Champion coach Yeng Guiao sees Ginebra as the biggest hurdle to San Miguel’s Commissioner’s Cup title bid
By: Musong R. Castillo - Philippine Daily Inquirer
Yeng Guiao and his NLEX Road Warriors have been at the bottom of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup totem pole right from the start.With a nine-game losing streak in the import-spiced conference and a 13-game spell dating back to the Philippine Cup, they know what it feels like looking at everything from below.
But the mercurial champion coach has an idea how the skirmishes at the top will end.“I think it’s San Miguel Beer,” says Guiao, whose squad notched its first win in the tournament on Wednesday night. “They have the tools and the experience. They (Beermen) are a solid contender.”
The only thing that Guiao doesn’t have a quick answer to? Who would likely be the Beermen’s foes in the Finals.
“Every team has to prepare itself in stopping San Miguel,” Guiao says, noting that the Beermen look invincible in their quest for the second jewel of an anticipated Triple Crown sweep. “They would have to know how to beat San Miguel.”
The Beermen don’t actually have the best record as of this writing. Star leads the pack with an 8-2 record but the Hotshots are not yet sure of nailing one of the two twice-to-beat privileges in the first round of the playoffs.
That is because San Miguel defeated Star in the eliminations. And with Barangay Ginebra also in the running for a top-two finish, the Hotshots could ultimately be denied the bonus.
“I am seeding San Miguel in the Finals,” Guiao says. “What we want to know is who the Beermen would be playing, unless something drastic happens to them. But with the way they are playing, their confidence is truly high.”
There’s no doubt that the firebrand mentor envies the fact that his Road Warriors won’t be among the eight teams that will continue playing past this round. He terribly wants another shot at the Beermen with the revamped nucleus that he now has.
The former Pampanga representative says that Rain or Shine—which he guided to the championship of this tournament last season with the lowest-scoring import to ever win a title in the PBA—has suddenly looked good with the arrival of import Duke Crews.
“I don’t discount upsets,” Guiao explains. “Rain or Shine is picking up again; they just played a great game (in beating Ginebra). The other finalist will be a toss-up among Ginebra, Meralco and Star.”
Blessed with the finest local crew in the league, San Miguel strengthened its tag as the favorite here with the improved play of Charles Rhodes, who came over early minus the fanfare but has turned out to be a solid Best Import candidate, if not the overwhelming pick at this time.
Rhodes plays both ends well and has shown the attitude that complements the play of the local Beermen, as well as the chemistry the team needs to go deep in the playoffs.
San Miguel was also the title favorite of the Commissioner’s Cup last season, only for import Tyler Wilkerson to blow his top during the most crucial phase of the playoffs and cause a ruckus the Beermen weren’t able to recover from.
Coach Leo Austria believes that he won’t have a problem of that sort with Rhodes. “He’s very coachable,” he said in a recent interview.
And that’s a crucial aspect that makes San Miguel even more dangerous.
Guiao believes that the lack of championship experience of the Meralco and Star rosters could ultimately tell on the Bolts and the Hotshots. But he concedes that both are capable of pulling out an upset.
Pressed as to which team could ultimately scuttle the talented Beermen in a championship series, the firebrand Guiao, uncharacteristically, searched for an answer.
“Someone with a chance [of beating San Miguel]?” Guiao repeats the question, obviously considering a judicious reply.
“Ginebra, because they have the size and the experience,” he says. “In terms of experience and manpower, I really think it’s Ginebra.”
If Guiao is proven right, that would make for a great box-office draw for a tournament that needs one.
And that would definitely make for a perfect footnote to the Beermen’s quest for the Grand Slam.