MANILA, Philippines — Nash Racela knew right from the start just how testy the coaching job at Blackwater will be.
“I never thought of this to be an easy job. I knew what I was getting into,” he told the Inquirer on Monday shortly after the team’s practice at Aero Center in Quezon City.
“Blackwater, majority of its stint in the PBA, is what many regard as a cellar-dweller,” he added. “That in itself, if you think about it, is already a challenge.”
That’s why there was a palpable sense of relief around Racela when he was asked how practices are going after the recent three-team trade where Blackwater served as a conduit.
“This is the signal for us to start moving forward,” he said. “It’s been hard going to practices not know what kind of lineup you’ll be having.”
Blackwater gained Marion Magat, Ed Daquioag, Yousef Taha and a pair of future first-round draft picks from the swap, giving the Elite a couple of serviceable players as they brace for the Philippine Cup with nearly a depleted roster.
The Elite are set to miss former Gilas Pilipinas members Carl Bryan Cruz and Mac Belo due to knee issues. Both, according to Racela, could return “around May” at the earliest.
And while plenty of teams have been salivating with how open this season’s all-Filipino conference has become in the absence of San Miguel Beer’s reigning five-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, Racela said he’s still focused on building his team’s cohesion.
“We’re still at the getting-to-know each other stage,” he said with a chuckle after acknowledging how much the trade hampered his team’s preparations.
“While I know most of these players, I have yet to learn everything about them—their tendencies, how they process stuff—which is very important for us coaches,” added Racela.
Blackwater finished with a record of two wins and nine losses in last season’s Philippine Cup before improving to 7-4 in the following conference.
If anything, the former TNT coach, who was out of the PBA for over a year, believes putting chemistry first is the best way to get the most out of his charges.
“Only then can we begin talking about and making adjustments to the team,” said Racela, whose squad makes its season debut against Barangay Ginebra in Bataan on Mar. 14.
“Within is the challenge of making all the other guys ready to step up,” he said.
Interestingly, Racela feels the same could be said for the perennial contenders.
“Regarding that open race many are mentioning, I think it’s just a matter of time before San Miguel, Ginebra, and Meralco are able to apply adjustments,” he said.
“These injuries to their stars are what will make them even more dangerous,” he said. “It will enable their other players to come out of their shells.”
“I want my players to see that, too,” added the soft-spoken mentor. “For now, we’re still studying each other.”
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