Mercifully, when Yeng Guiao gazed into his crystal ball and predicted that the Alaska Aces will be the “team of the future,” the Rain or Shine coach didn’t say how far ahead he saw: the near future or the distant one?
It would have broken a lot of hearts if Guiao had seen four more blown championships by the Aces in the next two years.
“They could’ve won easily one of those finals they have been involved in. They are the team of the future and coach Alex [Compton] is the coach of the future,” Guiao the seer said. “As soon as he wins a championship, he would have made himself in this league, if he’s not already made right now.”
As soon as – these are the operative words.
It has been two and a half years and Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, the Alaska team owner, has indicated that he is growing impatient with waiting for the Aces’ 15th title, now nine conferences past since they won their last with Luigi Trillo in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup.
“I’m getting tired of losing,” Uytengsu said after Rain or Shine put away Alaska in Game 6 of the Commissioner’s Cup Finals last Wednesday.
Who wouldn’t be? Four final appearances in the last five conferences, all ending in agonizing defeats, one via a 4-0 sweep and two after squandering late Game 7 advantages.
That has to be tiresome, to say the least, if not downright frustrating.
Unless one can get exhausted winning three championships in five conferences, hosting all those victory parties and giving away all those fat bonuses – and nobody can hear anyone from the San Miguel Beermen complaining.
That’s why the Aces must take heed when Guiao adds a footnote to his prophecy.
“They have very sound coaching,” Guiao said. “They’re not the most talented team, but can you imagine if they get more talent?”
So there’s the key right there: recruit extra talent.
Starting with the post-up guy to back up Vic Manuel when he returns from the calf injury that had kept him out of the semis and the championship.
Sonny Thoss is as good as it gets for a finesse big man. But he isn’t a knock-you-down-step-over-you kind of post presence that Beau Belga, JR Quiñahan and even Jewel Ponfereda are as they showed during the series.
Thoss is a Duncan. What Alaska needs is a Barkley or at least a Bong Hawkins, who plants his bulk at the low block, backs up against his defender until the basket is two feet away, and powers it in while picking up the and-one free throw.
The backcourt rotation may also benefit from added muscle and speed.
With Jayvee Casio injured, the Aces were left with RJ Jasul (basically a zone-breaking shooter), Chris Banchero (anothe gunner) and the inexperienced Chris Exciminiano to handle the playmaking chores and to deal with RoS speed freaks Jericho Cruz and Maverick Ahanmisi, not to mention the dazzling Paul Lee.
Not only did Cruz and Ahanmisi shredded Alaska’s pressure defense by burning rubber in transition, the dynamic duo also drew so much help defense that this gave Lee, Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood and Chris Tiu more than their fair share of open looks from 3-point range.
Lastly, the Aces may have to find someone to help the Beast keep the team growling all game long. Notwithstanding his eccentricities, Calvin Abueva, when he is inside, packs a megaton bomb of energy and zeal all directed at their opponents. Once he steps out, though, Alaska loses much of its vigor and life force and reverts to being a precise, efficient but humdrum machine.
Heck, even Chris Tiu, he of the of the carefully-cultivated corporate image and Blue Eagle poster boy persona, mindlessly dives into a pile of bodies going for the loose ball, throws an occasional elbow (sorry, Commissioner) and drives helter-skelter to the basket regardless of who stands on guard.
The Aces could use two ot three more Chris Tius – clean-cut white-collar players who play like blue-collar, working man dudes – to aid the Beast in doing the unpalatable stuff and keep the energy level up.
Compton reportedly has been signed by Aces management to a new, three-year contraction extension, which is a good thing.
Now perhaps he can start taking steps to bring that team-of-the-future concept closer to a team-of-the-present reality.
A week or two after the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July, the PBA will kick off the season-ending Governors’ Cup. With no Grand Slam at stake, San Miguel, with AZ Reid returning, will be looking instead to defend the 2015 title it won by sweeping Alaska in four games.
So it’s payback time.
Depending on how the Aces would choose to approach it, the future could be now for the league’s most in-demand runner-up team.
Guiao’s take on what lies ahead could be a source of inspiration, but Compton and Alaska have to believe they can make it happen – preferably before the season ends.