Loyal soldier

JAKARTA — The entire Philippine delegation here was on its feet in celebration of its fifth-place finish in the men’s basketball competition of the 18th Asian Games.

It wasn’t a podium finish. But what the heck, the boys made it and better that the last.

It was still a feat worth celebrating as it brought back the respect and prominence of the Philippines in Asia following an ugly seventh-place finish in the previous edition in Incheon in 2014.

It was a true underdog story.

Yeng Guiao was given only eight days to prepare and he assembled a team that focused on hard work and team play.

Beau Belga, Raymund Almazan, Poy Erram, Maverick Ahanmisi, Asi Taulava and even reserve Don Trollano are not strongly considered as superstars, but they still made the team due to their commitment and dedication.

In the end, Guiao was rewarded as Jordan Clarkson — the most decorated Asian basketball player of this generation — agreed to suit up for the team.

I personally witnessed how this team evolved.

From being a token team (as claimed by top basketball officials, themselves), a team that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) had second thoughts of fielding, yet it defied the odds by shocking Kazakhstan by 37 points without Clarkson on board.

Although the Gilastopainters lost by very slim margins to powerhouse China and reigning champion Korea to bomb out of the medal round, it didn’t matter anymore as they had already given their basketball-crazy nation a reason to believe again.

Guiao had put it nicely: (His) is a very special team.

* * *

It’s not surprising that Guiao became the darling of the crowd in these Asian Games, especially among Filipinos.

The members of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) board of governors kept their faith and made all their players available for the second round of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifier against Iran on 13 September.

Guiao grabbed the chance and invited players from San Miguel Corp. like Ian Sangalang and Paul Lee of Star, Scottie Thompson and Greg Slaughter of Ginebra and Alex Cabagnot, Christian Standhardinger and Marcio Lassiter of San Miguel Beer.

“Their (PBA Board members’) support is very overwhelming. Good things happen if we will work together,” he said after beating Syria by 54 points in the battle for fifth place.

With this in mind, I think it is only fitting that the SBP appoints Guiao on a permanent capacity.

He is a perfect choice to be the national coach.

He commands respect and sets a good example to his players, guiding them not only to be good players but also to be good people as well.

When the team went out to a dinner with the PBA board and its bus was not available, Guiao took the lead by walking for few kilometers in quest for the next available taxi.

He also joined the team in the Athletes Village and ate whatever his players had.

A ranking sport official said the next FIBA window will be crucial for Guiao.

“The (SBP) wants to give coach Yeng another try,” the source said over bottles of beer, Javanese noodles and chicken skewers.

“We will know if coach Yeng will replace coach Chot (Reyes) for good after the next FIBA window.”

When asked if he would be interested if ever an offer crops up, he said: “I’m just a loyal soldier.”

And good soldiers win wars, not just battles.

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