MANILA, January 27, 2005 
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson  -  After an early exit from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup, Red Bull is determined to bounce back with a bang.

The Barakos finished last in the double-round classifications and failed to advance past the wildcard phase, losing a 98-77 decision to Shell in a do-or-die game. Red Bull played Shell with a twice-to-beat disadvantage.

It was a difficult campaign for Red Bull as DaVonn Harp, Mick Pennisi and Jon Ordonio were struck out of the lineup after three games. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the deportation of the three Fil-foreigners because of allegedly spurious birth documents that were used to facilitate their applications for dual citizenship.

Additionally, mainstay Junthy Valenzuela and center Omanzie Rodriguez sat out five games each and Vergel Meneses, 12–all due to injuries.

No less than 19 players suited up for Red Bull during the conference. Coach Yeng Guiao desperately tried to fill in the gaps and resurrected the likes of free agents Bong Alvarez, Long David, Jovy Sese and Ryan Bernardo. Even Rolando Basilides, who was Pop Cola’s fourth round pick in the 2001 draft, got a call-up and made his PBA debut against Talk ‘N’ Text last Dec. 8. Basilides never played another game.

Things got so bad for Red Bull that the Barakos lost their last six games by an average of 14 points.

But there were positive signs that are encouraging.

First, Enrico Villanueva stepped up to take over from Harp and emerged as Red Bull’s go-to guy. He wound up averaging 17.5 points and 9.4 rebounds. Just before Christmas, Villanueva was rewarded for his efforts with a P14.7 Million contract extension up to June 2009. His original pact would’ve expired this year.

Second, Lordy Tugade proved his mettle as one of the league’s top two-guards. He shone brightly on both offense and defense.

Third, slam dunk king Cyrus Baguio was a revelation at both guard spots.

Fourth, Nelson Asaytono showed he still has what it takes to put up big numbers. Who can forget his 29-point explosion in Red Bull’s 105-96 win over the Phone Pals?

Lastly, the Barakos displayed character in outlasting Sta. Lucia Realty in three overtimes and notching wins over quarterfinalists Purefoods, Shell and Alaska.

No wonder despite Red Bull’s record, Guiao was one of four candidates handpicked by PBA commissioner Noli Eala for the position of national coach.

Guiao impressed Eala and the selection committee with his substitution patterns, ability to bring out the best in his players’ game sense and unpredictability in coaching style.

During the selection process, Guiao revealed the fundamental concepts behind his success–"keep things simple, be flexible, players should be assured of their well-being physically and psychologically, a strong and persistent effort to scout opposing teams," among others.

So it came as no surprise when word leaked out last Monday, Guiao called for Red Bull’s first practice since its elimination from the Philippine Cup. Some 30 players showed up in what turned out to be open trials from 8:30 to 11 in the morning at the RFM Gym. Among the free agents on the court were Francis Rauschmayer, Nick Fasano and Robin Mendoza.

No sulking. No moping. No extended vacation. Red Bull is back in the gym working to get back on the winning track.

"Make no mistake about it, we’re rebuilding to become a championship contender," said a Red Bull insider. "We know what it’s like to be on top and what it’s like to be at the bottom. We’d rather be on top."

Nathaniel Addison, who runs a physical fitness and skills school in Long Beach, flew in early this week to offer his services to Red Bull. Addison has worked with former PBA import Tremaine Fowlkes who played for the Detroit Pistons last season.

Guiao recruited Gee Abanilla and Jun Tan as assistant coaches in place of Jojo Villapando and Alfredo Amador. Roehl Nadurata and Rudy Hines will remain in Guiao’s staff.

As for Harp and Pennisi, their appeals are in the courts to challenge the DOJ findings.

"Vonn is back in Columbus, Ohio, and he’s missing his wife in Manila," said the insider. "He’s not playing. He’s just waiting for the chance to come back. It’s the same with Mick who’s in Australia. His wife and two kids are in Manila. He’s been offered to play in Italy and the Middle East but he’s not budging. All Mick wants to do is to come back and play in the PBA."

Guiao isn’t holding his breath waiting for Harp and Pennisi to return. He’s moving forward as Red Bull rebuilds for the future.

Postscript: If you love magazines like "NBA Inside Stuff" "Car & Driver" "Guitar World" "Mobile PC" "PSM Cheats" "Scientific American Presents" "C/C + User’s Journal" "Saveur" and "Oprah," Emerald Headway–the leading distributor of foreign magazines–has those exciting titles and over 700 more for you to choose from. What’s more, their subscription prices are up to 20% cheaper than retail cover prices and there’s free delivery within Metro Manila. For details, call 647-4744 or visit the showroom at 218 Katipunan Ave., Blue Ridge, Quezon City. If you’re within the vicinity, visit the Bookazine outlets at Glorietta 4, Festival Supermall, Alabang Town Center, SM Southmall and SM Fairview.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved