As a coach, Yeng Guiao does things differently from the rest of his colleagues. His unique approach to the game has made him one of the PBA’s best coaches, with a reputation for leading unheralded teams that always seem to overachieve.
So when it comes to the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Guiao, the coach of the 2009 team that represented the Philippines in the FIBA Asia Championship, has an opinion that differs from conventional wisdom.
SMART-Gilas was originally conceived as a three-year program to develop some of the best amateur cagers in the country into a fighting unit to try to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. Tapped to handle the squad was Serbian mentor Rajko Toroman, a veteran international coach who coached Iran to the title in the 2007 edition of the Asian championship.
But Guiao thinks that neither of those two elements was the most important factor for the success of SMART-Gilas, which placed fourth in the recently-concluded FIBA Asia championship, the Philippines’ best finish in the biennial competition in 24 years.
“[Naturalized center] Marcus Douthit is the biggest reason for the success of the SMART-Gilas program,” Guiao told InterAKTV. “He is the ideal big man, a player who can pass, defend and score — the type of player we were looking for two years ago.”
The fiery Rain or Shine coach added that the addition of PBA players to bolster the team proved that the PBA is still “the best source of talent” when it comes to basketball.
“The idea of having collegiate and amateur players representing the country in elite tournaments had already been defeated as early as last year when SMART-Gilas decided to ask for reinforcements from the PBA,” he added. PBA players Kelly Williams, Jimmy Alapag, Asi Taulava, and Ranidel de Ocampo ended up joining SMART-Gilas, while another pro, Dondon Hontiveros, reinforced the team for several tournament before leaving for personal reasons.
“Ganun din pala gagawin nila eh, they will ask help from the PBA, so why stop the idea of having our bets players playing for the country? In fact, yung mga nakita nating naglalaro now for the FIBA Asia are mainly pro players. Maraming mga nawalan ng pwesto because PBA players were able to take their spots. Nawala na sina Dylan Ababou, Jason Ballesteros, and then hindi na rin nagagamit halos sina Japeth [Aguilar] and even Mark Barroca.”
Despite the uncertain future of Toroman with the team, Guiao said the priority for the program should be finding a replacement for the other foreigner on the team: Douthit.
“Let’s face it, Marcus Douthit is 31 years old and is at the peak of his career, but we don’t know if he will play with the same effectiveness two years from now,” he said. “So, it would be more important to search for someone who will take his place the moment he retires.”
He added that it’s paramount for the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the country’s basketball federation, to work together with the PBA to form a fighting team.
“Parang similar dapat sa USA Basketball where the creating body will be asking for help from the NBA, ganun din naman ang nangyayari dito sa Pilipinas. They are asking help from the PBA,” said Guiao.
“May conflict na agad sa schedule considering the fact that we’ve already went back to a three-conference format,” he noted. The league had earlier adjusted its calendar to play only two conferences to allow players to compete for the national team in the offseason, but went back to the traditional format with the formation of SMART-Gilas
“But the PBA should think about their involvement. They’re already involved in a way by loaning some of the league’s best players,” added Guiao.
Still, some members of the league’s Board of Governors welcome the possibility.
Powerade governor JB Baylon has been one of the most outspoken members of the board when it comes to the issue of lending players to the national cause. He earlier said that his team will allow rookies Jayvee Casio and Marcio Lassiter, two SMART-Gilas stalwarts, to play for the Philippine squad in the future if asked.
“The PBA must always be open to the idea of helping the national team,” said Baylon.
Former league chairman Rene Pardo, for his part, said that the league remains open to the idea.
“The PBA has always been supportive of the national teams in the past and will continue to support in the future,” he said.
But league chairman Mamerto Mondragon wouldn’t give a definite answer when asked whether the pro league is willing to once again lend its players to the national cause.
“There are two basic conditions that should be considered before we can lend our players to the national team – conformity of players’ team and if the tournament has no conflict schedule with the PBA,” he said. “This has been the policy of the league.”
But with the PBA back to playing three tournaments a year, a major adjustment would be needed to accomodate the national team.