HE has been to the finals 10 times before, winning six league championships along the way, but everything felt new all over again for Yeng Guiao, moments after Rain or Shine sealed a trip to the PBA Governors Cup finals on Wednesday night.
"It felt like the first time again," Guiao said.
The feeling is understandable. Not only has it been six years since the veteran coach last appeared in a championship series, Guiao said it has also been a while since he went to battle in the league with a team he can truly call his own.
Those title-less years Guiao endured were also marked with the frustration of not having the freedom and power to put together and run a team based solely on what the coach thought was right for the ballclub, the coach admitted in all candor.
That changed when he hooked up with Rain or Shine co-owners Terry Que and Raymund Yu, who not only gave their coach the authority to select the players that he wanted but also the financial backing to keep them in the team in the long term.
"I feel empowered again," Guiao said moments after a 92-82 win over B-Meg secured the Painters' first trip to a PBA finals. "It's been so long since I've felt control over my own team."
"Here [at Rain or Shine] I'm able to control the composition of the team and had the chance to exercise my preference," he added.
It is no surprise then that Rain or Shine looked strikingly similar to Guiao's teams in the glory years of the Red Bull franchise -- a band of low-maintenance players with small egos and big hearts.
And like the RFM and Red Bull teams before it, this Rain or Shine team in no time took on the personality of its fiery coach -- a scrappy unit that fights for every loose ball, plays every game as if it is its last, and throws off opponents with its sheer unpredictability.
All of Guiao's handpicked players, except perhaps for super rookie Paul Lee, may not even merit a second look from the league's big-money teams.
But just as Guiao has been empowered by the freedom given him by the owners, the sense of empowerment that Guiao gives his players has allowed them to shine on the big stage.
"That's why I've resisted the temptation of coaching for the big teams," Guiao said. "With a team like Rain or Shine, a large part of the satisfaction you get is in knowing that you have given the owners top value for the money they spend."
But the biggest pleasure of all, Guiao said, comes from winning games for a pair of low-key owners who are in the league for the right reason and do things the right way.
Que and Yu are two friends whose bond has been their passion for basketball, and have patiently built their pro ballclub up from scratch without breaking any rules.
"That's why it's a pleasure to coach for them," Guiao said.