This Day in PBA History: Chot Reyes becomes 1st rookie coach to win title

Rey Joble

Posted at May 18 2022 11:36 PM

Chot Reyes was only 29 years old when he became head coach of Purefoods in 1993 and found himself handling players who are more experienced than him.

Some of them were even his contemporaries.

Back in 1984 in the UAAP, Reyes, then the starting guard of Ateneo, joined Jerry Codinera of University of the East and Glenn Capacio of Far Eastern University in the Mythical Five.

Nine years later, Codinera and Capacio, two of the acknowledged stalwarts of Purefoods, would become two of his key players in the squad, which was then known as the Coney Island Ice Cream Stars.

As a young coach, Reyes’ initial plan was to establish a good working relationship with the team’s resident standouts. 

“First of all, when I went in to Purefoods, the first thing I did was I took Alvin (Patrimonio) out for lunch, dinner with Jerry (Codinera), nagkape kami ni Glenn (Capacio). I started out by building those relationships with the players right away. I think that was very, very important,” said Reyes in a previous interview with the author.

“Equally important was the relationships I had with the veterans. Because they were the spiritual leaders, specifically, Frankie Lim and Abe King. Because of the relationships I had with the veterans, they always had my back. Because of that, talagang nabuo yung team. Ganun naman ang dynamics ng team. When the young ones see that the veterans have good relationships with the head coach, then sasakay rin sila.”

True enough, they had a successful season and on this day, May 18, 1993, Reyes would become the first rookie coach to win a PBA championship and the youngest to win a title.

The historic moment happened after Coney Island Ice Cream Stars defeated the mighty San Miguel Beermen in six games of the 1993 All-Filipino championship series. The 99-96 overtime victory by the old Purefoods franchise allowed the team to beat its long time tormentors for the first time in numerous finals meetings.

Purefoods lost to San Miguel in seven games of the 1988 Open Conference, dropped the series in six games of the 1989 All-Filipino, and also fell short in seven games of the 1992 All-Filipino finals. 

According to Reyes, he wasn’t afraid to do new things in his first head coaching job in the big league. For a few years, he served as deputy coach of Tim Cone at Alaska, but when he was appointed as Purefoods mentor, he tried to develop his own identity. 

“I was trying to figure out, I was trying to create my own identity, personally as a coach and even on the court, what kind of system we really run. But the players were very patient with it. I knew we had a lot of team meetings, I remember, in those days,” said Reyes.

“In the end, the poise of the veterans, together with the exuberance and the talent. It was really very hard to match up with the talent that I had, that inside-out combination. Remember Alvin, Jerry (Boy) Cabahug. Then, you had a defender in Capacio. The stabilizing point guard in Frankie, then Abe King off the bench, as the enforcer. That was also the year that we got Dindo. Solid. Ang ganda. We put together a really good team. And I thought we did a greta job in the draft by drafting role players to supplement that core – Benny Cheng, Dwight Lago, Freddie Abuda, Olsen Racela – these are the unsung heroes. Ang ganda nung may ganung piyesa to put together. If you take a look doon sa samahan, the understanding of playing their roles. Aside of course, needless to say, grabe yung talent. Hindi ka naman aabot sa championship kung wala kang talent.”

In the championship series, Reyes had to battle it out with the more illustrious bench tacticians in the league, two of them are now included in the PBA Hall of Fame list, but this coaching newbie was not afraid to do things outside of the ordinary.

“I think being a neophyte coach, mahirap kaming basahin. Hindi kami mabasa ni Coach Norman (Black) and Coach Ron (Jacobs) noon. Kami nga hindi namin alam gagawin namin, sila pa. Paano nila kami mai-scout. I think that worked to our favor. Perhaps the exuberance of youth, yung wala kang takot. Kasi we go in, we’re the new kids on the block. We were supposed to get beaten by the great coaching tandem of Norman, Jong (Uichico) and Ron as consultant. Parang nothing to lose kami,” said Reyes. 

“We came in. We were not afraid to experiment to put a lot of different combinations on the floor to try and put a lot of stuff, so parang naging perfect storm that led to a first a championship in that tournament.”

But for the other Purefoods stars, it’s an opportunity to get back at their long-time tormentors.

“Nung nakuha namin yung All-Filipino against San Miguel, ang sarap,” said Codinera. “Kasi lyamado ang San Miguel sa odds noon. Lamang kasi talaga San Miguel sa amin maski saan mo tingnan. Pero tinalo namin sila. Iba ang feeling. Ang saya. Yung All-Flipino na yun, kumpleto kami noon. Yun ang isa sa pinakamalakas na line up ng Purefoods at that time.”

For Capacio, he believes their team is due for a win against the more experienced and more talented San Miguel squad. 

“Siguro familiarization. Kasi lagi na namin silang nakakalaban. Tapos kami, bata na medyo nagma-mature na. Medyo buong-buo na yung loob namin. Hindi katulad nung first two years namin nai-intimidate pa kami, kaharap mo sina Ramon Fernandez, o sina Allan (Caidic), sina Samboy (Lim), kasi ahead sila sa amin sa PBA. Pero umabot na doon na halos pantay-pantay na kami. Buo na yung confidence namin. Kaya na namin dalhin yung pressure kaya siguro nanalo kami nung time na yun,” added Capacio.

Cabahug felt it was Capacio who proved to be the game-changer in the series victory.

“Year 1993 was a very good year for us. Chot Reyes was the head coach, Chito Narvasa was the assistant. Chot challenged us and for us naman as players, talagang we wanted to defeat San Miguel. Talagang grabe yung San Miguel. Star-studded. Yung veterans, sina Abe King and Frankie Lim, they suggested na hindi muna namin gagawing first option si Alvin. Sabi sa akin ni Abe, ‘O, Boy, magi-screen ako s aiyo. Kapag nalibre ka, huwag mo na isiping hindi i-shoot. I-shoot mo na.’ Then si Frankie and si Dindo hinahanap ako, I was the first option. Kasi grabe yung defense ng San Miguel on Alvin,” said Cabahug.

“Ang first option kasi sa defense ng San Miguel was Alvin, next is Jerry, third ako, fourth is Dindo and then Glenn. So ang gagawin namin, hahanapin namin yung first, hindi siya makakatanggap ng bola. Sa second option, hindi rin makakatanggap si Jerry. Hahanapin ako coming off the picks, hndi rin ako makakatanggap. Hananapin ni Dindo yung pick and roll para maka free siya, pero ang bakante talaga was Glenn Capacio. Kaya si Glenn nag-dominate sa championship series because he was the last option. Fortunately for Glenn, talagang nakapag-produce siya.”

Patrimonio, who won the second of his four MVP awards that season, considered it as probably one of the toughest victories they had and it was a sweet one at the expense of San Miguel. 

“Talagang dumaan kami sa butas ng karayom. They’re intact, andun pa rin si Mon Fernandez, and surrounded by great players – Allan, Samboy, Hec (Calma), grabe. Andun pa si Ato. Complete. Kami, laro lang, ini-enjoy lang namin,” said Patrimonio.

The Captain paid tribute to the preparation the team had prior to the start of the season. 

“Maganda yung preparation namin before the season. Yung relationship namin, yung chemistry namin. Talagang nag-shoot up. May team buildings kami in preparation for the coming season. Maganda yung ginawa namin with our team building with Coach Chot din. Rookie season niya yun. Talagang excited lahat. Malaki rin yung naging papel nung dalawang veterans – Kuya Abe sa guidance niya and also Frankie. Kapag may dalawa kang posteng matatapang, tatapang ka rin. Alam na nila how to win championships. Alam na nilang manalo sa situations na ganun, against sa mas malakas na team. Confident kami kasi nabigyan kami ng morale boost nung dalawang veterans. Ang sarap nilang kasama,” added Patrimonio.