OLSEN Racela was quick to shrug off the heartbreak of being one stop away from leading the Far Eastern University back to the UAAP finals, as the first-time Tamaraws coach lauded the growth his wards have shown throughout the season.
After Jasper Parker’s free throws gave FEU a 75-72 lead with 14.5 ticks left, Ateneo’s Isaac Go found himself open after popping off a pick and forced overtime with a huge triple before the Blue Eagles hacked out an 88-84 win to book the finals berth on Wednesday.
Heartbreaking as the loss was, Racela was beaming with pride with how his team recovered from being on the brink of elimination a few weeks back and turning into a squad that came just seconds away from reaching the finals.
“Sinabi ko na sa kanila, I’m just so proud of the way my team grew this season. From the preseason, from our very first game, it was like we didn’t know what we’re doing hanggang sa game ngayon, ang laki ng growth namin as a team,” said Racela.
“One stop away. Well, it was a completely different team sa nakita nyo sa the past three or four games. Kung nakita nyo, dun nag-start yung season eh. I’m just proud of the way these guys played,” he added.
The loss, though, was tough on Parker who played big down the stretch but saw his efforts wasted by a defensive lapse in the final play at the end of regulation.
“It hurts, I mean we definitely knew we can win this game. It just came down to the last possession so it didn’t go our way so that’s how it is. It hurts to take this loss. We definitely had the game in the fourth quarter it just came down to when we had mental lapse,” said Parker, who was quick to add that he had no regrets as the Tams went down swinging.
“But, I mean, I’m proud of the guys, we had a good game, we never stopped, we never quit,” he added. “Things happen for a reason and the outcome’s gonna be the way it is so I’m just proud of the guys for this game and the whole season.”
Racela echoed Parker’s sentiment, as the FEU coach was glad with how his boys adapted his more methodical approach after a particularly shaky start to the season where turnovers and late game meltdowns haunted them.
“Towards the end, nakuha na nila yung philosophy ko. What we really wanted them to do kaya siguro noong last three games, they know how it is to play possession by possession. Yun yung palagi kong sinasabi sa kanila sa simula ng season pa lang,” Racela continued.
“We were one stop away from making it to the Finals but the loss doesn’t define us, sabi ko sa kanila sa dugout. I’m just proud the way we grew this season and I am really looking forward next year.”
Instead of sulking over the loss, Racela opted to pay tribute to his graduating players in Ron Dennison and Joe Allen Trinidad.
Dennison emerged as a dynamic two-way player this year, adding a deadly offensive game to his already polished defensive arsenal. Trinidad, on the other hand, went in and out of Racela’s rotation but still remained as the veteran voice for this otherwise young Tamaraws squad in the tournament.
Racela even apologized to the pair for failing to give them an even deeper send-off.
“I would just like to apologize to these two dahil hindi ko sila nadala sa Finals on their last year, two very good players, not just players but very good people,” said Racela.
Racela believed that Denison’s growth as a player reflected well on the squad as Trinidad’s overall leadership on and off the court proved to be critical in their run.
“Yung growth ni Ron is actually a reflection ng growth ng team. Kung saan si Ron, dun mapupunta ang FEU and I think yung growth niya from preseason to ngayon ay nagre-reflect doon sa team,” Racela said.
“Like I said in the dugout, si Allen, a character guy… he started for us, nawala sa rotation and then started for us again during our crucial run but you didn’t hear anything from this guy. It’s all team first for him and I appreciate that.”
But even with the loss of two key players, Racela remained confident that the future looks bright for the Tamaraws.
“I’m excited for next year. Di ko alam ano mangyayari pero I'm looking forward to next year after a year with these guys. I’m excited kung anong pwede naming gawin next year.” With additional reporting from Mei-Lin Lozada