Editor: Joseph Angelo Santos

And so, the sanctions are out.

The Federation International Basketball Association (FIBA), after a little over two weeks, have decided the fate of those involved in the July 2 brawl between our Gilas and Australia’s Boomers during their match in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Philippine Arena. As expected, coaches and players – from both sides – received suspensions. Fines, too, were meted out. And, as an effect of this sad event in Philippine basketball, the country was placed on a three-year probation.

But I will not talk about that, because of its mootness, and because every other sports analyst has already given his piece about it.

I want to focus my article on Mr. Vincent Reyes, current head coach of Gilas Pilipinas, and the man behind the puso (heart) battle cry. (Note: Mr. Reyes was handed a one-game ban by FIBA. He is also being asked to pay a fine of 10,000.00 Swiss Francs [PhP 534,000.00]).

In all honesty, I am not his most avid fan. His Purefoods teams in the mid-90s rivaled my favorite players over at San Miguel and Swift in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

But I cannot discount his achievements.

He made history as a Champion Coach of Professional Basketball

During that mid-90s run, he became the first ever rookie coach in the history of Asia’s first play-for-pay league to win a championship in his debut conference. He achieved that feat during the 1993 All-Filipino Conference when his Coney Island team – led by “The Captain” Alvin Patrimonio and “The Defense Minister” Jerry Codiñera – defeated the San Miguel Beermen, which then was top-billed by Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, anaging-but-still-effective Don Ramon Fernandez, and eventual season Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ato Agustin. This achievement, too, earned Coach Chot the PBA Coach of the Year award.

The following year, he led the Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs, which starred the versatile Kenny Redfield, to the Commissioner’s Cup championship. Having won multiple championships by the age of 30, he was considered, during that era, the new wonder boy of Philippine basketball.

In 1998, he moved to the then upstarting Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) and helped the league discover talents from the grassroots. Later on becoming household names in the PBA are talents such as Dondon Hontiveros, PJ Simon, and Reynel Hugnatan to name a few.

During his term with the MBA, Reyes introduced some innovations in the game such as the 23-second shot clock, the “free three,” “blitz three,” and the 8-second backcourt rule. The latest later became part of the official FIBA rules.

The league enjoyed success in its first three years especially in the provinces, where matches were really heated. The MBA featured rivalries, which included the Cebu Gems and the Negros Slashers down south, and the Manila Metrostars versus the San Juan Knights in Metro Manila.

Reyes left the MBA in 2001 and returned to the PBA to coach the Pop Cola Panthers, which eventually became the Coca Cola Tigers after it was bought by San Miguel Corporation. Coach Chot was back to his winning ways, and successfully captured his third PBA crown when the Tigers – bannered by a resurgent Johnny Abarrientos, Jeffrey Cariaso, Raffy Reavis and Rudy Hatfield – won the 2002 All-Filipino crown.

The MBA, on the other hand, closed shop in July 2002.

He made us proud as head coach of the Philippine National Team

In 2005, he was appointed head coach of the Philippine National Team, which had San Miguel Corporation as its corporate sponsor. Unfortunately, the Philippines got suspended by FIBA later that year, and the participation of the national team was in limbo.

A new basketball federation was later formed: the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP), which replaced the old and conflict-ridden Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP).

The FIBA suspension was lifted in 2006.

Coach Chot’s duty as national coach resumed after a brief and unproductive stint as head coach of the San Miguel Beermen. He coached the ill-fated campaign of the national team in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championships held in Tokushima, Japan, where the tournament champion earned the lone Asian ticket to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Philippine basketball had a rude awakening in that tournament after that national team finished 9th despite having PBA stars Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Kelly Williams, and Asi Taulava among others.

That debacle prompted the SBP to hire Serbian Rajko Toroman and implement a long-term national basketball program reminiscent of the Northern Consolidated team of the 1980s spearheaded by Ambassador Eduardo Cojuanco, Jr. and coached by the late great Ron Jacobs.

Smart-Gilas, the name by which the program was called, tapped collegiate stars such as Chris Tiu of the Ateneo Blue Eagles and JV Casio of the De La Salle Green Archers. It was also bolstered by Fil-Americans Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz, and by naturalized player Marcus Douthit. The aim of the team then was to win the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, which will give the champion Asia’s lone ticket to the 2012 London Olympics.

The 3-year preparation of Smart-Gilas proved fruitful as the young guns, together with veteran pros Asi Taulava, Jimmy Alapag, and Kelly Williams, held their own against the opposition on their way to the semi-finals.

During the knock-out semifinal game though, the team got checked by Jordan – a team that was then coached by Tab Baldwin – and extinguished the boys’ and the nation’s London hopes.

The heartbreak did not stop there, as Smart-Gilas experienced a meltdown during the end-game against South Korea, and eventually settled for a disappointing third-runner-up finish. Coach Chot served as Rajko Toroman’s chief deputy in that campaign.

Jordan’s Baldwin, on the other hand, will eventually become consultant to Chot Reyes, and later, head coach of the Philippine national team.

After the said tournament, the Smart-Gilas team – envisioned to be part of a long-term program – was disbanded, and the players made themselves available for the draft of the pro league.

Coach Chot, in 2012, eventually replaced Coach Rajko Toroman, and led the national team’s resurgence as it set its eyes to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Getting there required the now Gilas Pilipinas to place among the top three in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, which was held in our turf Manila. (Note: Lebanon was stripped of hosting privileges, because of the political unrest in the Middle East at that time.)

Reyes also introduced a new battle cry: PUSO!, emphasizing the resilient heart of the Filipino in fighting through adversities no matter how difficult they are.

As part of their preparation, Coach Chot’s Gilas Pilipinas – now composed of PBA players – competed and won in the 2012 Jones Cup in Taiwan behind the heroics of LA Tenorio. They became only the fourth Philippine team to win the Jones Cup after Ron Jacob’s Northern Cement in 1981, San Miguel Beer in 1985, and Tim Cone’s Centennial Team in 1998.

Reyes and the SBP then brought the team to Europe for the homestretch of their preparation.

During the Asian Championships, the team brought national pride to Filipinos, losing only to Chinese-Taipei in the preliminaries, and to Iran in the finals. The tournament also featured the team’s victory over the so-called “Korean curse” with their emotional win against the Koreans in the semi-finals in front of an ecstatic home crowd.

Though they only placed second to Iran in that tournament, Reyes and the Philippine Team was back on the world stage after earning one of three Asian tickets to the World Cup of basketball. The team lost in close games against Croatia, Greece, Argentina, and Puerto Rico, but won against Senegal. Those close losses were described by Reyes as emotional victories because the team proved that it can play against the best that the world can offer.

The national team’s participation in the FIBA World Cup also hailed the debut of NBA veteran Andray Blatche, a recruit of Reyes, and the team’s new naturalized player.

Filipinos were very optimistic that the same Gilas Pilipinas team would win the gold medal in the Asian Games in South Korea, which was scheduled just weeks after the FIBA World Cup. But things got sour when Andray Blatche was not allowed to play for Gilas Pilipinas by the Asian Games Council due to residency issues. It prompted Reyes to activate Marcus Douthit in the said tournament.

The campaign of Gilas Pilipinas in that tournament was, for lack of a better term, disastrous.

The lowest point happened during the game against Kazakhstan when Reyes commanded Douthit to shoot the ball in the opponent’s basket and force an overtime. The team needed an 11-point margin to have a superior quotient for a spot in the semi-finals. The referees disallowed the naturalized player’s move, and the team won by just 2.

This prompted Coach Chot to file his resignation as national team head coach. He was replaced by erstwhile consultant Tab Baldwin.

Baldwin would eventually steer Gilas Pilipinas to a silver medal finish in the Changsha, Hunan FIBA Asia Championship, which was won by China who earned the lone Asian ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Coach Tab continued to coach the national team until after the Manila leg of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifiers where, unfortunately, the team suffered back-to-back losses to eventual qualifiers France and New Zealand.

This prompted the SBP to relieve Baldwin of the national coaching duties and bring back Reyes to lead the charge of Gilas to the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon, a zone tournament which now already included Australia and New Zealand.

Gilas Pilipinas finished 7th behind China’s Team B, a team they beat in the preliminaries.

Right after that tournament Reyes spearheaded the team’s campaign in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

The tournament is similar to FIFA’s qualifiers featuring home and away games. It started in November 2017 for its first window which saw the Philippines register a win on the road against Japan, and at home against ChineseTaipei.

During the second window in February, Gilas Pilipinas lost to Australia on the road, but bounced back with a victory against Japan on home soil. For the last window of the first round, Gilas manhandled Chinese-Taipei on the road, but lost to Australia in the rumble-marred game.

With a 4-2 win-loss card, the team managed to qualify in the second round where Iran, Qatar, and Kazakhstan await.

With so many achievements, Coach Chot is still being criticized not only by fans, but notable basketball and sports personalities saying that he is overrated, full of drama, and not equipped to lead the charge for that Nationals.

To be honest, I am one of them.

Thanks Coach Chot, but isn’t now a time to move on?

But after the incident at the Philippine Arena, I choose to highlight the man’s achievements. I want to thank him for his dedication to the national cause. I want to thank him for always being there to rise to the occasion.

Yes, he is full of drama. He continued to cry puso when it seemed to everyone else that what the team needed was utak.

But that is Chot Reyes for you. He is a very colorful person and that is what made him what and who he is now. He is outspoken. He is tech-savvy, even making some of his announcements on-line, improper venues as they are. But he does so, because he knows his audience.

From a not-so fan like me, thank you sir. Thank you for giving your all to the game that we love, for flag and country. No matter what, you are now in the company of your great predecessors. Your achievements in the proleague are etched in stone. No one can take that away from you.

But we also want to go beyond puso. We want more than just emotional victories. We want a real long-term national basketball program.

But we fans feel that after that black eye in Bulacan, the national basketball team needs to be renewed. And if it should mean not having you in charge, then, so be it.

Our patron in Ateneo St. Ignatius de Loyola taught us to reflect, to retreat first, to have quiet time, so that we can have peace. I wish you peace, and I feel that now is that time for you to reflect.

We thank you for giving your life, your heart to Gilas. You are puso personified.

But we not-so fans feel that it is now time for us to move on.