[Second of an eight-part preview]
FAR EASTERN UNIVERSITY
Last season’s elimination-round record: 10-4 (lost to National University in the finals)
Key holdovers: Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, Achie Inigo, Raymar Jose, Russell Escoto
Key losses: Anthony Hargrove, Carl Bryan Cruz
Rookies/newcomers: Prince Orizu, Monbert Arong, Wendell Comboy, Jojo Trinidad, Barkley Ebona, Steve Holmqvist, Ken Holmqvist.
FAR Eastern University came close to winning the Season 77 championship of the UAAP men’s basketball tounarnent, losing to National University in the deciding Game Three of the finals. This year, the Tamaraws are again considered one of the teams that will likely figure in the finals.
Spin.ph again takes a look at five questions facing the Tamaraws this season.
1. Does FEU have enough depth?
Despite reaching the finals last year, coach Nash Racela was unhappy overthe team’s lack of depth, which, he said, obviously showed during the title series against NU.
“We were limited to seven, maximum of eight players during the NU series,” Racela admitted.
This season, Racela believes the Tamaraws have addressed that concern with the entry of new recruits, mostly coming off residency, led by Nigerian import Prince Orizu, Monbert Arong, and Jojo Trinidad, who are expected to play key roles for the team.
“We have depth this year. Hopefully, with the new rookies and the exposure of the other guys, hopefully, we can stretch it to around 10 player to a maximum of 12,” said Racela.
2. Is Mike Tolomia ready to prove a point?
Going to the new season, Racela expects Tolomia, the team’s second leading scorer last year, to have fully embraced the shift to point guard.
“All his life, he was playing the No. 2 spot,” the FEU coach said. “(Now) ang concentration niya is more on being the point guard for us. He is really making his adjustments. The ball is being shared more this time.”
Tolomia said he is making the adjustment as he prepares for his move to the PBA.
“‘Yun yung dinevelop sa akin dahil pine-prepare na niya (Racela) ako sa next level. Ini-improve ko talaga ‘yung pagiging point guard,” said Tolomia.
3. Will 'Big Mac' be as good as advertised?
Belo is coming off another stint with the Gilas Pilipinas cadets national squad this year in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (Seaba) and the Southeast Asian Games which the country both ruled.
Already a member of the SEA Games team that also won the gold in Myanmar two years ago, Belo said he has gained a lot from competing internationally especially going up against professional players from other countries.
That could only augur well for the Tamaraws’ campaign this season.
“Malaking impact para sa akin, para rin sa team kasi nadadala ko ‘yung experience ko dito lalo na ‘yung mga kalaban namin sa SEA Games na mga professional players,” Belo said.
For the season, Racela said Belo has become comfortable playing at small forward.
“Ang talagang winork namin over the preseason was the transition of Mac to the 3. Now he is really comfortable playing the perimeter. Now he could defend better against the perimeter guys. That’s something we want to take advantage of,” the FEU coach said.
4. Is FEU more than just a Belo-Tolomia team?
Raymar Jose, Achie Inigo, Russell Escoto, and Richard Escoto are among the holdovers from last year’s team who will play key roles for the Tamaraws’ campaign this season.
Another player from whom Racela is expecting a lot is Roger Pogoy, who like Belo and Tolomia, will be playing in his final year.
“We are expecting a lot from him this year,” said Racela. “He is finding his niche. Dati, he’s more of an all-around player. But this time, he is playing as a shooter which is opening a lot of opportunities for him.”
“He is really a good defender. Isang bagay na lumalabas sa kanya is his leadership. Nagiging vocal siya and ginagampanan naman niya ‘yun,” Racela added.
5. Can Tamaraws go all theway this time?
The Tamaraws were one win away from winning it all in Season 77. With Belo, Tolomia, and Pogoy playing in their farewell year, a lot of league watchers feel this could be the best time for the Tamaraws to bag the championship.
Racela was quick to play down the favorite tag.
“Teams have been improving. It’s not going to be easy this season. Adamson and UP now have imports and they have mature players. UE, kahit walang import, you know their strength which is the pressure defense.
“Mabigat pa rin ‘yung mga teams from the Final Four last year and UST has a veteran core. Mahirap kalaban ‘yun,” said Racela, whose Tamaraws have not won a UAAP title since 2005.
But favorite or not, he expects his Tamaraws to rise to the occasion.
“Maybe we are being mentioned because we reached the finals last year. Maybe the first step for us is to embrace it. It is important that it is in our head but we should not allow that to deter us from being great,” said Racela.