MANILA, Philippines -- "Ang hirap maging coach."
This is the sentiment of former Gilas Pilipinas standout Marc Pingris as he came to the defense of embattled national team coach Chot Reyes, who was heavily booed during Monday night's game against Saudi Arabia.
Reyes has been an unpopular figure among basketball fans for months now, with many questioning his appointment as Gilas coach in February. The vitriol grew after a string of poor results for the national team, including a shocking loss to Indonesia in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in May.
The situation reached its boiling point during their FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier against Saudi Arabia, where Reyes was booed by the fans at the Mall of Asia Arena upon his introduction.
The incident bothered the Gilas players, and even Pingris, who played for Reyes in the national team during his career.
"Siyempre, kahit paano, nasasaktan ako," said Pingris, who was part of a crowd of nearly 20,000 fans. "Sorry sa mga fans, kasi kailangan niyong malaman 'to. Ang hirap maging isang coach, 'no."
"Mahirap, lalo na kung hindi niya makuha 'yung time, or 'yung practice, or 'yung mga gusto niyang kunin na mga player," he pointed out.
The circumstances have made Reyes' job even more difficult, said Pingris. Gilas has struggled with player availability, in particular, as the schedule of local leagues is in conflict with the FIBA windows. Most of the time, the national team only get to train together for a brief period before plunging into action.
This was the case in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers. Jordan Clarkson, the Filipino-American guard of the Utah Jazz, joined the team for just two days before they flew out to Beirut to play Lebanon.
"Kahit sinong ilagay mong coach dito, sasabihin ko na sa inyo, kahit si Coach Tab [Baldwin] ang ilagay niyo dito with one week practice lang, hindi nila kayang mag-champion, or hindi nila kayang manalo," said Pingris.
"Kasi ang buhay diyan, coach, tapos player, 'di ba? Kailangan mag-jell talaga sila. 'Yung practice, 'yung defense nila, importante 'yun. Kailangan, alam nila 'yun," he added.
Rather than bashing Reyes, Pingris said fans must instead support the national team, especially with the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 coming up in less than a year's time.
It's the same sentiment expressed by the current Gilas players, who are confident that there is "something special" brewing within the team.
"Para sa akin, sana suportahan na lang natin 'yung Gilas," said Pingris. "Itong mga player natin, mga coach natin, binibigay din nila 'yung mga best nila para sa bansa natin, hindi para sa mga sarili naman nila."
"Kahit sinong ilagay mong player diyan, naglalaro 'yan para sa bansa natin. So sana, tulungan na lang natin, suportahan pa rin natin sila. Win or lose, kailangan andiyan 'yung puso natin na mahalin natin 'yung national team natin," he added.