By Tito S. Talao
NLEX coach Yeng Guiao initially had no idea what the mentioned PBA Philippine Cup playdate was about, but he probably has penciled it on his calendar now.
The day: April 15, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., at SM Mall of Asia Arena.
“Di ko alam ‘to a,” Guiao chuckles on the phone.
Serving as curtainraiser six weeks from now to that evening’s 7 o’clock game between Meralco and Phoenix, the NLEX Road Warriors will face sister team TNT KaTropa for the first time since circumstances that spun beyond his control, says Guiao, pried 6-foot-7 NLEX center JP Erram from Guiao’s grip and delivered to the hands of a pampered counterpart.
If Guiao plays his cards right, mixing just the right amount of venom to fire up his players, especially veterans Asi Taulava and JR Quiñahan [they’re still serviceable, says Guiao], with an intricate game plan that would stifle the KaTropa at every turn, take Erram out of the scheme of things and put to shame a disputed trade proposal that needed weeks to gain PBA approval, then Guiao and the Road Warriors could be claiming not just a win but a big morale victory.
Of course, if NLEX loses, or worse gets crushed by TNT and its recently-acquired defensive center, then the aggrieved Road Warriors would be reduced to whimpering victims. Instead of singing praises to poetic justice, Guiao and his team would end up crying lament to justice denied and the entire process archived in PBA trade folklore.
“Hindi naman,” says Guiao when asked if NLEX will be treating the forthcoming meeting with TNT differently.
“We’ll be preparing for that game the way we prepare for all other games. If you carry that burden, that load in your spirit, it becomes a negative burden. We don’t want carrying grudges and negative thoughts.”
What he chooses to dwell on, Guiao says, is how to adjust quickly to the loss of the one player he was grooming to “anchor” their future.
“We just have to accept the realities, move forward and recalibrate our mindset,” he says. “We need to focus on our objectives. Otherwise, it will be a lot harder to compete.”
How far back has NLEX been set by Erram’s departure?
“Players like Poy are a rare commodity in our league,” says Guiao, pointing to Erram’s height, quickness and skills.
“Mabibilang mo lang sa daliri ng isang kamay ang katulad niya, kaya daramdamin mo talaga pag nawala sa ‘yo.”
One other thing: “He can also step out and hit the jump shot which is what I like from my big men – inside-outside. And now he also has international experience having trained with the national team.”
More than that, however, Guiao will be pained all the more by what Erram can no longer provide.
“His defensive prowess and presence inside. He’s the league’s best shot-blocker. hat’s a big chunk of our defensive ability that we lost, right there.”
Having said his piece on the matter at the height of talks, Guiao has since chosen the path of least resistance in addressing the situation.
“Actually, I don’t want to talk about it na,” he says. “I wouldn‘t have volunteered any information if you hadn’t asked.”
A few days ago, Erram dropped by NLEX practice one last time to say goodbye to his teammates and to the company employees gathered in the venue.
“Nag-paalam siya, played some games with the employees and heard mass with us,” says Guiao. “It wasn’t really that emotional. Of course, everybody was trying to cope as courageously as they could; we’re all coping.”