After weeks of being perplexed and scratching my head, I’ve come up with the reasons below for the unexpected turnaround of the FEU Tamaraws. Enjoy.

FIBA Asia two week break

Sometime after the Gilas stint in Manila, as an FEU beat writer I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Man, this two week break is probably going to benefit all the teams except FEU.” But quickly thought: “Who cares? We won silver and we’re going to Spain!”

The FEU Tamaraws just completed a sweep, beating all the teams in the first round. Momentum and chemistry couldn’t have been much higher as the Tamaraws were playing the best basketball in the UAAP.

Missing the Coaching staff

Then the FIBA break came, coach Nash Racela and coach Josh Reyes were called up to help as assistant coaches for the Gilas Pilipinas team. They were an integral part of scouting and preparation that helped the Gilas team succeed in the FIBA Asia tournament. Most people, including me, didn’t really mind that they were off to help out the Gilas team, even if it meant spending time away from the FEU Tamaraws. In hindsight, I still don’t mind, I think serving your country trumps serving your individual teams.

But it didn’t change the fact that the other seven UAAP teams were preparing full force with the undivided attention of their coaching staff. To be clear, I’m not dissing the rest of the FEU coaching staff which includes Johnny Abarrientos, Gilbert Lao, Johnny de Guia and many others. They probably did a lot of preparation and improved during the break, but other teams had the full support of their staff during the break. There’s a different feel to practices and preparation when the head coach is not there.

The FEU Tamaraws were in a unique position because they were the only team in the UAAP that had coaches help with the Gilas team. It’s no one’s fault really, just an unfortunate situation for the Tamaraws to be put in. (Not to mention the divided attention argument could still be applied right now as Coach Nash, Coach Josh and Coach Gilbert Lao serve as assistants for the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters.)

Conditioning/Rust

Disiplina namin, hindi ko nadala sa sarili ko. Medyo napabayaan ko ‘yung kundisyon ko. Medyo nakaapekto, hindi namin nagamit ‘yung long break na makapag-pahinga. Medyo nag-relax kami. -Terrence Romeo

Quotes from players and coaches have to be taken with a grain of salt. From the quote above though, its probably safe to say that Romeo didn’t give 100 percent of his focus in preparing for the UAAP second round. But its fine though, the whole country was supporting Gilas and other players from other teams probably relaxed too.

Even though teams were practicing during the break, being in game shape is totally different from being conditioned in practice. One might ask – “Then everybody is out of shape, still equal opportunity for everyone.” Here’s where it gets tricky: FEU is one of the teams that have most to lose with the lack of conditioning for the following reasons:

  1. FEU relies heavily on the fastbreak. If you’re out of shape, its hard to run every time and get an advantage on the break.
  2. FEU shoots a lot of perimeter shots and three point shots. We all know that when you’re farther from the ring, its harder to put the ball in the basket (unless you’re some kind of Steph Curry or Bruce Bowen player). It all becomes worse when you’re tired, your focus isn’t on point. For the FEU Tamaraws, the three ball, a shot that is already difficult even if you’re wide open, now becomes several degrees harder without the proper conditioning.
  3. Unlike other teams, FEU’s offense is built in such a way that the guards always have to attack. Its so hard to execute the dribble drive motion when your guards are not in condition and these are the reasons why:

a. The ballhandlers have to expend a lot of energy to beat their man. If they aren’t able to get past their defender, the offense crumbles.

b. If they are able to beat their man, the next step is to execute a pass or a shot. But due to the lack of conditioning, these actions might not be on point and may result in a loss of possession.

Fatigue

One of the main reasons why I wrote this article is because I got inspired by an episode of FTW that talked about FEU’s crazy second round. Jai Reyes recalled a statement that his cousin Coach Josh Reyes told him.

May sinabi si Coach Josh na baka napapagod na mga bata. – Jai Reyes

This was probably most evident in the FEU vs. Ateneo matchup wherein the Tamaraws were just mauled by the competition. In the game vs. the Eagles, fatigue caught up with them and it was really apparent as Ateneo’s focus was just on another level. The series of close games before the match contributed in FEU’s lack of energy.

Probably the most interesting thing in that episode was that Jai told the panel, FEU just can’t compete with the supplements and resources of Ateneo and La Salle. People always hear about big teams having money to recruit players and teams having big basketball programs to be attractive to the recruiting class, but people rarely mention difference in supplements.

To be honest, I didn’t know college athletes were taking supplements before that episode. Maybe its part of the unspoken rules of underdogs to never mention any sort of excuse and just work hard. In any case, one might say: “What the (expletive) are you talking about? It’s a 14 game season!” True it’s a short season for basketball standards but in games such as FEU vs. Ateneo where fatigue was so evident, the Tamaraws could’ve really used the extra help in recovery, not only in the form of supplements but also resources such as therapists and rehabilitation centers. Also, in a season where most games are decided by one shot or one possession, you could use all the help you can get whether on or off the court.

Breaks of the game

Garcia fighting for ball possession. (Photo Credit: http://40minutesoffreedom.blogspot.com/2010/09/uaap-finals-preview-feu-tamaraws-vs.html)

Garcia fighting for ball possession. (Photo Credit: http://40minutesoffreedom.blogspot.com/2010/09/uaap-finals-preview-feu-tamaraws-vs.html)

This will probably be the most unscientific part of the article because it relates to pure luck or randomness. I apologize in advance, but I think we have to consider this to fully understand the second round of the FEU Tamaraws. The truth is 4 out of the first 5 games of the Tamaraws were really close. Here are some of the most notable breaks for the other team during the second round:

Against NU – Mbe had an awkward motion with the ball that looked a lot like traveling. Garcia had what looked to be all ball when he swiped Parks but was called for a foul. 2 free throws were awarded to Parks which eventually won NU the game. Garcia was playing with a fever.

Against La Salle – Garcia gets called for an unsportsmanlike foul and is suspended for the UE game.

Against UE – What if Garcia was never suspended? Achie Inigo might never get to play (catalyst for big lead), but big issue down the road was free throw shooting and turnovers which Garcia could’ve really helped a lot with.

Against Ateneo – what if Garcia plays vs. UE and game doesn’t go to double overtime, would fatigue be an issue vs. Ateneo?  What if Romeo doesn’t sprain his ankle during practice and doesn’t re-injure it during the UE game?

Against UST – What if Aljon Mariano doesn’t make a tough turnaround triple and UST loses? What if Ferrer’s flop doesn’t result in an FEU turnover in the crucial double overtime?

The point I was trying to make is that sometimes the ball just bounces the wrong way. In my opinion, FEU could’ve easily been 5-2 in the second round and the difference has an element of randomness to it. If they were up 5-2, we could be seeing them in a different light. To be clear, everyone of FEU’s opponents deserved the win, they fought hard and came through the clutch. I’m sure their opponents also have a long list of breaks that went FEU’s way and the Tamaraws were also getting a lot of the breaks in the first round. Sometimes you just lose to the breaks of the game.

Defense catching up

To be honest, at the start of the season, I didn’t really expect much from the Tamaraws (Shame on me). I would’ve probably put them at the bottom four if I had to guess. I am probably not alone in that assessment. People were probably thinking of the lack of quality bigs for the Tamaraws, the eventual self-implosion caused by an RR-Terrence feud, or the lack of UAAP experience for the head coach. Turns out I was wrong, the lack of bigs were covered up by team rebounding, RR and Terrence were playing great basketball together and Coach Nash was brilliant along with his system and gameplan.

Come the second round, it wasn’t as easy anymore. Teams have gotten a feel for the FEU Tamaraws and they have studied them carefully. What once was an overlooked opponent is now a top team with a bulls eye on its back. All the UAAP teams were playing smart against the FEU Tamaraws from the break onwards. They’re sticking on shooters, double teaming Romeo, and sagging off non-threats from the perimeter like Sentcheu and Hargrove. Opponents have cut the FEU Tamaraw open shots by half, wings like Pogoy and Mendoza don’t get open anymore.

Terrence Romeo

Romeo gets a section of his own because I think his performance affects the team’s success a whole lot. Everytime FEU plays, Romeo has to play good in order for them to win and that’s a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. It’s very improbable for FEU to win without Romeo having a good game and the star guard definitely struggled early in the second round. I am a strong proponent of letting Romeo being Romeo. With that said, Romeo has to find a way to keep his basketball identity while also finding a way not to negatively affect the team. Teams are playing him different now from the first round. It’s on the star guard to make the adjustments.

Terrence Romeo in a slump as of late. (Photo Credit: NPPA Images)

Terrence Romeo in a slump as of late. (Photo Credit: NPPA Images)

To be fair, he’s also dealing with a lot of issues like conditioning, injuries and social media outrage. I do watch Romeo and believe he really does want to win and is trying to do the best he can. Romeo is primarily a scorer and that’s what he does best and I can understand many of the decisions he makes. Early in the second round, Romeo was in a period of adversity, and he reacted like how many great players have responded in times of trial: rise up and learn from adversity. He finished the 2nd round scoring 32 and 33 points in each of the last two games. The success of the FEU Tamaraws is tied to the efficiency of Romeo as a scorer. Its unfair but that’s the reality of the situation. The Tams will go as far as Romeo will take them.

Adversity

Almost all great teams go through adversity. It might be cliché but what’s important is how you get back up when someone knocks you down. The FEU Tamaraws are in an interesting position. On one hand, you’d rather lose now than lose in the Final Four or in the Finals. On the other hand, will the remaining time be enough to return playing at a high level of basketball. Only time can tell. I can’t promise you anything. I can just watch with you and see how history will remember these Tamaraws.

Struggles are part of life. You need to learn how to play through it or above it to be able to succeed, something we as a team are learning to do.

-Nash Racela