Maverick Ahanmisi was not supposed to be playing for Rain or Shine.
But on Sunday night, in the opener of the third straight semifinal series between Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and powerhouse San Miguel Beermen, Ahanmisi proved why Yeng Guiao’s coaching staff was so keen on drafting him.
Ahanmisi came off the bench and provided the spark that Rain or Shine needed to overhaul an 18-point deficit and steal Game 1 from the Beermen, 98-94.
The Fil-Am rookie scattered a career-high 23 points including 8 in the big 2nd quarter run and the insurance free throws at the end as the Elasto Painters pulled off the stunner.
Ahanmisi came into the season with a chip on his shoulder after he was picked 3rd overall, leapfrogging his more celebrated and proven batchmates Scottie Thompson, Chris Newsome, Garvo Lanete, Baser Amer and Art dela Cruz.
“It was the coaching staff that really convinced me to get him and I believe a lot in our coaching staff. Naniwala ako sa kanila and they did not fail,” Guiao told FOX Sports after the game.
True enough, the 24-year old rookie played with veteran poise especially down the stretch where he sealed the game with 3 clutch free throws.
“We’ve been playing him as a finisher in the past few games. He makes good decisions, he takes good shots, he plays good defense. So ang laking complement niya kay Paul (Lee) lalo ngayon na si Paul is trying to gain his confidence,” Guiao said.
Ahanmisi stepped up his game as his backcourt partner Lee struggled from the field going 2-of-12.
“He was there when we needed him most. He’s just the glue that binds us together especially at the crucial moments,” said Guiao, who is now convinced that they made the right choice in drafting Ahanmisi.
“He should be a serious candidate for the Rookie of the Year,” Guiao added.
The former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher hit 4-of-5 from the foul line and went 8-of-13 from the field while going 1 rebound short of a double-double finishing with 9. He also added 3 assists and a block in easily his best game as a pro.
“Paul was just finding me open. My shots are going down. I wasn’t really thinking to score tons of points. I just came off the bench and try to provide the energy,” Ahanmisi said.
With nothing right going for Rain or Shine, Ahanmisi checked in the second quarter and sparked a big Rain or Shine run that cut the deficit to a manageable 10 points at the half.
The 6-foot-2 rookie guard added 15 in the second half to complete the big turnaround for Rain or Shine, which survived the game despite playing All-Filipino for the most part with their import Pierre Henderson-Niles in foul trouble.
“Coach Yeng has prepared us for this. No matter what the score, you have to keep fighting. You can’t count us out,” Ahanmisi said.
Used to being a spark plug off the bench since his college days, Ahanmisi said he is just repaying the trust that he’s getting, stressing that Guiao isn’t putting pressure on him to deliver, allowing him to play his game and flow naturally.
Rain or Shine is starting to cash in their bet on Ahanmisi. The big gamble is paying off.
“Since from Day 1, from the moment coach Yeng drafted me, I owed a lot of respect to him for trusting me and the coaching staff for giving me that confidence,” Ahanmisi said. – By Alder Almo
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo