MANILA, Philippines -- For NLEX guard Jericho Cruz and Kevin Alas, playing for coach Yeng Guiao is a dream come true.
This, despite the veteran mentor's well-known fiery style of coaching. Over the years, many of his players have received tongue-lashing during games, and not even Guiao's star players are spared from his pointed words.
In fact, Cruz can still recall one of the first few times that Guiao scolded him. Just in his first season, they played the TNT KaTropa in the finals of the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup, and Guiao assigned him to guard Jayson Castro.
"Ang nangyari, parang ang daming na-shoot ni Kuya Jason. Parang nakaupo ako sa locker room. Lumapit sa akin, sabi niya sa akin, 'Jericho!'" the guard said during a recent appearance on "2OT."
"Bigla akong yumuko, sabi niya, 'Akala ko matapang ka? 'Pag dating ng finals, ang duwag mo!' Siyempre, noong time na 'yun, sobrang lakas ni Kuya Jayson at saka rookie lang din ako noong time na 'yun" he added.
Yet being rebuked by Guiao never dented Cruz's confidence. Indeed, he said he welcomed the experience, using it as fuel to his drive to get better as a player.
"Ginawa ko 'yun as motivation. I never put it in my head or sa dibdib. Labas na ako then perform again the next na maglalaro ako," he said. "Ako kasi, nagugustuhan ko 'yun eh. Ang iniisip ko parang gusto niya lang kami i-challenge. 'Yun lang ang iniisip ko eh."
Guiao had drafted Cruz out of Adamson University with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 PBA Rookie Draft. In that same year, Alas was taken second overall by the Elasto Painters. While they both have seen action for other teams since then, they would eventually find their way back to Guiao in the Road Warriors.
The pair believes there is a reason that they play their best basketball when Guiao is their coach.
"Sa akin kasi, si Coach Yeng totoong tao talaga. 'Di siya plastic eh. Kung ano nakikita sa 'yo, sasabihin agad sa 'yo sa harap mo. Maraming tao, sasabihin agad sa 'yo. 'Yun ang gusto ko kay Coach Yeng talaga. Straightforward siya," said Cruz.
Alas noted Guiao's ability to maximize the talent of his roster, from the first five to the last man on the bench.
"Talagang mabibigyan ka ng opportunity para makapaglaro and ma-showcase ang talent mo eh. That's what's good about Coach Yeng eh," said Alas. "It's up to us, the players, na parang you have to prepare in practice, you have to do extra shooting, you have to be in shape."
"Kasi para pagdating sa laro, talagang mabigyan ka ng opportunity eh," he added.
Guiao's brand of tough love on the court and during practice has a way of drawing out the best from his players, and Cruz and Alas could not be more thankful that they get to play for him.
"I know a lot of players too, na gusto maglaro for Coach Yeng," said Alas. "It's a dream come true for me na makapaglaro under Coach Yeng."
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