NLEX signs Ighalo, Lao to contract extensions

NLEX, the PBA team, is known to be a squad built around talented guards Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas, but there were moments when these two players were badly missed by the Road Warriors during the team’s struggling years two years ago.

Unsung heroes Kenneth Ighalo (left) and Kyles Lao will continue to perform a special role coming off the bench for the Road Warriors this coming season.

Both second generation cagers were not in the line-up for different reasons—Ravena spent 18 months serving the suspension imposed by FIBA (the International Basketball Federation) after taking a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) while Alas tore his ACL that sidelined him for nearly a year.

In all those years, unheralded guards Kenneth Ighalo and Kyles Lao were able to hold the fort for the Road Warriors.

Spending the few years of his pro career on the reserve list, Ighalo finally got the big break when he was given the minutes by head coach Yeng Guiao, who also had to convert this previously known big man to playing the guard spots.      

“Etong si Iggy (Kenneth Ighalo), alam ko nung college ito big man ang laro nito – kwatro or kung minsan, singko pa laro nito. So when he got into the PBA, syempre he was undersized in that position. That’s also one reason why he was not able to get minutes because he’s out of position. When we got him, we emphasized to him that he has to develop a new set of skills, being able to play at the wings as a three or even at a two,” Guiao said.  

“When you do that, you have to develop outside shooting, you have to develop quickness, because you’re going to be matched up with guys who are not slow, but guards who are quick. Kailangan I-develop mo yung quickness mo, kailangan mayroon kang outside shooting, kailangan marunong kang mag-handle (ng bola). That’s the problem with that shift, Guys coming fom the college leagues, are usually playing a different position. Then you have to upgrade your game and develop your skills. The guys who’ll be flexible to adapt will always have an advantage.”

Lao, on the other hand, was drafted by the Road Warriors in the third round of the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft, and his future was uncertain, until disaster struck on NLEX that hampered the guard rotation of the team after losing the services of both Ravena and Alas.

The lefty point guard was playing steady, but when Ravena and Alas returned, he had to make the ultimate sacrifice of not just giving up the minutes he previously enjoyed, but also his spot when the PBA played inside the Bubble in Clark City, Pampanga last year.       

 “Some people need to make that sacrifice. I didn’t do that decision all by myself, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for it. I usually do a lot of consulting with my coaching staff. I don’t want to be the only sole decision-maker, especially with regards to the line up, or choices of players. Ganun talaga eh,” said Guiao.

 “Alam mo naman yung team namin. Para kaming security agency. We have a lot of guards. Some of these guards will have to wait for their time, for their turn, and Kyles recognizes that. He’s playing that role and he has sacrificed, but at the same time, he’s developing his game.”

The fiery mentor was able to acknowledge the contributions made by these two unsung heroes and that’s why they were rewarded by the Road Warriors by giving them a contract extension. He believes these two players will play the supplementary role once the new season begins.

 “Alam naman natin may potential ito (Lao) at nakita natin ito before. Nag-struggle kami, we didn’t have Kiefer (Ravena), we didn’t have Kevin, but he was able to step up. But of course, kapag dumating na yung iba na magti-take over ng minutes, then you have to develop again and make contributions— in a different situation and capacity. That sacrifice is needed and these guys are willing to do that. I’m happy na they were able to recognize that,” added Guiao.

For Lao, now is the best time to get himself better and the early elimination of NLEX in the Bubble last year had somehow proven to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed everyone more time to prepare.     

 “The most important thing besides the small group practices is the individual work. I think some of us took the time for granted before, now is the best time to rectify all of those. We now have enough time, maski sa bahay or if you can find another court or another gym to work out, you have to do that,” added Lao.  

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