Baptism of fire for Tiu
Rain or Shine rookie Chris Tiu, pictured right with Ginebra's Jayjay Helterbrand, must hit the ground running if he hopes to impress coach Yeng Guiao. Jerome Ascano

RAIN or Shine coach Yeng Guiao is confident rookie Chris Tiu can hold the fort in the absence of star guard Paul Lee and keep the Elasto Painters respectable in the early stages of the PBA's 38th season.

With last season's Rookie of the Year awardee Lee set to sit out a good chunk of the Philippine Cup eliminations as he recovers from shoulder surgery, Guiao this early has put a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Tiu even before the former Ateneo star can get his feet wet in the pro league.

“We expect Chris Tiu to take the spot left by Paul Lee who will be out for much of the conference,” Guiao told Spin.ph following Rain or Shine’s close 92-98 loss to Barako Bull at the Reyes gym.

Guiao also has no doubts that Tiu will be up to the task, describing the longtime amateur star as a fast learner who has the skills to run the show from the point guard position.

“Mabilis namang nakaka-pick up si Chris. Though he’s not gonna be our main option on offense, still he can knock down the threes when needed. He can also direct our plays and dish out assists also," said Guiao, recently named Coach of the Year after leading the Painters to the Governors Cup championship.

Tiu, taken with the No. 7 pick overall in the last rookie draft, is also an underrated defender, Guiao said.

"Defensively, people underestimate him, but honestly, he’s also a good defender kaya malaking bagay siya ngayon especially in the absence of Paul,” said the Painters coach.

Tiu is also expected to get a lot of help in the backcourt from former high school teammate TY Tang and Smart Gilas 2.0 standouts Jeff Chan and Gabe Norwood, a do-it-all player who is expected to share the point guard duties with Tang and Tiu in Lee's absence.

A bigger concern for Guiao is Rain or Shine's lack of size in the frontline -- a problem that was eased by the presence of import Jamelle Cornley in the Governors Cup but should be magnified in an all-Filipino tournament.

However, Guiao is counting on undersized and underrated frontliners like Larry Rodriguez at Ronnie Matias to ease the load on Beau Belga and JR Quinahan.

“Maliit kami coming into the season, but this would be a perfect opportunity for a lot of my undersized big men to step up," the 53-year-old said.

"Kasi kung mapapansin mo, sila Larry Rodriguez at Ronnie Matias di naman gaanong nagamit nung past conferences na may import. Ngayong all-Filipino, opportunity na nila ito to show what they can do.” added the 53-year-old Guiao.

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