[Editor's Note: This the fifth of an eight-part special preview of the UAAP men's basketball season]
Last Season: Final Four (7-7; lost to Ateneo in semis)
Key Holdovers: Arvin Tolentino, Ken Tuffin, Prince Orizu, Jasper Parker, Hubert Cani, Wendell Comboy
Newcomers: L-Jay Gonzales, Clifford Jopia
Departures: Ron Dennison, Jojo Trinidad
Head Coach: Olsen Racela (2nd season)
WITH Olsen Racela in his second year at the helm and parading an almost intact roster, Far Eastern University tries to move at least a step further in UAAP Season 81 after falling one possession away from a trip to the finals.
"Walang masyadong difference," said Racela.
"Siguro it's more of the familiarity, since this is my second year, of what we want to do and what we want to achieve. I think so far dun sa mga preseason games namin, we’re getting there. Mas sanay na kami sa isa’t isa and we’ve had more games this preseason compared to last year na more of practices kami."
The target hasn't changed for FEU, which has been a semifinalist for five years straight, as a championship is still expected no matter the changes, coaching-wise and player-wise.
Moreso for this year as the team, bannered by Arvin Tolentino, Ken Tuffin, Jasper Parker, Hubert Cani and Prince Orizu, will have the edge when it comes to experience after coming oh so close in Season 80.
"Yung experience is really a big factor for us," said Racela, as the Tamaraws aim to make up for their failure to close out eventual champion Ateneo in Game Two of the Final Four last year.
"When we talk about experience, yung learning from that experience from last year, I think it’s going to be a motivation for us this year. Aside from learning from our past mistakes from last year, it’s also one way of motivating us to do better this year."
Tolentino, who took the brunt of the blame for that failure, also believes so.
"We’ve been preparing since January. I think ready na rin kami. Syempre di naman kami kailangang makuntento pero tingin ko, ready na kami," the fourth-year forward said.
Owning one of the slowest paces in the league last season, FEU is expected to do a better job of implementing Racela's deliberate half-court approach, which was specifically the team's goal in the offseason.
"We're more on fine-tuning. We’ve put in majority of the things we want for the season, so now it’s more on fine-tuning na lang, then we’ll be ready," he said.
However, as much as the Tamaraws have focused on their tried and tested system, the UAAP landscape has changed a lot.
The soft-spoken mentor acknowledged how fierce the Final Four race is shaping up this early.
"We don’t want to put pressure on ourselves. Like I said, every season is different from the last one. But of course, just like any other team, dahan-dahan lang eh. One game at a time. Our real goal is to win as many games as possible, get to the Final Four, and see what happens from there," he said.
"Siguro what we want is to live up to what we always say, na as Tamaraws, we’ll be brave especially for this season. Yung FEU community naman, that’s all they expect from us, to really to give our all and give our hundred percent effort in everything we do. I think the results will follow as long as we put in the effort."