THE uneasiness started after Paul Lee walked out of the Big Dome floor last weekend in obvious pain - the second time in four games that the celebrated guard failed to finish a match for Rain or Shine in this PBA season.
Injuries are the primary concern for a player who has spent much of the offseason with Gilas Pilipinas: a hyperextended knee suffered in a loss to San Miguel Beer last October 21 and, just last Sunday, a bruised shin that kept him out of the final moments of the match against Talk 'N Text.
The injuries have no doubt affected his game. Except for his 22-point burst in Rain or Shine’s game against expansion team Kia Sorento, the 25-year-old guard from Tondo is just a shade of his old self in the Philippine Cup.
It is not, afterall, without precedent.
During his college career, Lee decided to simply forego his final year of eligibility with the University of the East Red Warriors after his longtime mentor, Lawrence Chongson, was replaced by Jerry Codinera.
“Oo, umalis siya sa amin nun. Nag-quit na lang. Hindi na siya lumaro, we didn’t even talk,” recalled Codinera of his stint as UE coach during UAAP season 73.
“Wala namang sinabing dahilan. Kaya nag-speculate na lang ako nun. Maybe nga because of Lawrence, yung affiliation niya, so I presumed mas nanaig yun kasi nga nawala si Lawrence sa UE,” said the former PBA star.
A high-ranking official of Rain or Shine admitted Lee's game is not where it should be at this point of the season.
“Medyo mababa talaga eh. Minsan nga nagtatanong rin mga bossing bakit daw ganun, ibang iba sa dati. Pero sa ngayon, iniisip na lang namin na may injury nga siya. Nami-miss lang siguro nila yung dati Paul na pumupukpok kahit pilay ang isang kamay,” said the team official, who asked not to to be named.
“Pero siyempre, naglalaro pareho ng basketball ang mga boss namin. Kaya hindi mo makukuwestyon ang kakayahan nila,” he added.
However, Rain or Shine therapist JD Calinawan said there is no question about the injuries that have hit Lee this season.
“Aksidente naman, kitang kita naman sa TV. Pag bagsak niya, na-hyperextend naman yung tuhod (sa game against San Miguel. Yung sa Talk 'N Text, natamaan talaga sa tuhod ni Ryan Reyes,” Calinawan said.
“Hindi pwedeng drama lang, nakikita naman sa camera,” he added.
But for Chongson, there is no reason to doubt Lee's loyalty to Rain or Shine. In fact, his long bond with Lee is proof enough of the Gilas guard's unwavering loyalty, Chongson added.
“Hindi ganun si Paul. Pag-nasa grupo mo siya, buo ang puso niyan sa 'yo," Lee's longtime agent and adviser said.
On Lee's decision to leave UE, Chongson explained: "Kaya rin hindi na siya bumalik nun, kasi nawala ako. Umalis na rin siya. Noong time na yun, nagdasal daw siya at naghanap siya ng sign kung lalaro pa ba siya o hindi na sa UE. Coach Lawrence left, so yun na yung sign sa kanya. Hindi na siya bumalik.”
Asked about Lee’s loyalty to Rain or Shine, Chongson gave his assurance.
“Syempre, andyan ang loyalty ni Paul sa team niya. Ngayon pa (na nakapirma na ulit siya). Kasi ako pa mismo ang pupukpok sa ulo niya kung maramdaman ko na nagluluko loko siya,” he said.
“Kung ako lang masusunod, gusto ko nga dyan na siya (sa Rain or Shine) sa buong career niya,” Chongson added.