Never another Chot Reyes

There will never be another Chot Reyes in the history of Philippine basketball, affirming his legacy as easily the most innovative, fashionable, passionate and flamboyant mentor to bring honor to the country in the sport that millions of Filipinos love. Throw in controversial, too, as in three different tours of duty as national coach, Reyes brought a flair to his job of calling the shots in a way that you either liked or didn’t. But no matter how he’s judged by fans, it can’t be disputed that Reyes has left an indelible mark in the record books.

Reyes, 55, will always be known for bringing the Philippines back on the world stage of basketball after a 36-year hiatus. He returned the Philippines to the FIBA World Cup in 2014, doing a MacArthur that stamped his class as a significant player in the coaching profession. The Philippines’ previous stint in the World Cup was when Manila staged the 1978 edition where the hosts failed to win a single game. In 2014, Reyes nearly toppled highly-favored Croatia which escaped with an 81-78 win in overtime and came close to beating Argentina. NBA point guard Pablo Prigioni of Argentina cited Reyes’ coaching as totally out of the box and said his revolutionary approach almost led to an upset. Argentina barely downed the Philippines, 85-81. Reyes also put the Philippines on the brink of defeating Puerto Rico, led by NBA guard J. J. Barea. Puerto Rico won, 77-73.

The Philippines exited the 2014 World Cup on a high note, beating Senegal, 81-79 in overtime as Reyes notched the country’s first win in the quadrennial event in 40 years. The achievements will not go unnoticed in chronicling the milestones of Philippine basketball history.

Another Reyes feat was becoming the first Filipino ever to win the Jones Cup in 2012. Ron Jacobs piloted the Philippines to two Jones Cup titles in 1981 and 1985 while Tim Cone did the same in 1998. But Reyes was the first Filipino coach to strike gold. In 2016, Bo Perasol followed in Reyes’ footsteps and became the second Filipino coach to hit paydirt in the Jones Cup with Mighty Sports powered by seven imports.

In the PBA, Reyes made his mark with five Coach of the Year awards and eight championships. He broke into the coaching ranks with the Purefoods franchise in 1993 and in his very first conference, won the All-Filipino Cup with a 4-2 victory over San Miguel Beer in the Finals. Reyes coached Purefoods, Sta. Lucia Realty, Pop Cola, Coca-Cola, San Miguel Beer and TNT in a storybook PBA career. His last trophy came in the 2011-12 Philippine Cup with TNT.

Reyes developed the dribble-drive offense into an art form with the Philippine team, capitalizing on speed and kickouts to offset a natural disadvantage in size. He dizzied the opposition with unconventional combinations and matchups, deploying players in multiple positions. Under his watch, Gabe Norwood metamorphosed into an all-around defensive specialist who could guard anyone from one to three and sometimes, even four. It was also under Reyes’ watch that Jayson Castro was hailed as Asia’s No. 1 point guard.

At the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships in Manila, Reyes cracked the dreaded South Korean jinx by leading the Philippines to a rousing home victory over the feared nemesis, 86-79, in the semifinals. Against Iran in the final, the Philippines played without naturalized import Marcus Douthit and battled courageously in dropping an 85-71 decision. The silver medal finish qualified the Philippines for the World Cup the next year and took Reyes’ battlecry of “Laban Pilipinas Puso” to a resounding crescendo.

In the ongoing 2019 FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers, Reyes led the Philippines to a 4-2 record, losing only to Australia twice and putting the country in a solid position to earn a ticket to China. Reyes’ one-game suspension meted out by FIBA in the aftermath of the Australia brawl last July opened the door for coach Yeng Guiao to take over the helm of the national team for the fourth window of the Qualifiers. Guiao’s performance in the recent Asian Games, the PBA’s all-out support and Reyes’ growing responsibilities as president of the TV5 network led to a changing of the guard with the national team.

“Now that the PBA has opened its doors fully to the SBP and the national team, it is time for me to step aside and contribute in a different capacity, focusing on the 2023 program,” said Reyes. It was Reyes who coined the slogan “23 for 2023,” creating a pool of 23 cadets to prepare early for the 2023 World Cup where the Philippines is the lead host in a consortium with Indonesia and Japan. Whether Reyes will coach or set the direction for the 2023 squad is still to be determined but what’s clear is his availability to continue to serve the country in whatever capacity SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan and the SBP decide.

Controversy was something that Reyes learned to live with. It comes with the territory of being an innovator and revolutionary. At the 2014 Asian Games, Reyes concocted a wild idea of scoring a basket for opponent Kazakhstan to send the game into overtime for a chance to win by the required quotient of 11 to qualify for the semifinals. Team captain Jimmy Alapag asked two of the three referees if it would be allowed and they gave their approval. But when it happened, the third referee nullified the basket. Kazakhstan wound up losing by two but advanced because the Philippines needed to win by 11 to move up. Kazakhstan deliberately missed free throws down the stretch to avoid overtime.

Wearing colorful outfits was a Reyes trademark. He wore custom-made jackets and shirts on the bench. His shoes were out of the ordinary. Reyes’ unconventional approach extended to his wardrobe. He dared to be different because that was the only way the Philippines would be noticed on the global stage.

Reyes said his most cherished moments with the national team were the personal interactions with the players. “Crying with Kerby (Raymundo), Gabe, Asi (Taulava) and Jimmy after we lost in Tokushima in 2007,” he said. “Crying with Ping (Pingris) and RDO (Ranidel de Ocampo) in the pressroom after we beat Korea in 2013. Celebrating with LA (Tenorio), Larry (Fonacier) and Enrico (Villanueva) after we won the Jones Cup in 2012. Looking Jimmy in the eye after he hit that dagger three against Korea in 2013 then again, as we were checking into the hotel in Seville in 2014 for the World Cup. Walking arm-in-arm with Dray (Blatche) to face the crowd after we lost to Croatia in overtime in 2014. Embracing Jayson after we lost to Argentina in 2014 and again after we beat China in 2017. Watching JuneMar (Fajardo) blossom from a shy rookie in 2013 to a dominant force in 2018. I most especially cherish the off-court conversations, when the players came to me to discuss their personal problems, fears, dreams. That was special.”