When a coach was up on in the air for the 16 and under Philippine National team, it all went down to a multi-titled High School coach and a PBA retiree. Eventually, 18 year PBA Veteran and long time San Miguel Beer guard Olsen Racela got the nod to coach the National Team. There were lots of questions, ifs and buts and controversies as to wether Olsen was the right choice considering he never had any prime time coaching experience and that the FIBA 16 under is too big a stage to experiment. While others doubted, a lot believed that Rah Rah Racela would use his never say die attitude on the court to teach teeners do the same for the flag. Funny thing though, Olsen will always be remembered as the San Miguel Beer Playmaker but going back only did I remember that Olsen was also a part of numerous National Teams. I remember him representing the country inthe 17 and under tournament in Qatar with Jun Limpot and John Edel Cardel. I remember Olsen’s remarks then that the Qatar team was definitely over 17 years old, they cannot be that strong at that time. In 1989 he was the lead guard of the 19 and under team that played here in Manila. He teamed up with Ateneo batchmate Danny Francisco, the Aerial Voyager Vergel Meneses, Limpot, Cardel and their team ended up third. The second to the last time the country finished with a medal.
Olsen worked his way to the top in the PBA as he started out as back up point guard and eventually became a mythical five selectee in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. His solid defense and superb quarterbacking earned him a spot in the 1998 Philippine Centennial Team that won the Jones Cup and eventually placed third in the 1998 Asian games. He would return in 2002 to be the lead point guard in the Busan Asian Games and were two free throws away from Philippine Basketball imortality when the Filipinos lost to eventual champion Korea in the semi-finals. In his stellar career as a player he has had the privilege to play and earn much of his coaching reins under Chot Reyes, Ato Badolato, Joe Lipa, Ato Badolato, Jong Uichico and one of the geniuses of the international game, Ron Jacobs. I remember him breaking down how Jacobs prepares his teams and how he would motivate them during games. He would compare Tim Cone and Ron Jacobs on what both master tacticians were good at and how they would react in international compeititons. It was only now that I remember the wealth of knowledge and experience that Olsen had in running a team.
This year’s 16 and under team has no Kiefer Ravena, Jeron Teng or any marquee name that any team can boast that can get the job done, but one thing is for sure the team will go down fighting. Looking at the six wins the team had, they had different topscorers and contributors and they gave the opposition 40 minutes of hell. Unfortunately, the loss to korea took out the luster on the boys and eventually lost to Japan to settle for fourth place. Not bad for a team that is low in ceiling but high on the heart category which is the trademark of Philippine teams, playing with heart. Now that the 16 and under tournament is over, I hope that Coach Olsen can get more support from the country’s brightest stars to play better in the 18 and under tournament. Coach Olsen, the country is proud your success, on to the 18 and under tournament.