A LOT of eyebrows were raised when the PBA Governors Cup started after Rain or Shine decided to pick Wendell McKines over AZ Reid, a two-time Best Import awardee who just a year ago had led the Elasto Painters to the finals.
Count some Rain or Shine players among those surprised by the move.
“Oo, nagulat rin ako 'nun (sa desisyon ni coach Yeng Guiao) kasi alam naman namin na si AZ ulit ang kukunin,” said Lee on the choice of McKines, who had a stint with Alaska in the 2013 Governors Cup so forgettable the team didn't even bother to bring him back the next season.
Slotman Beau Belga, in previous chat with Spin.ph before the conference began, bared that a lot of people were asking him about the decision to snub Reid in favor of McKines.
“Marami ngang nagtatanong sa akin ng ganyan. Pero alam naming gamitin 'yan. Alam ni coach ginagawa niya. May plano siya riyan,” said Belga during the finals of the last Commissioner’s Cup, where McKines was already in town.
Heightening the doubts was Reid's impressive performance in a Commissioner's Cup game against his former team, where he led the Beermen to a 129-114 win last May 13 - a stint marred by trash-talking and a run-in between Reid and Guiao.
It didn't help that Rain or Shine lost four of their first five games with McKines, sparking talk that the hulking import was on the way out.
But asked what he saw in McKines, Guiao gave a very simple response.
“Well, we tried AZ. He was a Best import twice. We got to the finals pero parang hindi namin ma-finish (mag-champion) with AZ, so we decided to take a gamble, balasa kumbaga sa tagalog,” said Guiao.
“We had good recollections of Wendell. He is an undersized big man. He has a strong body and he can guard imports bigger than him. Plus we recalled na yung energy niya mataas,” he added.
Looking back now, Guiao is glad he took the gamble.
“Of course, we made the right decision. We had no regrets about that decision,” said Guiao with a wide grin as he looked back at McKines’53-point, 17-rebound, five-assist, five-block performance in Rain or Shine's epic 113-110 win over the Beermen in Game Two of their semifinal series.
Is Rain or Shine playing better now with McKines on board, Guiao was asked.
“Siguro relative yung better. Sa ngayon, nasa semis pa lang kami. With AZ, we got all the way to the finals. Hindi pa naman tapos. The proof of the pudding is in the eating ika nga. Kailangang makita muna natin kung ano ang final result,” he said.
Ryan Arana, a good friend of Reid, believes the two Americans play differently but pointed out that McKines has a better-rounded game.
“Good decision na kinuha ni coach Yeng si Wendell. Meron silang sari-sariling kakayahan pero for now, I go for Wendell,” said Arana. “Everything sa kanya lahat nanggaling- offense, defense and energy.
"Talagang siya ang nagbibigay sa team. Minsan kami gusto na naming mag-give up pero, siya gusto niyang manalo kaya nadadala kami. Malaking bagay siya sa amin,” he added.
McKiness was averaging 28.46 points, 14.77 rebounds, 2.08 assists and 1.39 blocks per game before he went berserk in Game Two against the Beermen.
Rain or Shine's versatile wingman Gabe Norwood raves about McKines' efficiency.
“The guy came out with 53, and shot almost 80 percent. That’s unheard of. Hopefully we help him more next game so he wouldn’t have to score 53,” said Norwood.
Alaska’s former coach and now Meralco assistant mentor Luigi Trillo is happy to see his former import prove his mettle with Rain or Shine.
“I should be happy for him because he’s worked hard. He seems like he is in shape and coach Yeng is a type of coach that can bring out the best in him,” said Trillo.
“Truly happy for Wendell and his chance with RoS. He is in better shape the second time around and is making the most of his opportunity under coach Yeng,” he added.
Watch video of interview with Guiao, Paul Lee and Norwood: