In competing with universities that usually field more lucrative offers for aspiring UAAP basketball players, the FEU Tamaraws have successfully relied on a tried and tested thrust towards player development to lure talents to its program.
"If you wanna improve and get to the next level, FEU would be a good school for you. We cannot give you more or the same that other schools will give you, but ang [approach] namin sa kanila is long-term," head coach Olsen Racela said in a recent episode of Coaches Unfiltered.
It's hard to argue with the results. Since 2013 -- when current Blackwater head coach Nash took over the program before coach Olsen began his tenure three years later -- FEU basketball under the Racelas has produced 20 PBA draft picks. Thirteen of those players came from Nash's 2015 championship team.
"It's all about player development. Most of these kids would want to reach the pro ranks, the PBA, and we have a lot of players in the PBA who played for FEU," said Olsen.
But with other schools encroaching on its usual grounds, FEU has decided to turn most of its energy on recruitment and development inwards.
"Ang recruitment namin is now focused in high school, 'yung younger players," coach Nash explained. "Mas madali kasi, maybe 10 years ago or as far as maybe six years ago, hindi ganoon kahirap mag-recruit for FEU, especially [since] players from the provinces would most likely prioritize us kapag pumupunta sila sa Manila."
Nash acknowledged the recent struggle in trying to inject new prospects from the provinces into their rosters and said focusing on consolidating the best talents under their roof has made their jobs easier.
"I don't know why, but now, ang hirap," Nash said about recruiting from the provinces. "Mas mahirap ngayon because the top schools now kalaban namin sa recruitment. Dati hindi. Talk about Ateneo, UP, La Salle, hindi namin kalaban 'yun dati. Mas kalaban namin 'yung nasa gitna but now, nauubusan kami.
"As part of our shift, doon kami nag-focus ngayon sa player development sa high school level and then that's where we start recruiting 'yung mga younger age group."
"FEU has always been known na 'yung program na akala mo wala nang player tapos biglang may darating sa Team B," added Olsen. "I think that's all about player development e. Sina Roger Pogoy, sina Mac Belo, galing sa Team B 'yun e. So I think 'yung player development is very crucial also sa program ng FEU, lalo na ngayon na most of our players come from the high school."
The yield has been bountiful so far, as FEU bolstered a young but loaded core by snagging prized recruits in L-Jay Gonzales, Royce Alforque and Xyrus Torres, as well as incoming rookies RJ Abarrientos and Cholo Anonuevo.
"I think most of the credit should also go to our high school coaches, like coach Allan Albano, kasi kapag nakita mo ngayon 'yung transition ng players from high school to college, kumbaga kami nila coach Olsen naghihintay na lang kami doon sa mga produkto na meron si coach Allan," said Nash. "So maganda ngayon yung relationship and yung tie-up ng high school sa college, and I think sa program that's very important na imbes na umaalis ang players mo towards supposedly greener pastures, nags-stay sila doon sa eskwela mo."
This exclusive pool for talents, however, won't discourage FEU from continuing to pursue players elsewhere -- even overseas.
"Dito sa Philippines, mas alam na ng mga tao kung ano 'yung dapat ino-offer sa kanila ng mga schools. That's how we made a change in our thinking. 'Bakit tayo dito naka-focus? Hanap naman tayo sa iba. Doon sa iba, hindi pa nila alam kung ano 'yung dapat nilang tinatanggap.' Kaya kami napunta doon sa ibang lugar," Nash remarked.
"But now, other schools followed. Kumukuha na rin sila ngayon sa ibang bansa. Tumaas na ngayon ang market value. So ngayon 'yung ang nagiging problema namin. So hahanap na naman kami ng ibang player sa iba na namang lugar na hindi pa nila alam. That's our secret, now you know," he said with a laugh.