Amidst the chaos and uncertainty that threatened to envelop Gilas Pilipinas throughout the Asian Games and the start of the FIBA Asia Qualifiers, the most calming presence wasn't wearing a jersey. He didn't score a single point, nor did he spend a second on the floor.
Instead, he was the man the team looked to for guidance. And in that regard, coach Yeng Guiao was a critical piece of the basketball puzzle.
"Coach Yeng really is the glue that bonds this team together," Special Assistant to SBP President and Gilas basketball scout Ryan Gregorio shared. "He says the right things all the time."
As Gilas entered the dugout of the empty Smart Araneta Coliseum down 13 points 52-39, many thought that it would lead to a trademark Yeng Guiao explosion. After all, that's the reputation of being a fiery coach preceded him.
But it was the exact opposite in the dugout. Guiao instead told his players to simply stay the course, and trust that things would go according to plan if they could just do their part.
That made all the difference. Guiao trusted that his players knew the job that had to be done.
The result speaks for itself -- a complete turnaround in the second half, en route to a 92-81 victory over Qatar. It was a crucial victory because it holds off Japan from jumping to the third spot in Group F. But with the win, the Philippines remains in control with a 5-3 record.
The trust between Guiao and his players didn't come overnight for everyone. The core of the team in the Asian Games might have been Rain or Shine, but several other players were only experiencing life under Guiao for the first time. But soon enough, barriers were broken, in his own unique way.
"He practices what he preaches," Gregorio said of Guiao. "Like when he says 'we're staying in the same hotel, I'm staying with you in the economy class, I will eat whatever food you take,' those are the things that adheres him to all the players."
"People just love playing with him, and it's just a fantastic feeling," Gregorio added. "I have been a witness to such a genuine and sincere person. "That's exactly what we need -- the sacrifices we need to serve our flag and country."
Gilas Pilipinas emerged from the Asian Games with a fifth-place standing, and a split in the Asian Games qualifiers. It's not a gold medal or the two-game winning streak that everyone wanted, but considering the situation, it could have gone a lot worse.
So is Guiao the man for the job full-time? According to him, it's out of his hands.
"The next window is November 30 and then December 3," Guiao said after the win against Qatar. "I said that if they give me the opportunity, I will accept it because of how strong our bond has become. But I also said that if we can't make it to the World Cup, and I fail at that, then I will walk away. I will not hold on to this position if I can't do it. Someone out there can do a better job."
The Gilas Pilipinas coaching job comes with a lot of scrutiny. But for Guiao, what keeps him coming back for more are the relationships that develop.
"After a while, there's a bond that develops because you see them get cuts in their eyebrows, get bloody noses, and even lose their teeth," shared Guiao. "You see them missing time with their family- some of them even away from their pregnant wife. They're still here, so who am I to complain? Who am I to say no?"