By TITO S. TALAO
Manila, Philippines – The euphoria of a PBA championship lingers on until the next season begins before it dissipates, and seven years of drought are more than enough to erase all vestiges of a thriving past.
Like a stage actor who saw the curtain fall on his last act in 2006, has waited all these years to take on a familiar role. But now that he’s back in the spotlight, the Rain or Shine coach finds himself groping a bit.
“It’s been too long,” says Yeng Guiao on the morning of Friday’s knockout game between B-Meg and Barangay Ginebra to decide the Elasto Painters’ opponent in the Governors Cup Finals.
“At sa haba nang pinaghintay ko, di ko na ma-recall ang pakiramdam ng isang nag-champion o pumasok man lang sa finals. Parang first time uli yung feeling when you were starting out. Kaya I’m savoring every minute of it.”
Guiao, who led Swift to a PBA title in 1992, credits team owners Terry Que and Raymond Yu for allowing him to work in an atmosphere where “trust and confidence” prevail.
“Matagal din dumating yung situation where you have full control of the team and over the coming and going of your players, at yung buong-buo ang tiwala sa’yo ng management,” he says. “Matagal ko nang ginustong malagay sa ganitong environment at condition. It’s part of the new experience.”
Guiao takes no special pleasure on knowing that the Elasto Painters are biding their time, waiting for the best-of-7 championship series to begin, while defending champion Petron Blaze is in ruins, powerhouse Talk ‘N Text is out in the cold, and heavy crowd favorites B-Meg and Ginebra are thrust in a battle for survival.
But he knows, make no mistake about it. And nothing’s lost on him as evidenced by his reference to two biblical characters after the Elasto Painters defeated the B-Meg Llamados Wednesday to clinch the first finals berth.
“We were David out there,” Guiao said. “And they (B-Meg) were Goliath.”
Molding Davids armed with slingshots to do battle with armored Goliaths has been Guiao’s field of expertise since he returned to the league in 2000 with Red Bull, and it’s a tag he’s been trying to shed.
“Other teams have resources not available to us, like in the point of view of recruitment, trading and luring players; di mo sila kayang sabayan. We have our limitations,” he says. “So you try to compensate with a system and a certain work ethic. Wala ka nang magagawang iba.”
Ironically, it’s there where Guiao finds a sense of fulfillment in his job.
“You need talent to win championships, and the best talents always go to the big teams,” he says. “So we settle for lesser talent, work with what we have and make the best of the situation. If we win, then we derive satisfaction from achieving much with the less that we have.”
Eyeing his fifth championship, Guiao, whose Red Bull team beat San Miguel Beer, Talk ‘N Text and Purefoods for his second to fourth titles, says the situation he’s in is altogether unusual because of his roster.
“Kami lang ata ni coach Roehl (Nadurata) ang may [PBA] championship experience e,” he says, laughing. “Nobody among the players has gone through it.”
And that’s just fine with Guiao.
“Some people may look at it as a disadvantage, but I believe me balancing factor in being inexperienced,” he says. “They’re hungrier, they’re soaking up the atmosphere and the environment, the feeling of excitement, and that could translate into something positive.”
With a year left in his three-year contract, Guiao is perfectly at peace with the situation he’s in with Rain or Shine, even seeing a parallel with the successful run Red Bull had back then with him.
“At the moment, we are the youngest team playing in the league, and signs point to our getting better,” he says. “Other teams are getting older while we’re improving and maturing. If we can resist attempts from other teams to get our players and break us up, then we’ll be looking real good for years to come.”
Right now, with three days rest before Game One, and their opponent having to go through a gut-wrenching do-or-die, Yeng Guiao and the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters are looking mighty good as they await, slingshots in hand, the next giant that comes between them and their destiny.