UAAP Season 79 Preview: Can FEU repeat as champs?
(philstar.com) - August 31, 2016 - 11:30am

MANILA, Philippines – The Far Eastern University Tamaraws, defending champions or not, will somewhat fly under the radar this year. They lost so much of their championship core of last year that they look and play a lot differently. However, the title is still theirs until someone unseats them.

While all the preseason hype is about La Salle, if you ask Coach Nash Racela, who is on his fourth year with the team, the lack of buzz about the team suits him just fine. Unfortunately, he cannot get away with the white-hot opening match against the Green Archers.

The two squads figured in a near melee a few weeks ago during a tune-up match. On three occasions, a couple of balls sailed toward Racela’s way. Errant passes, the green and white say. Intentional is how the Tamaraws look at it.

Even DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo admits that their opening match is “unfinished business.”

This early, the hunter is now the hunted. Yet are they?

The Tamaraws are in transition. The only players who played major minutes from their title season include off-guards Monbert Arong and Ron Dennison, forward-center Raymar Jose, and center Prince Orizu. There are a lot of shoes to fill for the departed Mike Tolomia, Mac Belo, Roger Pogoy, Russel Escoto and Francis Tamsi – all of whom played key roles in their championship run.

Expected to do their part are point guards Jojo Trinidad and Wendell Comboy, who came along pretty well in the pre-season, brothers Ken and Steve Holmqvist, who play the slot and three-spot position respectively, forward Richard Escoto and Rey Bienes, and power forward Kevin Ebona.

If Comboy can approximate Tolomia’s progression from a shoot-first point guard to a creator, that will be a massive boon to FEU. Comboy, now in his second season, dished 2.9 dimes in the pre-season. Tolomia, in his last UAAP playing year averaged over four assists a match.

“In high school, Wendell was asked to score a lot. It’s hard to change that scoring mindset in the college ranks considering there are others equally capable if not better suited for that task,” described Racela. “We just have to constantly remind him that he needs to get everyone in the flow of the game before looking for his shot."

But make no mistake, there is talent and depth in this team. They will contend. What is lacking is the maturity and experience requisite to win a title.

“I now have players who previously did not see a lot of minutes now being counted on to play bigger roles,” noted Racela while adding “that everyone has to grow up in a hurry. It’s a tough field. A lot of teams lost their veteran players but they will still be contenders because of their rookies or who they have coming up. So nothing will be easy."

You should not count them out though as under the crafty Racela, these FEU Tamaraws have been a disciplined and systematic bunch, a far cry from previous squads that threw caution to the wind.

Jose sees the task ahead and acknowledges it will be hard. But this is what a championship will do.

“Basta kung ano pagawa ni coach kailangan ma-execute namin,” said Jose, who is in his final playing year. “Yung pagsunod namin eh doon kami nakapunta – sa championship. So tiwala lang.”

That’s what a championship can do for you — give you the belief and confidence to get things done.

These Tams can defend their title. But they will need all hands on deck. Especially their frontline to handle the challenge of La Salle’s Ben Mbala, who looms as perhaps their biggest roadblock to repeating as champions.

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