Clarito’s career night breathes life to Painters’ campaign

Jhonard Clarito (left) stretches for an easy layup and two of his 29 points. —PBA IMAGES

Jhonard Clarito (left) stretches for an easy layup and two of his 29 points. —PBA IMAGES

Jhonard Clarito, who admitted his desire to be picked by Yeng Guiao in the Rookie Draft but never happened two years ago, is glad to be flourishing under the same coach at Rain or Shine.

And it was fitting that Clarito’s rise from a virtual unknown among casual PBA fans to one of Guiao’s latest hidden gems came on full display under the bright lights of the Philippine Cup quarterfinals by keeping Rain or Shine alive on Sunday in their series with TNT.

“I was really happy when coach Yeng came back to Rain or Shine,” Clarito said in Filipino after a career-high 29 points led the Elasto Painters to a 121-113 victory over the Tropang Giga at Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Rain or Shine will meet TNT anew, either on Wednesday at Ninoy Aquino Stadium or Friday at Mall of Asia Arena depending on the outcome of the nightcap between Meralco and NLEX at press time, for a spot in the semifinals against either Terrafirma or San Miguel Beer.

The Painters hope to get another one against the Tropang Giga with their young core that includes Clarito, who in the prepandemic days played for the San Juan Knights in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) and Marinerong Pilipino in the PBA D-League before entering the Rookie Draft in 2022.

Clarito said he acted like a sponge by absorbing knowledge of former MPBL teammates who had PBA experiences, namely Larry Rodriguez, John Wilson and Mac Cardona.

“Larry (Rodriguez) told me that it would be great if I played for coach Yeng,” said Clarito, who at the time of his selection as a second-rounder by Rain or Shine was still handled by Chris Gavina while Guiao was calling the shots for NLEX.

Guiao, however, moved back to Rain or Shine in the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup, and gave Clarito plenty of reasons to be excited.

“When I ended up with Rain or Shine under coach Chris, I told myself that I would give my best,” he said. “But when we heard rumors of coach Yeng coming back to the team, I was totally excited about that possibility.”

It didn’t take long for Clarito to get Guiao’s attention, and Game 2 of the series reinforced that.

“Akala nila yung pwedeng sumikat yung gwapo lang (people think that only the good-looking players can become stars),” Guiao said in jest.

“He’s a hard-nosed player, a blue-collar guy and works very hard in practice. He’s naturally a rugged player which I really like and he wants to improve offensively.

“That’s why we gave him what he wanted,” added Guiao, referring to Clarito recently inking a two-year contract extension.

Clarito also had seven rebounds and four assists, apart from his physicality that included some sweet nothings with TNT’s Jewel Ponferada.

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Andrei Caracut had 21 points while rookie Adrian Nocum and Santi Santillan added 20 each. INQ