FEU’s men’s basketball team is going global.
With the exodus of their top homegrown talents, the Tamaraws intend to reload with the help of prized recruits from the international field as they seek for an encore in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball championships that gets going in September.
After reclaiming its lost glory last year at the expense of UST, FEU has started to inject a fresher blood to its core as top guns Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia and Roger Pogoy, who comprised its own version of the ‘Big 3’ have already utilized their playing eligibility along with key back-ups Russell Escoto, Alfrancis Tamsi, and Achie Iñigo.
Nash Racela, the team’s incoming fourth-year coach, has already accustomed himself to that bitter reality but he is confident the Tamaraws will remain a formidable force to be reckoned with.
“The last couple of years, nakasandal kami sa kanila, it will be (totally) different this year,” Racela told FOX Sports.
New and diverse breed
While they continue to scourge the countryside hoping to find diamonds in the rough like the 6-foot-4 Belo, their five-star recruit from the far-flung Midsayap town in North Cotabato 5 years ago, Racela admitted FEU’s recruiting strategy has expanded to foreign lands, including Norway, New Zealand and the United States.
“Pagdating sa recruitment, wala kaming choice but to be innovative. Kapag sa Manila lang, talo kami sa mga gumagastos,” stressed Racela, likely referring to their top UAAP rivals Ateneo, La Salle and National U, all bankrolled by some of the country’s richest businessmen.
Aside from battle-tested veterans Raymar Jose, Monbert Arong, Richard Escoto and Nigerian import Prince Orizu, the Tamaraws will also welcome back Fil-American combo guard Joel Trinidad and the Fil-Norwegian Holmqvist brothers, Steve and Ken, for another tour of duty.
“That was not intentional, nagkataon lang na may nag-feed sa amin ng mga information,” shared Racela, referring to how they secured the services of the Fil-foreign cagers. “Kapag magandang talent ang available, hindi pwedeng palampasin.
“While yung ibang lugar hindi pa option sa (ibang schools), mauuna na kami sa kanila,” he added.
High hopes for the duo from Down Under
Leading the new faces among the Tamaraws is the tandem of Joseph Nunag and Ken Tuffin, who were both recruited by FEU assistant coach Josh Reyes from New Zealand.
“They are developing, adjusting to Philippine basketball since it’s different from New Zealand basketball,” said Reyes, who first spotted Nunag and Tuffin when Gilas Pilipinas, where he also serves as an assistant together with Racela, underwent a training camp in Wellington, New Zealand as part of its build-up for the FIBA-Asia cage meet back in 2013.
Nunag, a full-blooded Filipino whose parents hail from Pampanga and Tarlac, admitted that he’s still making the adjustments to the Filipino brand of play since arriving in the country last June.
“Even now I’m still adjusting. The main (adjustment) thing for me is the physicality, being physical,” he said.
The 6-foot-4 Tuffin, who arrived in January, is also fast-tracking his adjustment since he continues to improve his basketball skills after playing cricket and rugby growing up.
“They stay in the dormitory, they are getting the same allowance like everybody else, medyo naku-culture shock sila,” added Reyes. “But it’s a process. They can’t be given any special treatment and they can’t be different from the others here.”
FEU will surely have a big target on its back for the next UAAP meet and Racela believes his the current group of Tamaraws can live up to the expectations so long as they put the lessons into their hearts.
“Making the playoffs is always in our minds. But of course it will depend on how we develop as a team,” he said.
“If (they) are willing to sacrifice and willing to learn, we will invest on them,” said coach Nash. “We’re hoping na because of their interest and sacrifice, we will develop another Belo, another Tolomia, another Pogoy,” Racela concluded. — By Jason Mercene