Chot Reyes and a legacy of winning

Natashya Gutierrez
Reyes tells Rappler about leaving the PBA, coaching the men's national basketball team, and divulges personal stories never shared before

Editor’s Note: He broke down Saturday night, August 10, sobbing uncontrollably at the Mall of Asia arena after the team he’s coaching beat South Korea and made it to the FIBA global competition in Spain next year. What is it about winning? In this Rappler interview first published 1 August 2012, Chot Reyes said: “I think Jimmy Alapag said it best in our last team meeting: ‘You know coach, you’re a winner.’ That’s the legacy i want to leave… regardless of the situation, the talent at my disposal, the kind of team that I had, I won. I found a way to win,” he said. “That in the end, people will look at me and say, ‘Coach Chot Reyes, he was a winner.'” 

MANILA, Philippines – And so it ends.

Four words were all Talk N’ Text Head Coach Chot Reyes felt was sufficient, in bidding farewell to a Philippine Basketball Association coaching career that spanned 20 years.

Four words in a single tweet that elicited numerous reactions from fans, players, fellow coaches who extended their gratitude, their goodbye, their admiration for the 5-time PBA Coach of the Year.

But four words were fitting enough.

Two decades plagued with wins speak for itself.

Saying goodbye

When news broke that Reyes, 49, would retire after this season, many expressed surprise. Reyes was too young, talented and successful to be done, was the common sentiment.

It was a lingering emotion for most, who, until Reyes’ final game, doubted he would actually bid the professional league goodbye.

Reyes himself felt ambivalent, days after the final whistle blew.

“It’s mixed feelings,” he said of his retirement. “First there’s obviously the feeling of sadness – something you’ve been doing for the past 20 years is abruptly, suddenly gone.”

Watching the PBA finals as a spectator rather than a coach is a foreign feeling, he admitted, saying now, he can enjoy the game instead of focusing on technicalities.

Reyes led Talk N’ Text to four championships from 2008-2012.

The team failed to make this year’s finals after losing to Ginebra 73-71 in a knockout match, but two weeks later, it was forgotten to the coach who has had his share of success.

Reyes moved on with head held high, insisting that while one can never close a door permanently, he is, for now, definitely done with PBA coaching.

“My only regret is not winning every game,” he said. “Other than that, I can honestly look anyone in the eye and say I gave it my best.”

Coaching for country

Reyes hands over his Talk N’ Text team to accomplished Ateneo de Manila University coach Norman Black, who he is confident will be the perfect replacement.

His next step is another challenge — a bigger one, for flag and country.

Reyes will be coaching the Philippine men’s basketball team, Smart-Gilas for the next two years. And he has lofty goals.

Ultimately, Reyes wants Smart-Gilas to win, or at least medal in the FIBA Asia Qualifiers in 2013, which will assure them of a berth in the 2014 FIBA World Championships in Spain.

Reyes has his pool of 16 which he is happy with, although 4 of those they originally offered did not sign the contract, forcing Reyes to find replacements from the PBA.

The players, Petron’s Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot, and B-Meg’s James Yap and Mark Pingris, are members of teams under San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

Questions on why SMC refuses to release its players to the national contingent are plenty, although Reyes clarified neither SMC nor the management of these teams have outwardly prevented their athletes from representing the country.

Enrico Villanueva of SMC’s Ginebra was also invited. He has already agreed to play.

Reyes did say however, that of those who opted not to join, 3 had “verbally said yes to me on a one on one conversation,” he said. “No explanation, they just didn’t sign the contract.”

But Reyes assured fans he is happy with the lineup now — all of whom he says will fit in to his style of play that focuses on each player’s strengths. A style, he said, that he has used with Talk N’ Text and has proven successful.

“Our system doesn’t teach plays, we teach them how to play,” he said.

3 favorite players

Aside from the PBA, Reyes spends the rest of his time pursuing his passions.

Reyes is also the Executive Director of MVP Sports Foundation, teaches in Ateneo, and is involved in executive, business and corporate coaching — things he plans to focus on without the PBA as part of the equation.

Rather than coaching itself, Reyes said it was his relationship with them he would miss the most.

He smiled when prodded on who his favorite players are, and finally decided on 3, one for each of the different stages of his coaching career: Alvin Patrimonio, Rudy Hatfield and Jimmy Alapag.

Reyes said he was fondest of Patrimonio during his Purefoods coaching stint because of his work ethic.

“Whatever the function, a visit to the palengke, training camp, [Alvin] was never absent, he was never late,” said Reyes.

He said Hatfield was his choice when he was with Coca-Cola — “I’ve never seen anyone work harder,” — and Alapag during his time in Talk N’ Text, with whom he has a strong personal relationship.

“All 3 together would be the perfect player,” he said. “A combination of talents, attitude, maturity and leadership.”

He also mentioned a few names he would like to coach: Paul Lee, who he called a tremendous player, and Pingris who he thinks would be fantastic for the national team.

Leaving a legacy

The demeanor of the man who has spent many years of his life mentoring players noticeably changes when he talks about those he has taught.

Reyes shared that when Talk N’ Text center Ali Peek got shot in November, Peek had called him first, before any family member.

“Here’s a player, he gets shot, is in a life or death situation, and the first guy he calls is not his mom, not his dad, not his lola in Cubao, not his best friend. The first guy he calls is his coach,” he said. “That story really encapsulates my coaching journey and why I like doing what I’m doing.”

He is proud of it, of the relationships he has nurtured with his players over the years. Reyes sincerely cared — still does — for them, which he knows has largely contributed to his success.

“I find if you forge great personal relationships with your players, they’ll do a lot for you,” he said. “And they can take a lot from you and you can push them really, really hard.”

And this is exactly what Reyes has done in the 20 years he spent on the basketball court.

He has pushed his players to their absolute best, picking up one championship after another along the way.

But more than the 8 PBA titles themselves and the awards he has amassed, Reyes is most known for making something out of nothing, of leading teams to their first titles, of making it work.

And the coach that often stunned detractors is rightfully proud of it, wants to be remembered for it.

“I think Jimmy Alapag said it best in our last team meeting: ‘You know coach, you’re a winner.’ That’s the legacy i want to leave in the PBA, regardless of the situation, the talent at my disposal, the kind of team that I had, I won. I found a way to win,” he said. “That in the end, people will look at me and say, ‘Coach Chot Reyes, he was a winner.'”

To learn more about Smart-Gilas’ style of play, Reyes’ prediction of the ongoing PBA Governor’s Cup finals, his take on Philippine sports, and the players he believes will be tomorrow’s Gilas stars, watch the full interview.

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