MANILA, Philippines – One team may have lost, but both coaches were very happy over the huge turnout of fans throughout the 3-game Finals series between Far Eastern University and Season 77 men’s basketball champions National University.
Both FEU head coach Nash Racela and NU head coach Eric Altamirano agreed that having NU and FEU in the Finals was good for the UAAP, which saw a Finals series that did not feature neither the Ateneo Blue Eagles nor the De La Salle Green Archers for the first time in the Final Four era.
Racela had been very vocal throughout the season about his desire to change the mindset of people about Ateneo and La Salle duels. When the Finals match between NU and FEU was set, Racela declared it was the “best thing that ever happened to the UAAP.”
His statement was backed up days later by record-setting numbers as Games 2 and 3 of the Finals broke crowd attendance records at the venue. Game 3 drew 25,138 people to the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I’m happy. Kasi nung sinabi ko yun natakot din ako kasi baka hindi ko ma-support (I was worried when I said that because I might not be able to support it),” Racela admitted.
“Noong nagkaroon ng (When we had) 17,000 sa Mall of Asia Arena, then almost 25,000 (in Game 2), and more than 25,000 (in Game 3), it tells everybody that it’s not only Ateneo and La Salle. They’re getting favors because of that thinking. Hopefully next year it will balance off.”
He added: “I’m sorry to my Atenean and La Sallian friends, but that’s the reality. They’re getting favors. Right away that’s an advantage. We’re happy for NU and FEU just making it to the Finals. We wanted to win the championship but that in itself, dapat maging masaya din yung other schools (the other schools should also be happy).”
For his part, Altamirano says the attendance is an achievement for the league and the two schools.
“I'm really surprised and I think it's really good for the league,” he said.
The Final Four all the way to the Finals also saw for the first time the crowd NU can produce, which can only get better next season after the Bulldogs finally broke their 60-year title drought.
Notable NU alumni including former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos trooped to the Big Dome. Nestor Sapida, a former member of the last Bulldogs champion team in 1954, was also present.
“Isipin mo, dalawang teams lang yan pero napuno nila yung coliseum, nag 25,000 pa. So it's really an achievement for both schools and for the league.” (Think about it, it’s just two teams but they filled up the coliseum and even reached 25,000.)
Meanwhile, Racela considers the support the Tamaraws received from its FEU community part of the positives they can pick up this season to carry over next year.
“I think very positive is the crowd support of the FEU community. They were really supportive to the team. Hopefully we can bring that to next year.” – Rappler.com