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FEU’s defensive assassins on their special roles

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Many predicted the Far Eastern University Tamaraws to win the UAAP Season 78 Championship before the tournament began, and many were right.

It was, after all, an easy bet to make after a glance at their lineup – the product of years of careful player development and relentless scouring for talent throughout the southern isles. They virtually had six viable PBA prospects, with guys on the bench who could start for any other UAAP school.

Their depth proved crucial in their recently-concluded Finals showdown with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. Their top-heavy España neighbors had them on the ropes in Game Three last Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena, but FEU’s pro-bound seniors responded down the stretch to deliver their alma mater its 20th Men’s Basketball title.

But it wasn’t all Mac Belo, Rogey Pogoy, or Mike Tolomia – none of those three played more than 27 minutes in the match. When they were brought in, FEU’s bench brigade performed brilliantly. Last Wednesday, FEU’s two “defensive specialists” – Francis Tamsi and Ron Denisson – softened up the Tigers in pivotal moments of the game.

Graduating guard Francis Tamsi hopped off the bench in the third quarter and hit back-to-back triples that sparked a 10-0 FEU run to break a first-half deadlock. All season, Coach Nash Racela called Tamsi’s number when an opposing perimeter player needed special attention. Tamsi always delivered. In their three-game saga against the Tigers, Tamsi had his turn shackling UST’s main gunners, mainly the stoic Eduardo Daquioag. Tamsi was key in keeping Daquioag and, later on, Marvin Lee.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times FEU's defensive assassins on their special roles    “Sabi lang sa akin ni Coach Nash, kailangan ko ma-stop ‘yung dinedepensahan ko, kahit sino pa man ‘yun. Kung anumang offense ‘yung naibigay ko, bonus na lang ‘yun,” replied Tamsi when asked about his contributions in Game Three. “May mga roles kasi kami sa team – stopper lang talaga dapat ako. Mas importante sa akin na nakatulong ako sa pag-execute ng gameplan namin.”

Tamsi had taken a leap of fate when he transferred from the Bohol Institute of Technology to a school right in the heart of Manila. Having been the star in his former school for two years, the Boholano knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play for FEU, even if it meant having to scrape for playing time in FEU’s vaunted guard rotation.

“Sobrang sulit po nang paglipat ko sa FEU. Wala naman pong problema sa kahit sino sa amin kung sino ang gamitin ni coach. Basta pag pinasok na kami, go hard lang. Wala po talagang inggitan – tinuro po sa amin ni coach noong umpisa pa lang na para manalo, kakailanganin namin ang isa’t isa,” said the former Super Cruiser.

After Tamsi’s heroics in the third quarter, third-year combo guard Ron Denisson took his turn in the fourth period. With UST making a potentially game-winning run, Denisson hunkered down and and got crucial turnovers that helped clinch the title. Denisson was everywhere – on the floor diving for loose balls, right up Ed Daquiaog’s face on defense, up in the air grabbing rebounds, and even in one of UST’s huddles before a Tiger pushed him out.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times FEU's defensive assassins on their special roles    As the Thomasian crowd booed his antics, the Cebuano smirked and giggled with his teammates. He loved playing the villain.

“Sakin lang, masaya ako kasi nasisira ‘yung laro nila. Role ko kasi is dumepensa at tanggalin sila sa laro,” the University of Visayas alumni explained. “Masaya ako na nadedepensahan ko ‘yung mga star player ng kalaban tapos role player lang naman ako sa amin.”

Like Tamsi, Denisson had to make sure he was ready when coach Nash needed his pesky defense throughout the season. “Hindi ko nga po talaga inakala na maisasali ako sa team noong simula,” Denisson recalled. “Ang dami po kasi talagang gustong maglaro sa FEU. Naging advantage ko na lang po siguro ‘yung depensa ko kaya doon ako nag-concentrate. Basta kailangan makatulong ako sa team.”

Talk to anyone on the FEU roster, and they will echo similar sentiments – that they just did their part, that they trusted coach Nash, and that they could to help the team. With so many great moments and players, Tamsi and Denisson might not get mentioned too much in tales of FEU’s Season 78 run.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter to them. They’re champions.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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