Many eyebrows were raised when Joseller “Yeng” Guiao was appointed coach of the RFM’s expansion Pop Cola squad in the PBA in 1990. While he did a decent job with Swift in the Philippine Amateur Basketball League, Guiao, then only 31 years old, had no pro league experience, and observers wondered why he was picked over other more qualified and experienced coaches.
But RFM owner Joey Concepcion and team manager Elmer Yanga had Guiao’s back, and believed he was the right man for the job.
While the team struggled in its first year as an expansion franchise, the team rebounded with a banner campaign in just its second season. Through a series of crafty moves, ingenious trades, and signing of the right imports, the team, now called Diet Sarsi, improved by leaps and bounds in 1991, finishing third in the Open Conference and second in the All-Filipino.
On its third season, the squad now known as Swift annexed its first PBA championship in the 1992 Third Conference, bannered by super import Tony “Hurricane” Harris. Swift swept 7-Up in one of the most lopsided finals series in league history.
Guiao led Swift to another title the following season, in the 1993 Commissioner’s Cup with import Ronnie Thompkins. A southpaw defensive demon, Thompkins loved to swat away opponents’ shots, sending shivers down their spines with his presence in the shaded lane. Swift defeated Purefoods in the finals, and in just four seasons, Guiao had turned the team into perennial title contenders.
He left Swift under curious circumstances when the team engaged with Pepsi in the first and only coaches’ swap in league history just before the 1994 Governors’ Cup. Guiao couldn’t work his magic with the cellar-dwelling Pepsi/Mobiline franchise, and left coaching to be commissioner of the Philippine Basketball League in 1997.
But the coaching bug soon bit Guiao again, and he joined another expansion team, Red Bull, in his return to the PBA in 2000. After again struggling in its first season, Red Bull once again made the finals under Guiao in just his second year at the helm. Red Bull did Swift one better, taking the Commissioner’s Cup title in 2001 in just Guiao’s second season, led by Best Import Antonio Lang, upsetting the powerhouse San Miguel Beermen in the process.
The next season, Red Bull successfully defended its title against the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. In just three seasons at the helm, Guiao had re-established himself as one of the top coaches in the game. Similarly, Red Bull has become one of the league’s top teams, serving as a foil to the richer and more affluent franchises.
Guiao’s last championship came at the expense of Purefoods again in the 2005-06 Fiesta Conference. With import James Penny doing everything, the Barakos upended the Hotdogs in six games to win its third PBA title.
But that was the end of the glory days for the Red Bull franchise. Financial problems beset the owners, and the team traded away its best players one by one.
Guiao himself left the squad in 2010 to take over the Burger King Whoppers, which was in talks to be sold to businessman Mikee Romero. But the deal for the purchase fell through, and Guiao found himself coaching an Air 21 team that had a penchant for trading away its best players. In 2011, Guiao joined Rain or Shine, on the condition that he had last say on player transactions.
Barely a year later, Guiao has led the franchise to its first PBA finals trip. The Elasto Painters took Game One of the Governors’ Cup finals, 91-80, over B-MEG — curiously, the same Purefoods franchise he had defeated in two previous stops.
All of Guiao’s titles came in import-laced conferences. This time, he’s got the hulking Jamelle Cornley leading his team’s charge. Can Guiao get lucky for a third time? In any case, with his success at Rain or Shine, Guiao has once again established himself as one of the very best coaches in Philippine basketball.
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