RYAN Arana is just one of a handful of players who were struggling to find their place in the PBA until they blossomed under the wings of Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao.
Now Arana and his teammates want to repay their coach in a big way.
“Sabi nga namin ng mga teammates ko, ang dami ng mga PBA legends ang hinawakan ni coach. Andami na niyang teams na binigyan ng championship, pero wala ni isa ang nanalo ng all-Filipino (championship),” said Arana, rattling off the names of teammates like Beau Belga who shared his sentiment.
“Kaya motibasyon talaga namin, kami 'yung grupo na makapagbigay nito sa kanya. Yun na lang ang kulang ni coach eh. Dalawang beses na namin siya nabigo, sana sa pagkakataong ito, hindi na,” added Arana.
Rain or Shine's scrappy band of players has twice reached the Philippine Cup Finals, but came up short both times. But Arana has good reason to believe this season represents the Elasto Painters' best chance to hand six-time champion Guiao the coveted all-Filipino championship.
The Painters, for one, headed to the playoffs in top form with seven successive wins. They are also seeded into the semifinals, so are well-rested for the tough grind. Aside from that, grand slam champion Purefoods - a team that beat them twice in the finals last season alone - is gone.
“Hindi naman sa minamaliit yung possible naming makalaban sa semis, pero yung pagkaka-eliminate sa Purefoods, nakahinga kami ng maluwag,” said Arana.
“Yung Purefoods kasi kontrapelo namin eh. Kahit pinahihirapan namin sa playoffs, hindi kami madalas nakaka-usad sa kanila. Kumpleto kasi yung team na 'yun,” added the former La Salle standout.
Arana, however, insisted that they are not looking past Meralco and Alaska, which will clash in a one-game playoff for the right to face Rain or Shine in a best-of-seven semifinal series.
“Malakas din 'yung dalawang teams na 'yun. Don’t get me wrong, pero I am just being realistic. Yung lineup ng Purefoods, powerhouse talaga. Dadaan ka sa butas ng karayom kung sila kalaban mo lalo sa playoffs,” he said.
“Kahit naman kayo pag tinanong ko, sasabihin niyo rin na kumpleto ang Purefoods mula sa gwardya hanggang sa slot position. Kumpleto 'yun, kahit third group nila malakas,” added the Casiguran, Aurora native.
Arana also likes the fact that traditionally strong teams like top seed San Miguel Beer, Talk 'N Text and Barangay Ginebra will be trying to knock each other out in the other half of the playoff bracket.
“Yun ang nagpaganda talaga ng chances namin. Yung mga mabibigat na teams, sila-sila ang magpapatayan sa kabila,” he said.
However, Guiao said the last thing he wants to do is pick an opponent, prefering to let the development take its course.
“Ayaw kong mamili. Bahala na kung ano ang ibigay sa amin ng tadhana. Sabi nga nila, it’s hard to pick your poison. Mahirap 'yun, mamimili ka ng kalaban,” said Guiao who is seeking his seventh PBA crown in the conference.
Guiao, though, admitted that his top players are now in the prime of their careers.
“Nasa peak na ang mga key players namin. Sila Beau, Gabe (Norwood), Jeff (Chan) and Paul Lee. I think kung dati nabibigo kami sa finals ng all-Filipino, siguro ngayon, masasabi ko na ito ang best chance namin,” he said.
“Pero sabi ko nga, sa pagsubok na mga pinagdaanan namin, I am confident mas tumibay ang dibdib ng mga players ko ngayon. Siguro mas handa kami ngayon.”