MANILA, Philippines – Backs against the wall, the FEU Tamaraws yield only one loss in the Final Four and the defending champions say goodbye not only to their season, but also to key figures on the team.
On Saturday, November 26, however, none of those men were ready to wear their FEU uniforms for the last time.
As the third seed Tamaraws staved off the twice-to-beat Ateneo Blue Eagles, 62-61, they also delayed for at least one more game a farewell to graduating players Raymar Jose, Monbert Arong, Ron Dennison, and to departing head coach Nash Racela.
“Para sa akin sa puso ko ayaw ko pang magbakasyon e. At last year ko, gusto ko effort talaga na kahit anong mangyari lalaban lang kami,” said veteran skipper Jose.
“Siguro yung focus ko talaga is kung anong makakaya ko gawin sa loob ibibigay ko lang. Todo bigay ako kasi gusto ko babalik kami sa finals e.”
(In my heart I did not want to go on vacation yet. And it's my last year so I wanted to really put in the effort and to fight no matter what happened. I think my focus was really doing what I can inside the court. All out because I want us back in the finals.)
Jose was a man on a mission Saturday as he powered FEU’s comeback from 10 points down, leaving every ounce of energy he had on the floor to finish with 20 points and 23 rebounds.
He accounted for almost half of the Tamaraws’ total 50-rebound output and out-rebounded the entire Blue Eagles in the fourth quarter, 11-8. The 6-foot-4 forward, who was part of last year’s champion team, made Ateneo pay for every missed shot and secured critical possessions for his squad. In the process he added two assists and was not once whistled for a foul all game long.
Guard Arong also had a big game to complement Jose, pouring all 13 of his points in the second half and draining 3 important free throws in the final seconds to ice the game and turned Thirdy Ravena’s last-gasp triples futile.
“Siguro mentally focused lang ako tsaka sinusunod ko lang yung gusto na ipagawa ni coach para sa akin (I was just mentally focused and following what coach wanted me to do),” Arong said.
Meanwhile, Racela is set to move on to head coaching pro players in the PBA with TNT after this season. He will be leaving an FEU team he re-built from the ground up for 4 seasons – redefining its culture, system, and character – and led to two finals appearances and a championship last year.
But he, too, does not want his last season to end at the Final Four.
“It’s also a motivation for me. It’s really hard to leave FEU,” he said. “Never wanted this game to be my last.”
Racela praised the contributions of every player on his bench in the big win and credited them for picking themselves up after a skid that saw them lose 3 of their last 4 elimination round games.
“The way we treat our players, I always tell them, you’re not young anymore. We give them a lot of trust and responsibility. Even when they struggle we don’t talk to them too much,” he explained.
“We allow them to think things over, pagaralan talaga yung sarili nila (study themselves). It wasn’t me, it was really Monbert finding his game back. I think it’s the same with Toto, he was also struggling when we were losing.”
FEU’s character will be tested again on Wednesday, November 30 against Ateneo, where the winner will arrange a best-of-3 finals duel against top seed DLSU Green Archers. – Rappler.com