LEO AUSTRIA AS GILAS PILIPINAS COACH




The name of this piece has the word “hard sell” at the front. If you’re living in a rock, I am pretty much pitching an idea that hopefully would stick in the minds of powerful people.

Anyway…




Gilas Pilipinas failed to get an Olympic qualifier invite.

I guess it’s understandable since the team placed last on the tourney.

It sucks.

Wait… I will try to veer away from saying “suck”.

It blows.

And it sucks.

Haha.

So we have all these speculations on which coach to choose after Yeng Guiao understandably stepped down. Must we return to the old dribble-drive system that has been our staple since the days of Rajko Toroman? The system gave Chot Reyes great success. Should we invite Tab Baldwin again? This is also a possibility since having him at the helm gave the team more confidence. Or how about tapping the services of Tim Cone again? I bet he wants to get back at Asia for what happened during the last time he handled the RP Team.

Whoever it is, he needs to tag with Leo Austria

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What?

Further reinforced by the recent showing of the San Miguel Beermen in the Terrific 12 (as they were the last Pinoy team to be eliminated in the Macau-based tourney), I don’t know why we are sleeping on the league’s first Rookie of the Year as our national team coach. I know he has a lot of flaws as a coach but at the same time, his resume speaks for itself. 

Ever since he came to San Miguel, the team became perennial title contenders. 

Austria’s first big title came in the international arena as well. Okay sure, the ABL is probably the baby food of international tourneys as compared to the NBA, Euroleague and even the PBA for that matter but it is a great kick-starter for global campaigns.

Take, for instance, June Mar Fajardo. The Kraken first got acclaim when he got name-dropped for the first incarnation of Smart-Gilas. With that said, just like Calvin Abueva and Paul Lee he stayed away from the program and focused on perfecting his brand in the ABL. Fajardo battled imports and wide bodies from all shapes and forms and almost a decade later, he holds the record for most PBA MVPs.

If you think about it, Leo Austria had a hand in those MVPs. Seeing how Fajardo and in some ways, Kai Sotto challenged their counterparts when they get the means to score, having a coach like Austria could be vital to properly integrate the awesomeness of June Mar Fajardo. 

He almost led the Adamson Soaring Falcons to a UAAP title in which Eric Camson kind of became equal to Greg Slaughter

Let that sink in. 

And here’s another reason – Terrence Romeo. A season ago, we almost wrote off Bromeo from Gilas Pilipinas because of his antics. He wanted the spotlight, he missed a lot of practices, he disrespects authority and in some ways, we saw San Miguel as punishment. I mean… how can he hog the spotlight if he’s teammates with a five-time MVP at the peak of his career? But nowadays, we are puzzled as to why Romeo is contented with his current setup. San Miguel all of a sudden reaped the award of a changed man. TNT got duped in some ways because they could have crippled SMB’s death lineup but instead settled for Brian Heruela and David Semerad. I know both players are doing well in TNT but as mentioned, instead of weakening the beast, they just made him more invincible. Romeo’s scoring is constantly increasing and he is happy coming off the bench and sitting out fourth quarters with the payoff of a title.

He just won Finals MVP!

And now he is dazzling a lot of club teams in Macau!

Leo Austria also had the hand in this.

The best reason why Gilas Pilipinas needs Leo Austria is plain and simple. He is one of those coaches who know how to make his peeps comfortable. Sure, some players like Gary David or Chris Lutz or Arnold Van Opstal might disagree but they are pretty much-isolated cases if you think about it. Players like Ronald Tubid, Chico Lanete, Yancy de Ocampo, and Paul Zamar are happy sitting on the bench with championships as compensation. There are players like Romeo, Christian Standhardinger, Von Pessumal and nowadays Arwind Santos who could start for other teams and act like prima donnas but aren’t at all pissed with the diminished minutes they are experiencing. Even June Mar suffered a benchwarmer’s role during the Governors’ Cup of last season.

This is basically how a typical national team looks like. Some players will start and some can just watch. When they come in though, they know to deal with the task at hand. San Miguel’s death squad has June Mar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, Terrence Romeo, Christian Standhardinger and more or less Von Pessumal plus the import.

This lineup is kind of like a typical national team squad! 

With Austria at the helm, they could have a pro-level coach that doesn’t try to devalue their past exploits. I hate the fact of turning superstars into role players. If you have twelve stars in your lineup, maybe they can do something cool with these players? I don't like hating people but the thing I hate about the 2019 Gilas Pilipinas squad is that their coach couldn't motivate them to go insane on the court. It's as if they are afraid to make mistakes and at the same time, they are too battle-worn to give a damn (another reason why as if CJ Perez and Robert Bolick are the only ones playing like all-stars). 

Sure, Yeng Guiao once coached Gabe Norwood, Paul Lee and Raymond Almazan in Rain or Shine, but do we really think they played their best under his tutelage?

Lee played under 30 minutes under his watch and his gameplay is a bit controlled. And it’s not like Paul Lee can’t lead a team. Just like Romeo, Lee kept his swagger from his Lawrence Tiongson days at UE and at Cobra Energy in the PBL to his current incarnation with Chito Victolero in Magnolia.

Meanwhile, we have yet to determine the gameplay of Rakenrol Almazan under Norman Black but unlike in Rain or Shine, he will get more minutes than what he got with the Elasto Painters.

The worst-hit is definitely Gabe Norwood. Sure, we see him as a defensive specialist but the last time he averaged in double figures in a PBA season was before Yeng Guiao replaced Caloy Garcia as Rain or Shine coach. The Norwood we know now is different from the Norwood that partnered with Solomon Mercado and Jay-R Reyes. Come to think of it, Yeng Guiao should have brought Beau Belga to China because he is pretty much the only player in Gilas who would whole-heartedly respond to whatever his former mentor wants.

And I guess this is how I am going to close out this piece. Prior to the entry of Austria to the fold, San Miguel was experiencing Petronovela. It’s the thing when players think they are star players and despite all the talents in the squad, they just can’t win a title. There are a lot of reasons why that phenomenon happened. For starters, San Miguel forced their early 2000s stars to sit in the sidelines even if they are still capable to deliver. I mean… how many “next Olsen Racelas” we had during that span? And then, remember when Santos, Cabagnot and Jay Washington had leadership issues? How about Beermen OGs like Danny Ildefonso and Danny Seigle speaking on the record about their disdain on the situation they were placed? Also, remember the Petronovela “curse” that happened with Marcio Lassiter and Dondon Hontiveros because the world is out to seek “vengeance” for all the lopsided trades?

Remember how it all ended when Leo Austria started to employ his presence?

Sure, if actual research on the current ways of coaching is needed, then we should just hire consultants and put a premium on scouts. Austria has a tendency to "choke" when the odds are in his favor. For example, Lance Stephenson and Salah Mejri routing the Beermen in the Terrific 12 tourney. This is where you pad his team with the best coaching deputies available. During Reyes’ run as Gilas coach, he had a platoon of peeps serving as scouts to check out the competition. I think this is one of the problems of Yeng Guiao’s squad. In some ways, this also became a problem for Gregg Popovich. In American football, they have offensive and defensive coordinators. I think Gilas Pilipinas can employ that as well.

Heck, if you just check out any random NBA game console, you have a surplus of lineup choices.

Perhaps, people could point out his iffy championship capability during import-laden tiffs. This is where the awesomeness of the MVP teams would step in. The SMC teams dominate the MVP teams in terms of local talent but with the exception of Justin Brownlee and Renaldo Balkman, the MVP teams kind of have the edge in taking top imports. So just imagine if Austria gets dibs on an awesome naturalized player like what he got when the Beermen obtained the services of Chris McColough?

Guiao made his PBA coaching debut in 1990 and in nearly 30 years has delivered seven championship titles. Leo Austria made his PBA coaching debut in 2004 and from 2013 (when he coached the San Miguel Beermen in the ABL) to September 2019, the former Shell star had won nine titles.

Guiao is used to play unwanted overachievers and turning them into champions like his Red Bull and Rain or Shine teams. Austria meanwhile, coaches best with a team of all-stars and creates beautiful harmony in the process as what we've seen at the SMB camp. 

Last time I checked, we bring the best Pinoy players in the tough tourneys. 

If I’m a Gilas Pilipinas representative, perhaps now is the time to check out the coaching awesomeness of Leo Austria.

Especially if he nails a grand slam title… two consecutive two-titled seasons isn’t a great feat in itself.  

END


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