AS great a talent Tyler Wilkerson was, Yeng Guiao – the acknowledged master of ‘topak imports’ – no longer sees himself having the patience and understanding to handle a basketball specimen in the mold of the controversial San Miguel Beer reinforcement.
Perhaps in his younger days, Guiao said he still would've had the energy and patience to accept the challenge of 'baby-sitting' a head case like the temperamental Wilkerson, much like he did with other numerous enigmatic imports in the past with whom he eventually won a championship.
But certainly not at this time, not at this stage of his coaching career.
“As good as he was, palagay ko it’s not worth the aggravation, it’s not worth the risk. Plus the fact na tumatanda na rin ako, ayaw ko na ring ma-stress pa ako, para kang nag-aalaga ng baby, para kang nagbe-baby sit. E puwede namang iba na lang,” Guiao reasoned out.
While admitting he had no personal info ‘sa kung anong klase yung toyo niya (Wilkerson),’ Guiao knows San Miguel did its darn best to keep in check an import who he said would had been the hands-down choice as Best Import if not for the falling-out he had with the Beermen that led to his banishment.
“In fairness to the coaching staff and management ng San Miguel, I’m sure alam nilang i-handle 'yun. Pag hindi nila na-handle yun kahit sino mahihirapan pang mag-handle,” he added.
“Siguro if I am younger I would take the risk,” he added. “As you grow old you know there are better options. It may not be worth it. You may not take a risk as much as you can nung bata ka.”
Take a risk. That’s what the 57-year-old re-electionist congressman from the first district of Pampanga did to at least five unpredictable reinforcements in the past, who went on and enjoyed success playing under Guiao.
Here’s Yeng’s take on his experience with ‘topak imports.’
TONY HARRIS – “Si Tony na 'yun (pinaka-topak). Sa iba kasi pag nahihirapan na akong i-handle at hindi naman kagalingan, bakit ka magtitiyaga? Si Tony kasi napakagaling kaya pagti-tiyagaan mo,” said Guiao of the streak-shooting 48-year-old former Boston Celtic who helped him win his first-ever career championship in the league back in the 1992 Third Conference with Swift.
“Maybe he has fits of anger where he gets out of control, and you can’t get out of control with him. Hindi kayo puwedeng magsabay. Pag ganun palalampasain mo siya, tsaka ikaw naman palalampasin ka niya,” he recalled of the import, who, until now, owns the highest single individual scoring record of 105 points in the 44-year history of the PBA.
“Not any particular incident (about him). Yun lang na he might explode on practice, get angry at his teammates, or get angry at officials. He knows he can’t get angry at me,” Guiao said with a laugh.
“Pero dun niya nailalabas. Meron siyang ibang outlet.”
RONNIE THOMPKINS – “Actually si Thompkins mabait siya,” was how he described the late Swift import, who was the pillar of strength of the franchise's championship team in the 1993 Commissioner’s Cup.
“Meron lang siyang ugali na short tempered siya but he can be talked to. Pag kinausap mo bumababa agad yung emotions niya.”
Talented as he was, Thompkins’ lasting image in the league involved a chase with a running Ricky Relosa on the Astrodome floor following a brawl between players of Swift and Formula Shell.
He tested positive for drugs in 1996 and was banned for good in Asia’s first ever play-for-pay league. Thompkins was later found dead in a New York hotel room in 2003, a suspected victim of heart attack.
ANTONIO LANG – “Matalino si Tony Lang. His problem sometimes is he thinks he’s smarter than the coach,” he said of the former NBA player responsible for giving the Red Bull franchise its first ever league championship during the 2001 Commissioner’s Cup.
“Yun lang nagkaka-problema kayo sa mga diskarte. Duke kasi yun,” was what the problem Guiao said he had with Lang, now 43 and a back-to-back NCAA champion with the Blue Devils in 1991 and 92.
“Sometimes he thinks he’s better than the coach so you just have to put him in his place.”
A valedictorian in high school, Lang was a second-round pick of the Phoenix Suns in the 1994 draft and had stints with Toronto, Philadelphia, and Miami. He is currently a deputy at Utah Jazz under coach Quin Snyder, a former Duke player.
JAMEEL CORNLEY – “He is an emotional player who gives his best everytime,” said Guiao about the explosive import who guided Rain or Shine to its first and so far only PBA championship in the 2012 Governors Cup.
“He's highly emotional, very sensitive. But the nice thing about him is you know every night he is 100 percent. Hindi ka magdududa, alam mo every night pukpok siya,” Guiao added.
The 29-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio was the latest – and perhaps last – erratic import handled by Guiao. He would later be involved in a series of controversies outside the playing court - and event spent a night in a Philippine jail - following his championship run with the Elasto Painters.
LEWIS LLOYD – "Kung natatandaan mo meron kaming import dati (sa Sarsi), si Lewis Lloyd. He’s such a wonderful talent. Magaling talaga,” said Guiao, recalling the former NBA player who suited up for Sarsi (1990 Second Conference) back in the days when Yeng was still starting out in his coaching career.
Known as the ‘Black Magic,' Lloyd played seven seasons in the NBA and spent his best years with the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, where he saw action in the 1986 finals won by the Boston Celtics.
But he also had drug-related issues that led to his suspension from the NBA. Although reinstated two years after, the 57-year-old Philadelphia native was never the same again.
“He had drug issue problem even in the NBA, so it could have been the effect na, that you have to remind him about having practices, that you even have to remind him about the game,” said Guiao.
“Pero pag naglaro, makikita mo naman yung talent niya. Alam mong magaling talaga sa kilos pa lang, nagka-problema lang talaga sa drugs.”
With the exception of Lloyd, all the four are recipient of the Best Import award other than a championship winner.
So how does one handles a head case of an import?
“Sa tingin ko alam mong laruin yung balance,” replied Guiao, whose six league titles all came in import-laden tournaments. “Alam nilang at a certain point you will discipline them, at a certain point you will impose your will or rules on them. But they should also know that there is a balancing side na you will understand them when they make mistakes, you will not judge them right away when something happens."
Added the fiery Rain or Shine coach, “You will not put the blame on them, everybody has to take the blame. Kasi ang nangyayari minsan, which is the common mistakes of other teams, you try to put the blame on the import, when it’s not really only the import that is the problem. E, may mga imports na hindi nagre-react ng maganda sa ganun.”
Now that’s lesson 101 straight from the master of ‘topak imports’ himself.