RICO Villanueva started his career playing under coach Yeng Guiao. It ended on Wednesday night under the same set-up.
Recurring injuries left Villanueva, 37, no other option but to finally walk away from the sport that had been very good to him as the veteran big man announced his retirement shortly after NLEX’s season ended with an 89-77 loss to Star in the PBA Governors Cup quarterfinals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Villanueva spent his final year with the Road Warriors mostly sitting on the bench as knee injuries hampered his season that saw him take on a procedure to repair an MCL tear during the Philippine Cup.
For consolation, the seven-time All-Star ended his career still playing for Guiao, the same coach who tabbed him with the no. 7 pick (first round) during the 2003 rookie draft under Red Bull.
“It’s been a privilege coaching him when he’s started and when he’s ending,” said Guiao of the 6-foot-5 Villanueva, with whom he won a championship with Red Bull during the 2005-06 Fiesta Conference.
The fiery mentor admitted the wear and tear of the game already caught up with Villanueva, a one-time Finals MVP, and as hard as he tries to get back even at least half of the same shape he was during his prime, injuries just wouldn’t let him do so.
“The only problem now na patapos siya, he couldn’t get back into game shape because nagre-recur na yung mga injuries niya. So talagang tinapos na lang niya yung season na ito,” according to Guiao.
“But it would have been better if he was able to play and he was healthy. Yun lang ang problema niya, the last few months was that maybe his body was giving up on him already. So that’s really the time to call it quits and enjoy the rest of his young life.”
There was no doubt, Villanueva enjoyed his finest years under Guiao.
Other than a championship and Finals MVP, Villanueva was also Best Player of the Conference that same season Red Bull won a title and selected as part of the Mythical First team. He was likewise the league’s Most Improved Player in 2004-05 and included in the all-Defensive team that same campaign.
After his stint with Red Bull, Villanueva also suited up for San Miguel, Purefoods, Barangay Ginebra, Barako Bull, Globalport, Air21, and finally NLEX.
Guiao has nothing but good words to the former Ateneo stalwart, whom the coach said is already made financially.
“He’s created a lot of good memories especially when we’re together at Red Bull,” recalled Guiao. “He’s financially stable so we don’t have to worry about Rico, we don’t have to worry that he won’t be able to take care of himself.”
While Villanueva will no longer be playing, Guiao disclosed the player will still be around and get involved in the game.
“I think he still wants to get involve in basketball, maybe in another capacity. But we still don’t know that yet,” he added.