MACAU – Even coach Yeng Guiao admits that he’s surprised with how NLEX has held its own in the Asia League Super 8 here.
Coming in as underdogs, the Road Warriors have made it to the semifinals after notching a 2-1 record, the biggest of wins coming in their 88-78 come-from-behind victory over Chinese side Xinjiang Flying Tigers on Thursday.
“Kala ko wala na eh,” he admitted as NLEX battled back from a deficit as high as 16 in the first half.
“The boys just played with a lot of heart and even if this is a side tournament, even if it’s a minor tournament, I felt like I have a newfound respect for the guys especially sa mga bago. They played their hearts out and they put in the effort. We made our Filipino fans here in Macau happy.”
Guiao lauded the performance of handful of his guys, giving special mentions to Mac Tallo, Jansen Rios, and Kenneth Ighalo as the three have established themselves as pivotal cogs in the team’s campaign in the tournament.
“It’s a revelation for guys like Mac, Jansen, and Iggy. I think we’ll go back to Manila with a newfound sense of confidence that against the odds, against the bigger teams, against more experienced teams in international play, we’re able to overcome a 16-point deficit and win by 10,” he said.
“This is a bigger team than we are, but we tried to put in the effort to counteract their size. I guess it’s just that we’re probably making adjustments to the international kind of play, and also, a mental toughness test that I’m happy that we passed," he added.
As much as NLEX is using this tournament to prepare itself for the season-ending 2018 PBA Governors’ Cup, Guiao is happy to see his side’s play as a testament to how Philippine basketball remains at par with the best leagues in Asia.
“I think it is an overachievement on our part because these teams we play, di naman ito pushover teams sa mga liga nila eh. We’re the pushover team in the PBA. That says a lot, not just for our team but the brand we play in the PBA. Magandang comparison din na di tayo nahuhuli with the best teams in Asia like the CBA and the KBL,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, Guiao isn’t content with just making it to the Final Four, knowing that as much of an overachievement this feat already is, why shouldn’t NLEX go for broke?
But the experience alone has been a huge shot in the arm for the Road Warriors that no matter what the result of their game will be against Guangzhou Long Lions on Saturday, the team can come home with smiles on their faces.
“I’m happy that it adds to what we learned from this tournament. It’s a learning process and the experience is invaluable,” he said.
“Also, we can eat a few more buffets," he added with a smile.