Painters build for next season
- Joaquin M. Henson () - July 5, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Rain Or Shine coach Caloy Garcia said yesterday the Elasto Painters’ fourth-place finish in the PBA Fiesta Conference this season will go a long way in building the team’s confidence for the future.

In only its third pro year, the Raymund Yu-Terry Que franchise has risen from the depths to become a serious title contender and fell two wins shy of making it to the Fiesta Conference Finals.

The team was known as the Welcoat Dragons in their PBA debut in the 2006-07 Philippine Cup, posting a 3-15 record and losing nine in a row to finish 10th and last in the standings. Only Jay-R Reyes, Rob Wainwright, Jireh Ibanes and Denver Lopez remain with the franchise from coach Leo Austria’s original lineup. Gone are the likes of E. J. Feihl, Joey Mente, Froilan Baguion and Jojo Tangkay.

Welcoat had four straight bottom-of-the-barrel finishes until Garcia, who took over from Austria a week before the 2007-08 Fiesta Conference began, piloted Rain Or Shine to sixth place in the Philippine Cup with a 10-10 record this season.

Then came the “breakout” Fiesta Conference as the Elasto Painters were a win short of qualifying for the semifinals outright, beat Purefoods in a best-of-three quarterfinal series and led, 2-1, in the semifinals before losing three straight to Barangay Ginebra.

Garcia, 34, said he couldn’t ask more from the Painters who clearly overachieved.

“I’m really proud of the guys, how they played against the odds,” said Garcia, a former St. Benilde cager who went to four PBL Finals and won a title for Welcoat before joining the PBA as Austria’s assistant in 2006. “Of course, we felt bad that we weren’t able to extend our semifinal series to a Game 7. But Ginebra did such a good job defensively in Game 6.”

Garcia said before the semifinals, he reminded the Painters to forget about their earlier 43-point loss to Ginebra. “I told the guys to just play it out, play hard, stick together and for sure, we’ll get some wins,” he went on. “When we went up, 2-1, we suddenly realized we could actually make it to the Finals. Then, our guys started getting sick or injured. We were hit badly at the two-spot with Sol (Mercado) out, Jireh sitting out two games and Ryan (Arana) missing Game 2.”

Things went from bad to worse as in the third-place playoff against Burger King last Wednesday, Rain Or Shine played without ailing Gabe Norwood, Wainwright and Reyes.

“Gabe, Rob and Jay-R went down with fever secondary to viral infection,” said Garcia. “It all started with Jai (Lewis) in the third game against Purefoods. The other guys got it from Jai. After Jai, Jireh was next then assistant coach Mike Buendia then Denver, Jay-R, Rob, Sol and Gabe.”

During the playoff game against the Whoppers, Reyes rested in the hospital while Wainwright stayed home. Norwood tried to warm up but couldn’t get energized. Still, winding up fourth was a major achievement – it was the highest finish ever for the franchise.

“Personally, I owe it all to management,” said Garcia. “This is my third conference with the team. I’m grateful to management for giving me the opportunity to coach. Whatever our team achieved this season is our way of giving back to management, of thanking our owners for their trust and support. In the end, everything just fell into place with management, the players and the staff jelling at the right time.”

Garcia said in two or three weeks, he will sit down with management to discuss the team’s make-up for next season. There are eight players with expiring contracts – Reyes, Wainwright, Lopez, Estong Ballesteros (now an assistant coach), Don Dulay, Mark Isip, Mark Andaya and Gherome Ejercito.

“We’ll be picking fifth in the coming draft and we really don’t know who’ll still be available when our turn comes,” said Garcia. “We’d like to get a big guy and a shooter. There are many players who are possibilities like Rico Maierhofer, Chris Ross, Chris Timberlake, Josh Venlandingham, Ogie Menor and Marcy Arellano. Our choice will depend on who’s available when our turn to draft comes.”

Another prospect is Jervy Cruz. And still another is Japeth Aguilar if he decides to apply for the draft.

From the cellar, Rain Or Shine has emerged to be the PBA’s team on the rise. For the Elasto Painters, when it rains, it shines.

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