Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Thursday, December 04, 2008

There's yin, there's yang, and then there's Yeng: Thoughts on the RP team

It's not easy following developments in Philippine basketball from an apartment in New York. Especially since there's nowhere for me to install a DirecTV dish and subscribe to the package of Filipino channels. Anyway, kawawa naman ako. I'll stop bitching.

I have been reading up on whatever I can find on the PBA's Web site, as well as the online portals of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star. It's hard to get a feeling for what's going on in the PBA because the game recaps are so basic, but I've been devouring the reports and imagining the behind the scenes gossip regarding the PBA-backed Philippine National Team that's supposed to play in the August 2009 FIBA-Asia tournament that will serve as a qualifier for the 2010 World Championships of basketball.

Although it's probably too early to tell if this will be a successful RP team, I can say pretty confidently that it will be an entertaining one. I don't mean this necessarily from the basketball standpoint, as in watching this team play will be an enjoyable experience. That may be true, but what I'm really getting at is that the selection of Yeng Guiao to coach the national team means that basketball fans will have plenty to debate.

Atak of da Bal-Hedz! Bacdafucup!

Here's what I like about Guiao: He's a character. He represents the mixed-up world of Pinoy hoops, its strengths and faults alike. The Philippines will head into competition knowing that no other coach has bigger brass balls than theirs. The standard adjectives for intense coaches -- fiery, confrontational, strong-willed -- are laughably bland when applied to Guiao. At times on the court, he's borderline insane. This is a guy who clotheslined Dondon Hontiveros in a playoff game two years ago when the San Miguel guard was lighting up Guiao's Red Bull squad. The old rumor about Guiao pulling a pistol on his players to motivate them at a Red Bull practice may or may not be true, but the story has been told so many times that it's become part of Guiao's urban legend.

Guiao is also blunt and outspoken. His wars of words with Talk 'N Text's Frankie Lim in November 2006 and his biting, sarcastic criticism of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas' hiring of Serbian coach Rajko Toroman to develop a team capable of qualifying for the the 2012 Olympics have been hilarious. Check out this quote regarding Toroman: “But if he has the technology or the system where the six-footers can beat the seven-footers and we don’t know it then I’ll carry his bag. We have to prove that, ‘Pinoy tabi ka muna because undoubtedly mas-magaling ito.’” That last bit in Tagalog, "step aside Filipino coaches because undoubtedly this one is better," is dripping with irony. 

Guiao is saying that you can't coach height, and Filipinos don't have it, so don't expect foreign coaches to come in and perform miracles. Instead, Guiao would prefer for the SBP to bring in foreign coaches to run a few clinics, show some new drills, share some of the wisdom they've gained from FIBA competition, and hit the road. I think that Guiao is understating the possible value of foreign coaches, some of whom, like Toroman, really do know the European-style FIBA game better than Pinoy coaches who have less experience and who mostly were trained by American coaches and countless Filipino mentors. And Guiao's vehement opposition to foreign coaches is seems mildly hypocritical since he's been a leading voice calling for the RP team to naturalize a couple foreign big men (that's not counting the PBA's current foreign big men who've been unofficially naturalized :P) to bang with the seven-footers suiting up for other countries' teams. However, Guiao's conflicting positions reflect a certain pragmatic, if also self-serving, logic. The players on the court are going to ultimately determine the outcomes of games, so if the Philippines is going to hire foreigners to prop up the team, they might as well start with the players. 

But beyond the substance of Guiao's arguments for and against naturalized players and foreign coaches, I just like the way he expresses himself. The arguments might be faulty, but Guiao has chutzpah, and I appreciate that.  It will be interesting to see, however, if a roster full of bona fide superstars find Guiao's chutzpah as charming as I do. Guiao's image as the swashbuckling, tough guy vice governor from Pampanga who can drive any collection of bozos to a winning season in the PBA leans heavily on his ability to motivate players through bullying and intimidation, or at least so I've heard, and it looks that way from the outside. Will James Yap, who's married to the Philippines' version of Oprah, respond to Guiao's haranguing style the same way Magnum Membrere does, or will he ignore the voluble coach? Or will he kick Guiao in the back of the knee and then run like his life depended on it, as he did in last season's Terrence Leather fiasco? Yes, James Yap jokes are irresistible, but jokes aside, are guys like Helterbrand, Willie Miller, Asi Taulava and Kelly Williams going to let Guiao bully them? It's hard to believe, although perhaps a bunch of players in the current national team pool have played for Guiao -- Miller, Kerby Raymundo, Mick Pennisi, Cyrus Baguio -- it won't be as large an adjustment as it seems. 

I do think that Guiao's simple coaching style will be good for the team. He lets the players push the ball, he lets them shoot when they're feeling hot, he lets them make mistakes. The only thing that seems to drive him crazy is weakness, whether it surfaces as hesitating to take a shot on offense or backing down from a challenge on defense. Other than that, it seems like anything goes, and I think that's good for a team with streaky guards who can really get hot like Miller, Yap, Helterbrand and Baguio. Let 'em play. And I think Guiao will do just that.

Stay tuned for another post, coming within the next few days, that tilts a wider lens at the RP team and asks, "What should be the goal of the Philippine national team?"


Blogger coachj12 said...

Hey Rafe my man! Your former neighbor coach.

I totally agree with what you just wrote. I am just wondering what kind of adjustment he has to make. His assistant Gee will have a lot of work in his hands.

10:18 AM  
Blogger RafeBoogs said...

John! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. E-mail me so we can keep in touch!

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont know why Guiao picked Baguio over Cardona. Cardona is a machine and shoots a better percentge. He's also a fearless competitor and much better defensively. He recently torced Guiao for 42 and the next team around 36 points after learning he wasnt chosen. I'd pick him over Miller too. Miller is fun to watch but he takes too many ill-advised shots and tough shots. I think Cardona is the best guard in the PBA now. He should at least be a reserve for the national team.

2:40 AM  

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