MANILA, Philippines – A few days before embarking on a season of uncertainty, FEU Tamaraws head coach Nash Racela met with his team’s leader, the so-called new “King Tamaraw” Mike Tolomia, in which a heart-to-heart conversation took place between the two.
Tolomia wanted to get better, he said. RR Garcia is gone, likewise for Terrence Romeo, both of whom left a career at FEU without delivering the school a championship.
The stage was set for Tolomia and his star potential to take over, a perfect situation to lead an FEU squad disregarded by many after a lackluster elimination last season, lead them back into title-contender-status that the university has had for most of its tenure in the UAAP.
Racela knew Tolomia was going to be his main guy on the court. But more than that, he needed him to be the type of dynamic playmaker who could alter the game in many ways, not just another chucker who has his hot and cold nights.
No more crazy, tough jumpers, he said. Learn to distribute the ball. Learn to be a court general. Learn to be the guiding force your teammates need you to be. Spearhead them to battle like a true leader.
And Tolomia listened. More so, he delivered in impressive fashion – a 23 point, five-assist, three-rebound performance that sent defending champion La Salle down to its knees on Saturday, July 12. A performance that sent a clear message:
Mike Tolomia has arrived, and he’s leading FEU right into the battlefield against the rest of the UAAP, against La Salle, and against whoever tries to stand in the Tamaraws’ way.
“I never expected that we were going to win this,” Racela admitted after the win.
Maybe he didn’t. Maybe his boys didn’t either. Maybe neither did Tolomia, who later told Rappler that, “Swinerte talaga kami ngayon.” (We just got really lucky.)
But that doesn’t take away the virtuoso performance he put on fort. Over and over again, Tolomia attacked La Salle’s defense, attacked its party of big men, unfazed and unafraid of taking risks, attempting nifty shots, and doing whatever necessary to get his teammates open opportunities – a quality never fully accepted by the club’s main guy last season.
“Nakikita ko yung mga teammates ko, yun palang, confident na ako na hard-workers sila, nag ste-step up sila,” Tolomia said. “Nakikita ko rin na nag wo-work hard sila. So, confident naman ako sakanila.”
(I always see my teammates. I have confidence in the hard work they put in and that they would step-up.)
In some ways, Tolomia is Romeo. In other ways, he’s also Garcia. Maybe he’s a mix of both, a star with gifts of scoring the basketball and one who manages to find enough cracks to get the basketball to open teammates. Against the Green Archers, Tolomia hit three-ball after three-ball in the second half, and when they dared him to create off the dribble, he perfectly read the defense, always making the right pass that resulted to two or three more points on the scoreboard.
Tolomia spent the first three years of his career waiting under the wings of the two aforementioned players, picking his spots and only getting the chance to display his abilities from time to time. An understudy educated by two talented teammates, now he gets opportunity at the forefront.
“I think today, talagang nakita yung adjustment niya,” Racela said of his rising star. “As a coach, sometimes, ayaw mo yung tinira niya, but that’s Mike Tolomia. Sometimes you just have to live with that.”
(Today, his adjustments were noticeable. As a coach, I sometimes don’t like his shot selection, but that’s how he is.)
With less than 30 seconds left and FEU up just two, Tolomia had the ball, the game, and a chance at sending an early message to college basketball, all on the line. Romeo and Garcia had been in the same situation multiple times. It was the new star’s time to shine, and he forayed to the rim, only rather than forcing a tough shot against the gigantic presence of La Salle’s bigs, Tolomia zipped a delivery to an open Carl Cruz, who scored the last fatal blow needed to put a dent in the defending champions’ armor.
Suddenly, La Salle doesn’t look so invulnerable anymore.
“Masaya kami na nanalo kami as a team,” Tolomia said later on. (We’re happy we won as a team.)
This much is now clear: DLSU knows how lethal this FEU team is now. This isn’t anymore the squad they dominated in last year’s Final Four round, nor are they the club the Green Archers trampled twice during the offseason.
“I think that’s not the La Salle… that’s not La Salle. Medyo hinatak ni Coach Juno nang konti, kasi sobrang hype sa kanila,” Coach Racela mentioned later on, warning his boys not to let what impression they got of La Salle linger. “They’re still the team to beat. They’re still the strongest team.
(Coach Juno didn’t go all out earlier, because the expectations on them were hyped.)
“Malakas parin talaga sila, kahit ano gawin namin,” added Tolomia. “Sila parin ang team to beat.” (They’re still really strong, no matter what we do. They’re still the team to beat.)
But this much is clear: the Tamaraws have found an identity. They have found a star to lean on, one who could possibly end up better than the team’s prior two. And while Coach Racela is still weary of whether or not the Green Archers put their best foot forward on Saturday, the warning FEU sent was clear: they are coming.
They will not accept being pushovers while La Salle tries to ascend to another crown. The Tamaraws are hungry to bring the Green Archers down once again. Bring them down for good.
No, FEU did not submit to DLSU on Saturday. Nor will they when the both clubs meet again in the second round, more so if the fates align for both schools to meet again in the playoffs. Far Eastern University will not go down without giving their rivals the fight of their lives. – Rappler.com
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