PAST and present players of Yeng Guiao are cherishing the moment of playing for their old coach, this time on a bigger stage — the Asian Games — as the Rain or Shine-backed Philippine squad takes center stage starting Thursday in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“I never expected this to happen. When it came, I just told myself that it’s an honor to be reunited with Coach Yeng,” swingman James Yap told BusinessWorld. “It’s an honor to play for the national team and excited for Coach Yeng. He’s the only one who made things possible for my inclusion in the national team. I’m happy to reunite with him at the national team.”
Year 2009 was the only time the two-time Most Valuable Player was able to represent a PBA-backed national squad with Guiao calling the shots for the Philippine quintet during the FIBA Asia Cup in Tianjin, China.
Nine years later and now probably at the twilight of his career, Yap was once again given the opportunity, but Guiao sees the value of having a player of his caliber.
“Shooters are a must in international competitions,” added Guiao. “You’re going to see more zone defenses in the international game, which is why players like James are essential to the team.”
Yap’s 2009 teammate at the Philippine squad, Asi Taulava, also relished the opportunity of being recalled to serve the country.
Now the oldest player at 45, the 6-foot-9 Taulava is more than willing to provide his wealth of experience in the Rain or Shine-supported team.
“I can’t imagine I’d be given this opportunity, especially at the tail end of my career, to represent the country again. It’s a great feeling. I feel very grateful. Nothing much to say but go out there and play with these younger guys,” added Taulava. “To be trusted and given this opportunity, I will be forever, grateful to Coach Yeng.”
“It means the world to me. I would never thought that I would be recalled. When I played for FIBA Asia (2015), I thought that would be my last one.”
Taulava has represented an all-pro Philippine team since 2002, but has played in numerous national teams since then.
For Paul Lee, Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan and Maverick Ahanmisi, who had played for Guiao at Rain or Shine one time or another, being reunited with their old coach make them feel more excited and go out there to perform at the best way they could.
“I’m very happy and found out at how valuable I am to him. I hope to repay him with my brand of game,” said Lee.
Lee played for Guiao’s two championship teams. He was traded two years ago a few months after Guiao transferred to coach the NLEX Road Warriors.
Almazan honed his skills as a rookie under Guiao and admittedly looked forward to playing with his old coach in the future. He was surprised to see it happening with the national team.
“I was looking forward playing for him,” added Almazan. “He’s been a big part of my career. I’ll be making the most out of it for the next few weeks that we will be together. I miss being cursed by Coach Yeng, his way of motivating me.”
Belga is another player used to being cursed a lot by Guiao and hearing those words was like music to his ears.
“You’re going to miss him. A lot of people think Coach Yeng is so strict and more of a disciplinarian-type of coach. You will discipline yourself once you’re not doing the right things. I missed being cursed by Coach Yeng. It’s like music to my ears. It’s one way of motivation. Once he doesn’t call your attention, you’re useless to him,” added Belga.
Ahanmisi is like the greenest among the greenhorns playing for this batch of national squad and to be reunited with his old coach.
“It’s a blessing to be in this opportunity. I just go with the flow. I just hope I’ll be a coachable person. I’ve played with Coach Yeng my rookie year. It’s gonna be fun,” added Ahanmisi. “He’s definitely a big part of my playing career. He’ll give you a chance. When Paul [Lee] was down, he gave me the opportunity. Honestly, I really don’t know where I would be in this league if not for Coach Yeng. He’s a good dude. He doesn’t appear like one on TV, but he’s a cool dude. It’s a gonna be fun.” — Rey Joble