I’m excited for my good friend Nash Racela, who will be handling the coaching chores of the Talk N’ Text (TNT) KaTropa in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), starting this coming All-Filipino conference. His appointment as head coach was announced last week after serving as deputy since 2008. He will be replacing veteran PBA mentor Jong Uichico, who will be a full-time assistant at the Gilas Pilipinas National Men’s Team under returning coach Chot Reyes. In his eight years as assistant in TNT, Nash took the coaching cudgels in a few games for the squad. This time, he is given the opportunity to be the official chief bench tactician for the 26-year PBA franchise.
There couldn’t be a better choice than Racela as he has been deeply immersed in the team’s culture, and having served three head coaches – Reyes, Norman Black and Uichico. The topmost basketball team of the MVP Group, TNT is a proud PBA team with seven titles, six of which were attained with Nash as assistant coach.
Known as the younger brother of PBA great Olsen Racela, Nash has carved a name for himself in coaching the game. He entered the profession as a young deputy for the Batangas Blades team in the now defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA), a giant regional league that rivaled the PBA in the late 90’s. He rose to become the head coach of the Blades after a year and led them to an MBA title. Chot recognized Nash’s coaching talent and immediately took him under his wings in his PBA team. Their tandem went on for many years until Reyes’ successful stint with Gilas. Nash also briefly coached the San Beda Red Lions in the NCAA and led them to a Final Four finish in 2004. More recently, he steered the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws to their 20th Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball plum in 2015, after a bridesmaid finish the year before. In the current UAAP season, the Tams are in second place and Nash hopes to take them to a third straight finals appearance under his watch. Also earlier this year, he piloted the Gilas Cadet squad to a successful conquest of the SEABA Cup.
With his many years as a hoops mentor, Nash is ripe to be at the helm of a PBA squad. But coaching KaTropa won’t be a walk in the park. It’s said to be MVP Group of Companies chairman Manny V. Pangilinan’s favorite team. And the last three TNT coaches – Reyes, Black and Uichico – were all widely recognized elite coaches in the PBA. But Nash is used to pressure after having been to so many cage battles throughout his career.
TNT remains a formidable gang in the PBA with a stellar mixture of long-time greats and budding stars. Former Gilas stalwarts Jayson Castro, Ranidel De Ocampo, Ryan Reyes, Larry Fonacier and Kelly Williams are joined by battle-scarred veterans Danny Seigle and Harvey Carey. But the younger members are imposing as well, especially 2016 top draft picks Troy Rosario and Moala Tautaa, and ex-Gilas campaigners Matt Ganuelas-Rosser and Dylan Ababou. Also still in the roster are former UAAP aces Jai Reyes and Alex Nuyles, and Fil-Am guard Kris Rosales. But the KaTropa is expected to face stiff challenges in the All-Filipino tournament, especially with the Jun Mar Fajardo-led San Miguel Beermen.
Nash is banking on his hardened friendship with the team’s top cagers. “Ever since I started coaching, I’ve always given utmost importance to building relationships. This was what I told the players during our first practice since my appointment. I told them that I was hoping that the strong bond we built throughout the years we’ve been together will result to something great for our team soon.”
A disciple of the Dribble Drive Offense, which was introduced by Reyes in 2008, Nash is likely to use the same offensive system that worked wonders for TNT and Gilas in the past, and for FEU at present. “We want to be quick but in control. We want to be more aggressive defensively. And we hope to improve on our rebounding as well.”
It’s Nash’s turn and he’s up to the task.