FIBA: 10 years later, Coach Yeng finally lives World Cup dream
Paul Lintag on Aug 30, 2019 01:53 PM
"Pero sabi ko nga, kung destiny natin, destiny natin. Nagkataon na na destiny natin mag-World Cup." — Yeng Guiao (Photo by Arvin Lim)
On Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, coach Yeng Guiao will debut in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
The fiery mentor is the head coach of Gilas Pilipinas and the Philippine national team is making a second straight appearance in the World Championships.
While it's second consecutive trip to the World Cup for Gilas, including players like Gabe Norwood, it's the first time ever for Guiao to enter the world stage of basketball.
It took coach Yeng one whole decade but he's finally ready to live his World Cup dream.
THE DREAM STARTS... AND ENDS?
The year is 2009 and Guiao has his Powerade-Pilipinas competing in the FIBA-Asia Championships.
Three automatic slots for the 2010 FIBA World Championships are at stake in the Asian Championships and the Philippine national team coached by Guiao wants one of them.
Powerade-Pilipinas lost twice to South Korea in the tournament and ended up in 8th place with a losing record.
Coach Yeng won't we back with the national team until nine years later, filling in for the suspended Chot Reyes before eventually taking over Gilas Pilipinas for good.
In the road to the 2019 World Cup, Guiao's Gilas suffered two crucial home losses late in the Asian Qualifiers. His dream was fading away again.
"When I took on this job, I stated very clearly that my objective and our goal is to bring this team to the World Cup," Guiao said after a bitter loss Iran in December last year.
"I also stated that if I cannot bring this team to the World Cup, I'll walk away," he added.
Gilas Pilipinas ended the Asian Qualifiers with back-to-back wins but even with a sweep, the Philippines didn't have a sure slot to the World Cup.
Gilas needed a road win over Kazakhstan to end the Asian Qualifiers to have a chance at advancing. On top of that, the Philippines needed a loss for Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, and Japan. At the very least, Gilas needed a win and a loss for either Jordan or Lebanon.
On the final day of the competition, all games concerning Gilas' fate started at the same time.
By halftime of all those games, literally the worst-case scenario was unfolding.
"Aware kami, naka-monitor kami," Guiao told ABS-CBN Sports when asked about that wild final day where multiple scenarios were in play for Gilas Pilipinas.
"Pero sabi ko nga, kung destiny natin, destiny natin. Nagkataon na na destiny natin mag-World Cup. Ganun talaga, pwedeng mangyari, pwedeng hindi. Pero sabi ko nga, just give your best, tignan mo kung ano mangyayari," he added.
Eventually, Gilas did beat Kazakhstan on the road. The Philippines' game was the fourth game to finish during that final five-game slate.
Earlier, Iran beat Australia which didn't help Gilas. Japan demolished Qatar which didn't help Gilas. In the last game of the day, Jordan narrowly escaped New Zealand, which could have actually eliminated Gilas from World Cup contention.
With less than five minutes to go in the Gilas-Kazakhstan game, South Korea competed a come-from-behind road win against Lebanon and that was the help the Philippines needed to make the World Championships.
After that Korea win, Gilas' victory over Kazakhstan formalized the country's return trip to the World Championships.
"Last 2-3 minutes [vs. Kazakhstan] alam ko na [Korea win over Lebanon]. Medyo malaki na rin lamang namin nun so sabi ko mukhang papasok na," Guiao said.
"Sinwerte tayo, nandito na tayo [World Cup]. Pagbutihin na natin," he added.
CHALLENGE IS ON
Ten years later, Coach Yeng has finally made it to the World Cup.
It's an amazing achievement for sure but he's not going to be in China to just merely participate.
Guiao has a whole nation rallying behind him and he has to drive the national team to victory. To start the 2019 World Championships, his Gilas Pilipinas will play Italy, Serbia, and Angola in Group D.
"Napaka-laking blessing at responsibilidad. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed. When you start your coaching career you never realize you'll get this far. But at the same time may challenge talaga siya, meron talaga pressure, madami umaasa," Guiao told ABS-CBN Sports as he finally steps into the world stage.
"Pero ang mapapangako lang natin is pupunta tayo dun and ibibigay natin lahat ng kaya natin. Yung panalo, darating yan kung talagang sapat yung kakayanan. Kung sapat yung binigay nating effort, darating yung panalo. Kung ano man ang resulta, ako ang hinihingi ko lang sa mga players natin is to give their best," he added.
In the previous World Cup, the Philippines got ousted in round 1 with just one win.
In 2019, the goal for the national team is to advance and the opening game against the Italians proves to be the most crucial for that endeavor.
"We feel the most imporant game we will play will be the Italy game," Guiao said.
Coach Yeng is a successful coach, that's a fact.
A seven-time PBA champion and two-time Coach of the Year, Guiao has accomplished pretty much anything he wants in the PBA, except maybe win an All-Filipino title.
But all those achievements pale in comparison to making the Basketball World Cup as head coach of the Philippine national team.
"Tingin ko hindi ito one of the highlights eh, this is THE highlight [of my coaching career]. Ito na yun," Guiao said.
"There are not too many coaches who can say that they coached in the World Cup or at the world-class level like this opportunity. You never know also when you're coming back. Anything can happen, alam naman natin situation sa coaching. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and get the most out of it," he added.
Ten years since his first World Cup dream with the national team started and supposedly came to an early end, Yeng Guiao is back.
A decade later, he's finally living the dream. Coach Yeng is ready.
"I'm excited and at the same time I'm feeling the pressure already. I'm looking forward to just competing against the best in the world," Guiao said.
"Pag sinasabi mo yun parang hindi totoo eh," coach Yeng added.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8