MANILA, Philippines -- The players of the TNT Tropang GIGA fully understand the role they have to play in the Gilas Pilipinas program, assured Chot Reyes, who is now the head coach of both squads.
Reyes was appointed as the new head coach of Gilas last week, returning to a post he last held in 2018 and replacing Tab Baldwin. The decision by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) was a surprising one, with even Reyes admitting that he was caught off guard by the offer.
"I never applied for this job, I never volunteered. I didn't even know until a few days ago that I'm going to be thrust in this position," Reyes said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum this week.
It's a job that now requires a delicate balancing act for Reyes and his squads. The handful of players left in the Gilas Pilipinas pool joined TNT's training camp at the Malarayat Golf and Country Club last week, in an arrangement that Reyes admitted was "magulo."
Because only a few players were left in the Gilas Pilipinas pool, Reyes and the SBP decided to call up some of the Tropang GIGA, including those who had previous experience with the national team. The teams continue to train together, this time at the Moro Lorenzo Gym in the Ateneo de Manila University campus.
Reyes said he is pleased with the initial results of the training, and has commended the Tropang GIGA for how they have responded to the situation.
"I know, ang daming nagrereklamo, bakit Talk 'N Text 'yung andiyan, ano nangyari sa programa ni Tab. Ang sagot ko, kung 'di natin nilagyan ng Talk 'N Text, magde-default tayo. Dahil walang sampu 'yung natitirang player eh," Reyes explained.
"Actually, we have to thank them (the TNT players)," he added, noting that they will play a compact schedule upon the resumption of the PBA before joining the Gilas squad for the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers at the end of the month.
"Kinausap ko ng mabuti 'yung Talk 'N Text players. This is now part of your job as a professional basketball player, as a Filipino professional basketball player. Your job, your obligation, it is a moral obligation to serve your country," Reyes also said.
Reyes made sure that the TNT players were aware that they are not assured of spots in the national team, and that most of them will be needed as practice players.
"But your country needs you. Here is the situation: you have a game in three weeks, we have five or six players left, what can you do to contribute?" he said. "So 'yun ang sinabi ko sa Talk 'N Text players."
"Don't think of it as, 'Nakakagulo naman 'to sa preparasyon natin sa PBA, ganito, ganyan.' No, look at it as a whole. So 'yun ang ginagawa natin, we're trying to integrate it so that the Talk 'N Text players understand, this is part of their … bigger calling to serve, and their commitment, to serve their country.
The response from his players has been tremendous, said Reyes. He made special mention of veteran guard Ryan Reyes, who approached Gilas team manager Butch Antonio to express his willingness to help the national team.
"Glad to say everyone in Talk 'N Text, actually, literally gone to team manager Butch Antonio, like Ryan Reyes, to say, 'Boss, if you need a practice player, I'm a call away, I'm a text away.' So they've literally put themselves there, on the line, to really help," said Reyes.
"They may not make the final lineup, pero tumutulong," he added.
The TNT veterans have also been eager to help the young Gilas players in other ways. "In practice, kinakausap nila 'yung mga bata, binibigyan ng pointers 'pag may tanong ang mga player. And the players themselves, the Gilas players themselves, they have stated that they were very happy, the way tinanggap sila ng mga veterans," Reyes revealed.
TNT will have a loaded schedule that will see them play four games in one week in the PBA Governors' Cup. Afterward, some of the Tropang GIGA will join Gilas in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, where they will play four games from February 24 to 28 -- including two against South Korea.
They will return to the PBA after the qualifying window, with two games left in their elimination round schedule.
"Hopefully, by helping Gilas, it's going to help our game, and it's going to help us, hopefully, in the PBA as well," said Reyes, who steered TNT to the All-Filipino crown last year. "But of course, there is a big risk that it will, makakasagabal siya, pero that's a risk that we're willing to take."