by Tito S. Talao
SEOUL – It didn’t take long for Yeng Guiao and Paul Lee to meet after leaving Rain or Shine during the off-season and going their separate ways.
Unless the PBA changes its original plan to pit the NLEX Road Warriors against the Star Hotshots on opening day of the 2016-17 Philippine Cup on Nov. 20, marking the start of the 42nd PBA season, Guiao and Lee, together for five years at Rain or Shine since 2011-12, get to share the floor and the spotlight again – although from adjacent sides – five weeks after they bid the Elasto Painters farewell.
Guiao, after leading RoS to two championships, accepted an irresistible offer to coach NLEX, while Lee, who won Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 and Finals MVP in this year’s Commissioner’s Cup, was traded to Star for two-time MVP James Yap.
During the recent PBA Press Corps Awards at Gateway Mall in Cubao, Guiao, named to the first-ever All-Interview team, left the door open for a reunion with Lee, voted Comeback Player of the Year.
“If there’s any chance I can get him, especially wala na siya sa Rain or Shine, wala naman akong agreement or any moral obligation to any other team other than my own,” Guiao told ABS-CBN Sports. “So if there’s a possibility, we will explore it.”
To which Lee responded: “Maliit lang naman ang mundo natin sa PBA, so, malay nyo, baka magkasama kami uli.”
Though more of wistful thinking than actual prophecy, the statements of coach and player emerge as interesting subplots to their maiden showdown as first-time protagonists.
Even Star Hotshots governor Rene Pardo seemed more amused at the encounter than concerned with the outcome.
“We’re looking forward to that meeting between Coach Yeng and Paul Lee,” said Pardo yesterday at the Plaza Hotel where PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa and the PBA board, led by chairman Mikee Romero, the Globalport Batang Pier team owner, are winding up their pre-season planning session.
“But of course we’re hoping Paul Lee will prevail,” Pardo added.
Rain or Shine, not Star, should have been NLEX’s opening schedule, ranging Guiao with his former ballclub. But according to sources, the E-Painters sought a deferment after a minor knee procedure had to be done on Yap, requiring at most a two-week rest.
The Hotshots and Lee, with new coach Chito Victolero, then stepped into the picture.
Nonetheless, the possibility of the inaugural offering at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, which will follow an elaborate kick-off ceremony, being changed remains a possibility, according to league media bureau chief Willie Marcial, depending on the closing talks of the league governors.
But until that happens, the Big Dome hosts Yeng Guiao vs Paul Lee on opening day two weeks from now.
San Miguel Beer is the defending Philippine Cup champion, having beaten the Alaska Aces by coming back from a 0-3 deficit in the Finals last year, creating history and giving birth to the neologism “Beeracle.”