by Waylon Galvez
Jireh Ibanes has savored the sweet taste of victory when Rain or Shine bagged its first title two years ago, but suffered painful setbacks since the team joined the PBA back in 2006.
That includes an unforgettable sweep in the Philippine Cup finals last season.
Ibanes, however, thinks that these defeats only made the Elasto Painters stronger and hungrier, which is what they will bring going to the Finals of the 2014 PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup starting this week as the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“The team has been together for so long, we’ve been through a lot,” said Ibanes following the resumption of Rain or Shine’s practice session yesterday after a two-day break at the Northeast Green Hills in San Juan.
“And on this kind battle, there’s no better way but to face it with my brothers,” added Ibanes, a 6-foot-1 defensive specialist who is the only remaining member of the original Welcoat Paints team that entered the pro league eight years ago when it purchased the franchise of Shell.
Rain or Shine, which won the 2012 Governors’ Cup title but was swept in the Philippine Cup seven-game finals series the following season by Talk ’N Text, earned the first championship berth in this all-Filipino conference by beating Petron Blaze in their semifinal showdown.
With coach Yeng Guiao serving a one-game suspension, the Painters wrapped up their best-of-seven semifinal affair against the Boosters with a 97-88 win in Game 5 last Friday.
Rain or Shine will face either top seed Barangay Ginebra San Miguel or San Mig Super Coffee, which leads the other half of the semifinal bracket, 3-2. Game 6 is set Monday evening also at the Big Dome with the Mixers aiming to finish off the Kings and clinch the second finals slot.
Be it against Ginebra or San Mig, Every player of Rain or Shine knows it will be a difficult series.
“Wala namang madali pag-dating sa Finals e, or sa kahit na anong laban. Lalo na kung ang kalaban namin Ginebra or San Mig, parehong malakas ‘yan,” said Paul Lee, who leads the team in scoring in the semifinals averaging 12 points per game. “Basta kami magha-handa lang sa kung sino man ang makaka-laban.”
The same sentiment was echoed by center Beau Belga.
“Sa tingin ko naman ready kami sa kahit na sino ang maka-laban namin,” said Belga, the 6-foot-6 center who averaged 11.4 points and 4.8 boards in the semifinals where he battled onetime Gilas Pilipinas teammate, 6-foot-10 June Mar Fajardo.
“Hindi ko masasabing kompiyansa kasi ang lakas ng dalawang team na pwedeng matapat sa amin e, Ginebra or San Mig. Ang tamang word siguro is ready kami kahit kanino,” added Belga.
For Ryan Arana, he said the ‘hungry’ factor is what really motivates the team.
“Sobrang gutom kami na manalo para makuha ‘yung championship is this all-Filipino conference. May gusto kami patunayan, ‘di lang para sa fans kundi para rin sa sarili naming,” said Arana.