MANILA, Philippines -- All stakeholders -- including himself -- shoulder the blame for the on-going drama surrounding the Philippine men's national basketball team, businessman/sportsman Manny V. Pangilinan said recently.
Pangilinan, the chairman emeritus of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), spoke on "The Chiefs" this past week and recounted the developments that led to Chot Reyes taking over the head coaching position of Gilas Pilipinas.
Reyes was named as the new coach of the Philippine team late January 31, replacing Tab Baldwin who opted to focus on his duties with the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
According to Pangilinan, he had been discussing with Baldwin the plans for the Gilas Pilipinas program in late January , as the team was set to compete in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers later this month as well as the FIBA World Cup 2023 next year.
"So I was quizzing him about what preparations are we making, in respect of forming a team, and suggested to him that maybe we should work back, and ID a pool of players that could be candidates for the 2023 team, then work back to say, February or March," said Pangilinan. "So that's been the discussion with him."
"And then he called me one weekend and said that he's been thinking, and this is my recollection, that he said that on reflection, it might be good for him to stay with the Ateneo, and for SBP, Samahang Basketbol (ng Pilipinas) to nominate a coach for Gilas," he added.
"He would help, he said he would help, and that's where the name of Chot emerged, in that conversation."
Reyes coached Gilas from 2012 to 2014, and again from 2016 to 2018. Baldwin had been the national team's program director since 2019 but only began coaching the team again last June, during the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.
After Baldwin decided to focus on Ateneo's upcoming campaign in the UAAP, Pangilinan met with SBP leadership including President Al Panlilio and PBA Chairman Ricky Vargas.
"That's the genesis of this development, and I know nakukulayan ng mga comments," he acknowledged.
Response to Reyes' return to the Gilas coaching position has been mixed, as fans point to his contentious exit in 2018 as well as the success experienced by Gilas with Baldwin in charge. Reyes had left the team in 2018 in the wake of Gilas' infamous brawl with Australia, which led to FIBA sanctioning the program.
Meanwhile, Baldwin steered a youthful Gilas squad that featured no PBA players to two victories over South Korea in last year's Asia Cup qualifiers, an impressive result by any measure.
Pangilinan did not deny that the development is a setback of sorts. When asked if Gilas was "starting all over again," the businessman said: "I think there's some truth to that."
"Kasi, dalawang taon wala silang ano eh, walang nangyari, 'di ba?" he noted. "(But) we start the blame game, 'di ba kasama din siya doon? Kasi walang nangyayari, COVID is principally the reason, pero walang nag-iisip."
"Everybody's to blame, including myself, 'di ba?" he admitted. "Wala kaming ginawa over that course. Maybe not exactly two years, but certainly more than one year. Walang nangyari, 'di ba?"
"So we have to start all over again."
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Philippine sports scene, with the PBA still feeling the effects. The league was limited to just one conference -- an All-Filipino Cup -- in 2020, in what should have been its landmark 45th year. Meanwhile, several players have taken their acts abroad, including Gilas stalwarts like Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, who are now both in Japan.
Pangilinan couldn't blame the players for seeking opportunities overseas, given the state of the sporting landscape in the country. "These guys are built to race, to run, to compete, 'di ba? And they've been lying fallow for more than a year," he noted.
"I can sympathize why they would want to play elsewhere and earn money in the interim," he added.
Even as the discourse continues over Reyes' return to Gilas and how the team will fare in the upcoming FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, Pangilinan stressed that the focus is now on the task at hand.
Gilas Pilipinas will have a tough schedule in the window, playing four games in five days including two matches against South Korea. The team is already training a bubble camp in Batangas, with Reyes bringing in some players from TNT to join the Gilas squad.
"The advantage of having Chot, if I may say that, is that he probably will use the core players of TNT to reinforce the Gilas team that will compete in the February window, which is that's about what, three weeks away," said Pangilinan.
"So, we would have to deploy easily accessible PBA players, maybe from the group. Hopefully the San Miguel group would help, and have a combination of the best of what Tab had in the past, and what the PBA players could lend to us," he added.