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On ice cream and heartbreaks: Adamson's changes under Nash Racela

Adamson coach Nash Racela has been determined to instil discipline in his charges -- to the extent of benching players for eating ice cream on the eve of a game. UAAP Media Bureau

More often than not, ice cream is closely connected to celebrations. For Adamson, though, it became a symbol of struggle.

Just two games into the UAAP 84 men's basketball tournament, five Soaring Falcons were benched by head coach Nash Racela. The reason? They ate ice cream the night before their match scheduled at 10 a.m., even though their coaches already discouraged them.

"It's about discipline. We're teaching them something," stated Racela then, talking about the disciplinary action he imposed on Mario Barasi, Joseph Fuentebella, Ivan Maata, Tricky Peromingan, and Didat Hanapi, their top scorer from the previous game. "Discipline is very important kasi nagma-manifest yun sa court, sa game. From the start, that's what we wanna highlight sa kanila: disiplina."

While seemingly trivial and -- truth be told -- funny, the benching was, without a doubt, a lesson the veteran mentor had for his young wards. Fortunately, Adamson players, even the ones benched themselves, got the message loud and clear. Better late than never.

"Nagulat din kami sa nangyari nun. Kala namin, biro-biro lang, si coach kasi, pasimple lang magsalita, pero malalim na pala yung sinabi niya," shared second-year guard Joem Sabandal, looking back on the incident with the "Ice Cream 5," as Racela called them, at the center. "Naintindihan din naman namin agad si coach, na ini-instill niya yung disiplina sa amin. Life lessons din kasi yun e."

Top gun Jerom Lastimosa agreed. "Nakakagulat talaga yung nangyari. Nasabihan pa kami ni coach na, 'Wag niyo akong subukan.' Pero yun din naman ang gusto naming lahat kay coach Nash: tinuturuan niya kami ng disiplina," he expressed.

Later in the tournament, even in a win, Racela used ice cream to teach another lesson. While the Soaring Falcons triumphed over UST 80-69, they also looked like they loosened up on the gas pedal in the final frame.

"They don't deserve ice cream after their game today. I don't think they respected their opponent," their mentor explained then. "Actually, I was planning on rewarding them with ice cream, but with the way they played, I don't think they deserve it. You only give what they deserve."

Slowly but surely, though, Adamson was learning. And slowly but surely, Racela was establishing a new culture. Now at season's end, and moving forward, it's all about reinforcing it through and through.

"Yung discipline, yung culture, it doesn't happen overnight. It's nice to say that whatever happened in the second round was a result of what we did in the first, but personally, I don't think that," explained Racela, referring to their four-game win run Round 2 that allowed them to bounce back from a 1-6 Round 1. "Siguro, konting epekto, na nagising sila because of the benching. But again, those things take time."

All things considered, however, just missing out on the Final Four actually was an impressive finish for the Soaring Falcons, who lost AP Manlapaz and Aaron Fermin, two rotation players, to injury even before the season started. Once the tournament began, they experienced a cluster of close losses, with the winning margin of their opponents -- excluding Ateneo -- at just five points in the first round. It was heartbreak after heartbreak, and still, come the second round, they had the heart to make a playoff push.

Of course, much credit has to go to Racela, their first-year shot-caller and onetime collegiate champion coach, who himself has had to overcome a rough past pair of years. After steering FEU to a title in 2015, he had unceremonious exits from TNT and Blackwater. Still, Racela stayed disciplined and focused, knowing full well he has much more left in him to teach young talents. He proved just that in Adamson, and kept his wards disciplined, focused, and together as a team.

"'Di lang siya coach e, father figure siya para sa amin. Siya mismo yung nagiging example namin," remarked Sabandal. "Head coach siya, pero kasama namin siya sa loob ng bubble, kasabay kumain, kasabay sa lahat. Pinakita niya sa aming kakayanin namin lahat."

Indeed, Racela himself set the standard as Adamson had to go through a season inside the bubble, where they had to stay from January to May. As he led, his players followed. Through adjustment periods, disciplinary actions, and heartbreaks, he stayed with his wards, and they stayed together as a team. The fell short of the Final Four, but they gave themselves a good shot at it, nonetheless.

"Ako, ever since, ang measure of success is not necessarily winning or championships. Those things will just follow if you do the right things," pointed out their coach. "To me, ang gusto ko mangyari rito ulit is yung relationships namin will never go away. Once we have that, hopefully, magkaroon ng ripple effect, the wins come, the playoff appearances come, maybe even championships come."

Racela already has a proof of concept for his philosophy, as the first of the Tamaraws' current eight-year playoff streak just so happened to be his first in Morayta. There, he made sure his players did well both on and off the court, giving the same weight to contests and classes. As a result, FEU had more and more players from its basketball program graduating. Even after he left for the PBA, the culture stayed in place, and the new generation of green and gold just has a different level of love for their school. The hope is that the same turns out to be true in Adamson.

Now they're all outside the bubble, Racela still expects the Soaring Falcons to stay disciplined, focused, and together. That means keeping fit, feeling determined, and staying connected in the one month or so the coaches have given them to go home. Once they go back to San Marcelino some time in June, they will have something waiting for them: no, not ice cream, but a reinvigorated spirit to plan and prepare for next season.

Sooner than later, though, Adamson will have ice cream to celebrate - whether it be for a return to the Final Four, a breakthrough to the finals, or who knows, the school's second-ever championship. For now, though, the Soaring Falcons will have to wait, work, and be worthy. Good thing they already have the discipline to do so.