MANILA, Philippines -- Head coach Olsen Racela chose to focus on the positives after Far Eastern University (FEU) made a quick exit in the UAAP Season 84 Final 4.
The Tamaraws made the semifinals for the eighth consecutive season, the best streak in the league at the moment. But theirs was a short stint: they suffered an 85-72 defeat at the hands of defending champion Ateneo de Manila University, ending their campaign in Season 84.
"Malas lang kami palagi siguro," Racela said good-naturedly in the aftermath of the game. "We always play or end up playing Ateneo in the semis. So, siguro dapat iwasan na namin 'yung Ateneo next time."
This was the fifth time in the last six seasons that FEU and Ateneo met in the Final 4; the Tamaraws were triumphant in 2015 but the Blue Eagles seized the next three, handing FEU heartbreakers in Seasons 79 and 80.
While acknowledging that they have work to do to break through Ateneo in the Final 4, Racela also believes that the Tamaraws accomplished the mission they set for themselves in Season 84 -- and reached some milestones along the way as well.
"Our initial goal, really, was to get to the Final 4 first, and then see what happens from there," he explained.
"This team has grown, really, this season. All of them," he added. "Ang hinahanap ko naman palagi sa kanila is 'yung growth during the season."
There were known quantities in Racela's team: LJay Gonzales was solid in Season 81, and their foreign student-athlete, Emmanuel Ojuola, was expected to be an immediate contributor. Rookie guard RJ Abarrientos lived up to lofty expectations after stints with Gilas Pilipinas ahead of his collegiate debut.
But Racela was pleased to have gotten solid campaigns from the likes of Patrick Sleat, Bryan Sajonia, and James Tempra as well.
"Yun ang reason bakit we went this far, 'yung production ng the other players coming off the bench," he said. "Marami tayong players na really, we want them to learn in this tournament and grow. Katulad ng sinabi ko medyo bata pa sila."
"So we expect them to have bigger roles in the coming seasons. So malaking bagay itong pinagdaanan nila itong Season 84," he added.
Racela is counting on his players to continue their growth and development as they head to Season 85 later this year, as he admits that their recruitment program may not be up to par with the other teams in the Final 4. The COVID-19 pandemic has also dented their player development program, he said.
"We're using this tournament, actually, to prepare also for the coming season," he said. "So sana, na-gain nila 'yung much needed experience for the next season."