‘Haunted’ Olsen Racela keeps PH boys focus on Fiba task
NHA TRANG, Vietnam—Even as a coach, the infamous South Korean game came haunting Olsen Racela back again.
There’s no escaping the unwanted memory, he said, as his Energen Pilipinas Under-16 squad battled South Korea in the Fiba Asia U16 semifinals Thursday night.
Still, the national youth mentor made it clear that his spunky squad’s campaign has nothing to do with personal redemption.
“We want this win not for me, not for the past Philippine teams but for our country and for these boys who have sacrificed a lot,” said Racela.
That game in 2002—which Racela described as “his most memorable game for the wrong reason”—saw him bungling two crucial free throws that led to the Philippines’ heartbreaking semifinal loss to South Korea in the Asian Games.
Although the stigma remains, Racela would rather put the focus back on his boys, who toppled another formidable foe in West Asian champion Iraq, 82-69, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
Another semifinal victory over South Korea gives the Philippines a title berth, and more importantly, a World Championship ticket.
The two finalists in this 15-nation tournament will represent Asia in the 2012 Fiba U17 World Championship from July 17 to 26 in Kaunas, Lithuania.
“These boys listen to us, and so far, all our game plans have been followed,” Racela said as the Philippines remained unbeaten in six games along with defending champion China.
The towering Chinese team was battling Japan in the other semifinal duel also Thursday night.
“I reminded the players that I’ve played Korea in the past, I’ve seen them play our recent teams and we know we cant relax,” Racela said the night before his team’s crucial match.
“This Korean team is no different from the others. Their three-point shot is a big factor, that’s what we have to contain.”
Big men Tomas Ramos (15 points and nine rebounds) and Jay Javelosa (12 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks) shone for the Philippines against Iraq in the quarterfinals, while the backcourt duo of Rev Diputado and Hubert Cani sustained their strong plays.
“We had lapses [against Iraq], so we need to focus more,” said Ramos, who also plays forward for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets.
“We don’t worry about our opponents, we just play our game,” the 6-foot-5 Javelosa added. “We just have to work on our ball movement and stay together.”
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