With the departure to Japan of NLEX guard Kiefer Ravena to process his papers as an incoming Asian import in the B.League, Road Warriors head coach Yeng Guiao reminded his remaining wards they would prepare the rest of the way thinking they would no longer have their best player.
While the team clarified in an earlier statement that Ravena is bound to come home right after settling his requirements to finish NLEX's campaign in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, Guiao says he doesn't expect "The Phenom" to be able to return in time.
"I told the team, let's expect that we have to do this on our own. We should not expect that Kiefer can come back. It will be just a bonus," revealed Guiao to ESPN5, as NLEX sits at a tie for sixth with defending champion Barangay Ginebra with a 2-2 record.
"I don't know [if he'll come back], I'm not sure because of that limitation in time, if that is practical. If we're eliminated, what will he return for? I think it will depend on how far we will get. If we go to the semifinals, he may still see action, but if we're eliminated, there's nothing," he added, looking at the Road Warriors' seven games left in the elims.
Upon his arrival in Japan last Wednesday, Ravena began a 14-day quarantine. If and when he returns to the Philippines for the PBA restart in Pampanga, he will have to self-isolate at a hotel anew for at least 10 days.
"If you are stuck in a hotel for 10 or 14 days, you will come out and you're not going to play well. You will still have to compensate for conditioning, timing, rhythm, getting back to the system," explained the fiery mentor.
Who then, will step up in Ravena's absence? Guiao said NLEX would lean on collective effort led by Kevin Alas, who has put up a team-leading 18.5 points to go along with 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.8 steals in 29.1 minutes of action.
"If Kevin's numbers stay the same, I'll be very happy. He's already (done) his part. We do not want to demand more from him because Kiefer is not there. I think we'll have to demand more from the rest of the team," said Guiao of Alas, who has been their deadliest weapon all while doing it efficiently, tallying shooting numbers of 45.8%.
Another player expected to bask in the expanded limelight is Jericho Cruz, who recently starred for Guam in their failed bid to claim a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup.
"Just like Kevin, Jericho is an inside-outside player. He can attack the basket, shoot the three, and is a very rugged defender," said the NLEX shot-caller of their fourth-leading scorer at 9.3 points per contest.
Cruz, however, is far from 100%, since he has bounced back-and-forth between the Philippines and the U.S. territory in order to play. Over the past months, the former Adamson guard left for Guam thrice, and that may have disrupted his rhythm with NLEX, surmised Guiao.
Former Gilas member Don Trollano, who previously played under Guiao with both the national team and Rain or Shine, is also a player who is still easing into his role. In his first conference with the Road Warriors, he is averaging 7.3 markers and 4.8 boards, but his familiarity with the system and coaching style is already doing him favors in this transition phase.
"It might not take as long as somebody else because he already knows the system and my personality. It's going to take a little bit of time, but I think he's getting there," mentioned the well-respected coach.
Though still finding his stride in his first pro conference, rookie Calvin Oftana has nonetheless caught the eye of the coaching staff numerous times. The most recent NCAA MVP is averaging a respectable 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds and Guiao could only see big things coming for the third overall pick in this year's draft.
"I see a lot of upside. It will take a little bit more time for him to get his game going, to be able to study the professional game, and apply what the vets teach him, but Calvin Oftana is surely a potential star in the making," he said.