Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia is looking forward to the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft on December 16 in preparation for the possible retirement of Chris Tiu, as well as for a strong title campaign for the Philippine Cup next season.
Garcia told ESPN5 he was happy overall with how Rain or Shine performed in its 2017-18 campaign, reaching the semifinals for the first time under his watch after four straight quarterfinal appearances since the beginning of the previous season.
"We improved from last year as far as our performance in the second conference because we made it to semis. But it's really this third conference that we have always had a problem for the last three years," Garcia said.
The Elasto Painters entered the 2018 Commissioner's Cup as the top seed after compiling a 9-2 record in the eliminations. They got dragged to a knockout quarterfinals by GlobalPort (now NorthPort), which they managed to dispatch, before eventually falling to Barangay Ginebra in the semis.
The team's core represented the Philippines in the Jakarta Asian Games this year so the Elasto Painters had to play successive games upon resuming their PBA campaign in the 2018 Governors' Cup. Garcia's wards ended up with just a 3-8 win-loss record, wounding at 10th place in the process, failing to make the playoffs for the first time under his watch.
Garcia said he had no regrets when several of his players suited up for the Philippine team under former Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao.
"I don't think that (playing in the Asian games) became a distraction. On our part, what we wanted is to be a better team because the experience we got in the Asian Games was supposed to make us better. We just had a string of bad luck because our import wasn't able to jell in time with the locals," explained Garcia.
With two first-round draft picks this December (the TNT pick acquired from the Jericho Cruz-Sidney Onwubere swap and their own regular pick) Garcia believes they can shore the team up with fresh talent.
He said they haven't taken a close look yet at the initial pool of rookie applicants, but he expects NCAA stars CJ Perez of Lyceum and Robert Bolick of San Beda to be picked early in the first round.
With Tiu's future with the team still uncertain, one option is to look for a young guard who can eventually serve as Rey Nambatac's backup. Garcia said Nambatac can take the spot of Tiu in case the veteran playmaker decides to hang up his sneakers.
"But right now, management and the coaches will have to talk first on who to get in the draft. Though what's good is we have two draft picks in first round," he said.
Big Game James, still?
Garcia believes two-time PBA MVP James Yap can still play at a high level next season.
The 6-foot-2 Yap averaged 9.7 points and 3.0 rebounds, while shooting 30 percent from three-point zone in the Governors' Cup. Many were even surprised after Yap was named to the Philippine squad that played in the Jakarta Asian Games.
"The nice thing with James is he can create his own shot. He played well this year. Now he just need to be consistent," Garcia said of his veteran star.
"I think he works out everyday. He doesn't stop. Before practice, he does his plyo and he knows how to take care of his body so I don't see any problem with James," he added.