IT took almost the entire Far Eastern University squad to give their head coach Allan Albano a victory ride—something the champion mentor has been waiting for—after the Baby Tamaraws formally sealed the UAAP Season 79 juniors basketball title.
"Ibang klase 'yung saya na 'to," said Albano, a former head coach of the FEU women's basketball team that he helped with two championships in the UAAP.
"Special 'to kasi sa women's, hindi ako binuhat. Dito nabuhat ako, kaya mas special 'to sa akin," said the heavyset coach in jest.
Fitting enough, it is that same team effort, as cliche as it may sound, beginning with the coaches down to the players, that brought the Baby Tamaraws to the UAAP crown, their first in five years.
"Blessed ako na 'yung program ng FEU, napakadali na sa akin mag-coach kasi lahat na ng detalye, binibigay na nung mga fellow coaches ko," said Albano.
"Teamwork talaga 'yung nangyari," he added.
Among the coaches that helped the FEU high school program were PBA greats Jojo Lastimosa, Johnny Abarrientos, Vic Pablo and Andy De Guzman.
There were also some names that may not be familiar to the casual basketball observers in Muriel Garcia, Marvin Valderrama, and Ryan Elizaga but they, too, were instrumental in guiding the FEU Baby Tamaraws in their season to remember.
Even Mike Oliver, the coach that Albano replaced after being appointed as head coach of the Batang Gilas national youth team, was still around this season to contribute to the Baby Tamaraws.
"Kahit sa coaching staff namin malalim. Gusto ko na ngang hugutin sila coach Johnny at si coach Vic," said Albano, referring to the FEU legends who starred for the seniors squad during the early 1990s, in jest.
The teamwork the coaching staff showed translated on the floor throughout the season as different players took the cudgels during their entire title run.
LJ Gonzales, Kenji Roman, and Jack Gloria were the cornerstones of the Baby Tamaraws this season, but the team was at least 10 deep.
"'Yung unang bilang ko, first 10 to 12 games namin, ang highest pointer, at least 10 na iba-iba. Team effort talaga. Suwerte rin 'yung mga bata na ang mga nagtuturo sa kanila, mga well-known basketball players," said Albano.
The Baby Tamaraws finished the regular season with an 11-3 record, securing the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four with a playoff victory over Ateneo. FEU eventually beat the Blue Eaglets in a rubber match to set up a finals series with reigning champion National University, the top-seed in the Final Four.
With the way the team was performing, Albano said there was no doubt in his mind that the Baby Tamaraws have a strong chance of winning the title this season.
"Hindi naman sa pagyayabang, 'yung program namin na maraming tumutulong sa akin, feeling ko ako lang 'yung boses ng FEU. Pero the rest, lahat talaga tumulong. Maganda 'yung programa talaga, inayos ko na lang 'yung mental ng mga bata. 'Yung skills, nandoon na," said Albano.
Due to mantra of the Baby Tamaraws, no member of the team won an individual award this season. But it doesn't matter as long as they won the championship.
"Okay na sa amin 'yun," said Albano, when pointed out that not a single player won season awards this season.
"Napag-usapan naman namin 'yan. Mas gusto namin 'yung team (accomplishment)," he added.