MANILA, Philippines – It came straight from former UAAP MVP and King Tamaraw himself RR Garcia: Mike Tolomia is good enough and ready for the big league.
"Sa tingin ko beterano siya. Ready na eh, hinog na hinog na si Mike," Garcia said of guard Tolomia when asked if he ever expected Tolomia to rise up as a solid leader for the Tamaraws. "Ready to [go] pro na siya eh." (I think he's a veteran already. He's ready, Mike is very ripe. He's ready to turn pro.)
The 21-year-old Tolomia showed what he's made of right off the bat with a 23-point explosion to lead the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in an upset of the defending champions De La Salle Green Archers on opening day of UAAP Season 77.
In the team's second game, which they lost, 69-67, against the UST Growling Tigers, Tolomia still figured in 14 points. In the two games he's played, Tolomia played an average of 30.5 minutes.
"Sobrang laki ng improvement, dati kasi kapalitan lang namin siya," said the former UAAP Most Valuable Player (MVP) of his old teammate. (He improved tremendously. Before he was just our reliever.)
Garcia said he even advised Tolomia about staying composed inside the court.
"Bilib ako sa kanya, lagi ko siya binibigyan ng advice," Garcia shared.
"Sabi ko huwag siyang manggigil kasi siya yung nagdadala ng team. Dapat siya yung mag-lead sa teammates niya. Pag naumpisahan niya na hindi siya nakaka-shoot, mahahawa teammates niya."
(I'm impressed by him, I always give him advice. I told him not to force anything because he needs to carry the team. He should lead his teammates. If he starts out shooting horribly, his teammates will likely follow suit.)
Tolomia, already playing in his 4th year in the UAAP, is expected to take on the role of leader as FEU faces life without the offensive duo of Garcia and Season 76 MVP Terrence Romeo.
Tolomia doesn't think of himself that way, however.
"Hindi naman siguro," he said, deflecting the label of being the new Garcia and Romeo.
"Hindi ko sinasabi na ako ang leader, confident ako sa ngayon na nagwo-work kami as a team talaga." (Not really. I don't think I'm the leader, I'm confident now that we're working as a team.)
Garcia, on the other hand, believes otherwise.
"Oo, mix [siya] namin ni Terrence (Romeo)," he said. (Yes, he's a mix of me and Terrence.)
The 5-foot-11 guard from Zamboanga has so far proven he is more than just a scoring machine as well. He registered 5 assists in his first game this season and another one in his second outing – something his head coach Nash Racela was specifically proud of.
"Five assists!" was Racela's initial reaction when asked what he thought of Tolomia's performance against La Salle.
He added: "Nagheart-to-heart talk kami before the game. We had dinner. Nakita ko naman yung adjustments niya." (We had a heart-to-heart talk before the game. We had dinner. I immediately saw the adjustments he made.)
Tolomia, who pins FEU's advantage this season on speed and teamwork, says his greatest lesson from Racela from the previous season is thinking more about the 4 other guys with him on the floor.
"To involve my teammates," he said. "The past few years yun yung hindi nagawa ng guards ng FEU. Natuto rin ako sa kanila." (The past few years that's what the FEU guards weren't able to do. I learned from them too.)
Living, studying, and practicing at the FEU Diliman campus with the rest of the team for the first semester, Tolomia is far away from the many temptations of Manila. And because of that, he's grown more focused and more in tune with his teammates.
His life revolves around basketball at the campus tucked away from the noise of the city.
He doesn't even think about the long history of FEU's most revered guards from Johnny Abarrientos, Mark Barroca, to Garcia and Romeo. He doesn't feel the need to live up to that image, nor make his own legacy for the Tamaraws.
With Garcia already vouching for him this early, with Racela working closely with him as well, and with Tolomia himself not caring too much, he will more than likely leave a lasting mark.
"Hindi ko siya (image) iniisip talaga. Mas iniintindi ko yung game ko, na kung ano kailangan ko i-improve at mas i-involve yung teammates ko." (I don't think about my image really. I focus more on my game and what I need to improve on and involving my teammates.) – Rappler.com