Speed, balanced offense keys to Tams’ campaign this year

New FEU coach Nash Racela hopes to lead the Tamaraws to the Final Four this season.

A new-look Far Eastern University Tamaraws squad approaches the UAAP’s 76th season with renewed hope and vigor. After missing the Final Four last season, the winningest senior basketball team in the league vows to do better this year. New head coach Nash Racela sees the Tams’ quickness to be their biggest advantage this season. “We will rely heavily on our quickness and the skills of our guards this season because we are quite small compared to the other teams.

Terrence Romeo will again be at the forefront of FEU's offense. (NPPA Images)

Gone now are FEU’s big men from last year like Mark and Arvie Bringas, and John Foronda. And then Russel (Escoto) sustained an ACL injury recently. "Fortunately for us, we have some of the most talented guards in the league like RR (Garcia), Terrence (Romeo) and Mike (Tolomia),” said Racela who is hoping to lead FEU at least to the semis round this year. The Tams lost to La Salle last year, 66-69, in a sudden death game for the fourth semis slot in a disappointing ending to season that started with four straight wins.

“Right now, our goal is to perform better than last year. That means entering the Final Four. But we know it’s going to be tough as Ateneo, NU, UST, La Salle and UE are all capable of getting there as well. Even Adamson and UP are dangerous teams.” Racela is no stranger to college ball. In 2004, he led the San Beda Red Lions to their first Final Four stint in the NCAA since 1998.

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Racela has embraced the dribble-drive motion offense, which propelled the Talk ‘N Text team to the top of the PBA in two conferences last year. He is still part of the Texters’ coaching staff. This offensive philosophy seems to be tailor-fit for the skills of Romeo, Tolomia and Garcia. All three can penetrate and shoot from long-distance. But the dribble-drive has also allowed the other members to shine. In the recently concluded Filoil Cup, Anthony Hargrove, Mark Belo and Carl Cruz contributed a combined 22.1 points per game to support Romeo’s 16.6 points, Garcia’s 12.4 points and Tolomia’s 11.6 points per game. FEU finished 7th best in scoring in the Filoil with 74.3 markers per outing even as the Tams failed to advance to the quarterfinal round.

RR Garcia averaged over 12 poitns a game in the Filoil Cup. (Getty Images)

But Racela remains upbeat about his team’s chances despite a 4-4 win-loss record in the pre-season tournament. “Right now we are learning a lot of things about each other. You can see the character and attitude of players during these games that you don’t see in practices. And this is important in order to improve as a team. We’re seeing things that we need to correct. But the players are open to changes and this makes us a better team now. The team is committed to make the first step, and that is to make major changes for the good of the team. This brings us to the right direction. Maybe before we know it, we are close to achieving our goals,” adds Racela.

Another bright spot is the progress of 6’11” Cameroonian center Christian Sikam Senthcheu. He is now part of the rotation where he provides the Tams with 10 to 15 minutes of quality basketball, especially on the defensive end. He adds 4.2 boards and one block per game.

Romeo remains one of the top scorers in college basketball and FEU will be counting on him heavily once more this year. But the scoring pie this season is expected to be distributed more evenly for the Tamaraws, making them more dangerous. Garcia and Tolomia are now getting a bigger share than before.

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Also, despite the lack of ceiling, FEU emerged the second best rebounding team in the Filoil Cup, with 49 caroms per game, next only to UE’s 51.1 boards. Big forward Carl Cruz was the Tams’ king of the boards in the Filoil, with 6.8 rebounds per game.

Racela and assistant coaches Eric Gonzales, Josh Reyes and Johnny Abarrientos are working double time in enhancing the team’s defense. With the dynamic trio of Romeo, Garcia and Tolomia, offense should not be a major concern for FEU.

Mike Tolomia will have a bigger role in the FEU's offense in Season 76. (NPPA Images)

“Our main focus now are improving our interior defense and building relationships. Although there are just two more weeks left before the UAAP starts, we believe we can work on our weaknesses just in time. We just need to be patient, especially in the early goings of the tournament. God-willing, we will peak just at the right time.”

If FEU’s dynamic trio gets to play beautiful music together and learns to share the ball, the Tamaraws will be a force to reckon with this season. With Racela at the helm, the chance of this coming to light is definitely good.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.