Frustrated and disappointed
It was a quarter past 11 Wednesday evening when first-year NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao came out of the dressing room of the Cuneta Astrodome. Frustration and disappointed were understatements for how the seven-time PBA champion coach felt after the Road Warriors absorbed a 102-91 routing at the hands of the Phoenix Fuel Masters — their ninth loss of the season.
“Hindi ko rin alam ‘yung nangyare. Kung alam ‘yung nangyare baka nabigyan na ng solusyon. Of course, I’m disappointed. I think that practically eliminates out of the conference,” a defeated Yeng Guiao said.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Road Warriors immediately headed into the locker room and, according to Guiao himself, were given a scolding by the fiery mentor. The team meeting lasted for at least an hour and a half, and the players were visibly shaken as they packed their bags and left the confines of the arena. Guiao himself was almost teary-eyed — not because of sorrow, but because of exasperation.
In nine games, the Road Warriors are currently the worst defensive team in the league, allowing their opponents to score 102 points per outing on 46 percent shooting from the field (7 percent higher than the next team). The team is a far-cry from the rugged, blue-collar teams Guiao handled in the past.
“I gave them a long speech after the game and I told them that this was the time to talk them about some matters that are important. Kasi sa next two games namin, we will just be trying to improve. Whether we win or lose, the important thing is we come out as a better team after playing Mahindra and Ginebra,” said the 57-year-old mentor who is in his 27th year in the PBA.
“Sabi ko nga ito na ‘yung huling sabon ko for this conference kaya tinagalan ko na. At yung sa pagsabon ko, baka isang linggo silang nagbabanlaw diyan baka ‘di pa maalis ‘yung sabon na ‘yan. At least magtanda sila – I think that’s always been part of the gauntlet that they have to go through with our culture. We’re trying to establish a culture. Meron talagang may masasala.”
Going into the season, the Road Warriors were expected to at least make the quarterfinals after three straight playoff appearances a season ago. But expectations did not match the reality that the embattled franchise faces. And it made Guiao realize that Rome was not built overnight — that nothing comes easy.
“I would have wanted for us to play longer. Kasi, sa pag-build ng team, you have to play a lot of games together. And, if you get eliminated early, that means you lose the chance to improve yourselves by competing and being in a game situation, and testing your character and your will. After 11 games, bitin yan. Hindi sapat ‘yung 11 games para ma-improve namin ‘tong character namin,” Guiao lamented.
“Sinabi ko ‘rin sa kanila ‘I really don’t recall the last that I got eliminated sa first round’. Sabi ko at least sila ‘yung nagbigay sa akin nang ganoong achievement o notoriety. Pero nangyayare talaga ‘yan. That’s what makes it exciting and interesting also ‘yan ang spice ng coaching job. But I am very confident that, with management support, we can put together a very competitive team in the near future.”
But unlike in his past stints with the Red Bull and Rain or Shine franchises, Guiao admitted that he does not have the luxury of time in this case. Though it is not known whether it is a mandate set upon by management or a personal deadline he brought upon himself, the two-time Coach of the Year wants this franchise to be in title-contention as soon as possible.
“Hindi naman mawawala ‘yung learning curve at struggle at the start but ang gusto ko kasi is mai-fast-track. I do not have the luxury of waiting for a long period of time before we build a championship team or a championship-caliber team,” he said.
“That’s ultimately the purpose. We want to get there as soon as possible.
“Sabi ko nga, itong mga players na ‘to, tinitignan ko kung sino ‘yung may puso na kaya ‘yung pressure talaga na magpe-perform sila with the expectations and, at the same time, with me yelling and cursing at them they should be able to perform. Kapag nag-perform sila noon, that means karapatdapat silang ma-retain sa team. Testing ‘to,” he furthered.
In order to fast-track the process, Guiao and the NLEX management are looking to make deals during the gap between the Philippine Cup and the Commissioner’s Cup — either internally or externally.
“Player movements are a possibility. Of course, that’s always a possibility especially if you’re struggling and you feel that you need to build up the team. When you say build up, you build it up internally and you can also find external sources,” Guiao said.
“There has to be some changes.”
With two games remaining, it is almost safe to say that this will be the last time this group of Road Warriors will be playing together, as drastic change is coming.