froilan Baguion, and the upcoming exit of Bright Akhuete who will play in the FIBA 3x3 All Stars in Doha, Qatar, the FEU-NRMF squad still managed to get past Sta. Lucia, 92-83.
PBA D-League third overall pick Taylor Statham led the way for FEU-NRMF, imposing his dominance on both ends of the court to finish with 17 points while getting needed help from imports Akhuete and Prince Eze, who both scored 14 points.
"Kailangan naming magtulong-tulong, nagpalakas ang ibang mga teams. Kami halos nag-maintain ng unit namin from the eliminations. Lahat ng tao noon umaasa na kami contender, eh nag-recruit yung iba, bigla kaming naging dehado," said Leo Avenido, team captain of FEU-NRMF who expect to see Belo play against the souped-up Hobe Bihon-Cars Unlimited bannered by Rain or Shine import Wayne Chism in a crucial semis match.
Hobe Bihon, which eliminated NLEX 80-63 in the quarterfinals last Monday, is said to have acquired former PBA cagers Sunday Salvacion, Jondan Salvador and Chism, who will join mainstays Bonbon Custodio, Roger Yap, and Erick Dela Cuesta to reinvigorate their campaign in the league.
"It's going to be a series for us, we need to win against Hobe so we can have a clearer view of the twice-to-beat edge in the finals. Our game later is the true barometer of how we can complete this mission," said FEU-NRMF owner Nino Reyes, whose team is undefeated after six games.
As for the departure of Akhuete from the team, Reyes can only shake his head and keep his fingers crossed at the same time.
"He'll be a big loss but I trust my team's bigger heart," he said with a smile.
Watch highlights of FEU-NRMF vs Sta. Lucia game: