FIBA: Chot Reyes shocked by Gilas appointment

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 01 2022 03:48 PM | Updated as of Feb 01 2022 06:06 PM

TNT head coach Chot Reyes is back at the helm of Gilas Pilipinas. PBA Media Bureau
TNT head coach Chot Reyes is back at the helm of Gilas Pilipinas. PBA Media Bureau

MANILA, Philippines -- Even Chot Reyes was surprised by the "sudden turn of events" that led to his return as the head coach of the Gilas Pilipinas national team.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) announced late Monday night that Reyes will be in charge of the men's national team starting today, February 1, after Tab Baldwin stepped down from the post.

Baldwin, who has been calling the shots for Gilas since June 2021 aside from also serving as the program's director, will focus on his duties with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, according to the SBP.

"Up to now, I still can't really wrap my head around it," Reyes said in an interview on CNN Philippines' Sports Desk on Tuesday morning. "It happened so quickly."

According to Reyes, he was called for a meeting on Sunday afternoon, with SBP Chairman Emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan, SBP President Al Panlilio, and PBA Chairman Ricky Vargas.

"They informed that Tab has told them that he is stepping down as the head coach of Gilas. And they asked me if I was willing to do it, and they were offering me the job. Of course, I was shocked, initially," said Reyes, also the head coach of TNT in the PBA.

"I had to consult my family first, very quickly, but I've always said it… I cannot turn my back to the national call, right? I cannot turn my back to flag and country," he added.

Reyes had coached Gilas from 2012 to 2014 and again from 2016 to 2018, before stepping down in the wake of the infamous Philippines-Australia brawl in July 2018 in the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. 

He returns to a team that is very different from the one he handled in 2018, which was composed of professional players from the PBA. Baldwin had put a premium on development in the past couple of years, calling up amateurs from the collegiate ranks as well as fresh graduates that the SBP selected in a special "Gilas draft."

The circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even more unfamiliar and challenging.

"I think when we look at the current players in the original pool of Coach Tab, they don't even have ten players," said Reyes, who had previously expressed his support for the program that Baldwin built.

"Unfortunately, inasmuch as we want to maintain that program and keep it going, it's just physically not possible right at the moment," he added. "And it's not anyone's fault, but it's just the way things have turned out."

"So, if you ask me, if we are going to do the program as it was originally planned, my answer is, I don't think it is possible."

Several of the players that Baldwin called up to the national team and competed in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament are now currently playing abroad. This list includes players like Dwight Ramos, Thirdy Ravena, and Javi Gomez de Liano, all of whom are now in Japan's B.League, as well as Jordan Heading who plays in Taiwan. Kai Sotto, meanwhile, is now in Australia where he plays for the Adelaide 36ers.

The other amateurs who shone in the FIBA events last year -- notably SJ Belangel of Ateneo, RJ Abarrientos of Far Eastern University, and Justine Baltazar of De La Salle University -- are currently training with their respective UAAP teams in biosecure bubbles.

The Gilas cadets who are still in the country and available for selection are William Navarro, Tzaddy Rangel, and Jaydee Tungcab, who were selected in the 2021 special draft, and naturalized center Ange Kouame of Ateneo. Free agent Juan Gomez de Liano is also reportedly available for the national team.

"Conditions have changed, the external environment has changed, the availability of players is now very, very different," said Reyes. "We have to craft a very different plan and do it very, very quickly."

Time is of the essence for Reyes as the national team will be back in action in the last week of February, where they will compete in the first window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers that the Philippines will host. 

Gilas is in Group A with New Zealand, South Korea and India; they play South Korea on February 24 and 28, India on February 25, and New Zealand on February 27.

Reyes did not specify what kind of adjustments will be made as to the composition of the national team pool, but he stressed that developing the young players still remains a priority. 

"We want to continue working on the younger players, majority of the players that we had identified back in 2018, majority of whom are in Coach Tab's pool as of today," said Reyes, who famously released his "23 for '23" pool of players in 2018.

"But I think the fact that there are no longer the original pool because so many of them are in different places around the world already, we now have to make some adjustments," he added.

According to a report from Tiebreaker Times, Reyes is leaning towards tapping the pool of the TNT Tropang GIGA for the upcoming qualifying window. He is currently in a bubble training camp with the ball club, where they are preparing for the resumption of the PBA Governors' Cup on February 11.

Reyes acknowledged that the decision made by the SBP came as a surprise to the team's supporters -- and even to himself -- but he committed to doing what he can to again bring the country to World Cup glory.

Reyes had steered the Philippines to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup after a historic silver medal feat in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships at home. 

"I'd like to say that I'm as surprised as anyone by the sudden turn of events. I have always believed in the program and the system that Coach Tab was developing," Reyes said when asked for a message to Gilas fans.

"However, things happened, and such is life, right? When things happen, we have to be agile, we have to be able to pivot, and change directions with speed and with quickness," he added. "I still don't know what's going to happen. The only thing I can promise is that we're going to be give it our best."

The Philippines will co-host the FIBA World Cup 2023 with Indonesia and Japan.