MANILA, Philippines -- In the Finals of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, Magnolia coach Chito Victolero will get to match wits against one of his coaching idols in TNT's Chot Reyes.
"Since noong mag-start ako mag-coach, he's one of the coaches na tinitingnan ako, together with Coach Yeng (Guiao), Coach Norman (Black), Coach Tim (Cone)," said Victolero on Tuesday, a day before the the Hotshots open their best-of-seven championship series against the Tropang GIGA.
This marks the first opportunity for Victolero to face off against Reyes in the playoffs, as it was only in February 2021 that Reyes returned to the PBA after nearly a decade away from the league.
For Victolero, it is a privilege to coach against Reyes, a five-time PBA Coach of the Year who has won eight titles in the league and previously called the shots for Gilas Pilipinas.
"I have high respect for him. And you know, itong chance na 'to, I'm very excited because in my first semifinals noong nag-head coach ako ng Purefoods against Coach Tim, tumatayo din balahibo ko, sobrang excited ako," Victolero recalled.
"And then, facing another brilliant mind, and siya 'yung isa sa mga pinaka-tinitingnan ko before, talagang malaking bagay para sa akin 'to as a learning experience," he added.
"Hopefully sana makuha ko ang respect ni Coach Chot dito sa series."
But Reyes made it clear that Victolero does not need to earn his respect -- it's something that the younger coach already has.
Indeed, Reyes was all praises for Victolero, calling him "a credit to our profession."
"Even when I was not in the PBA, just watching from a distance, I've always been impressed," Reyes told reporters on Sunday night, after TNT clinched its place in the Finals by beating San Miguel Beer. "He has a very different way of doing things, but very effective."
"I think he's a credit to our profession. I think we need more young coaches like him to come in and just breathe life to the local coaching profession," he added.
On Tuesday, Reyes informed Victolero that he has actually learned some things from the younger coach -- and have already put those lessons to good use during their grueling semifinals series against the Beermen.
"Contrary to what Coach Chito said earlier, I have huge respect for him," said Reyes. "In case hindi mo alam, Coach Chito, we used a lot of the stuff that you did in our preparation against San Miguel, because we saw how well you play San Miguel."
"And we said, 'Pag-aralan natin ang ginagawa nila.' That's a huge measure of our respect for your coaching," he added. "I'm not afraid to admit that because I think as coaches, our job is we have to be lifelong learners. Coach Chito has my utmost respect."
All eyes will be on the court when TNT and Magnolia face off starting on Wednesday, but the chess match between the coaches will be equally intriguing as both Reyes and Victolero look to end their respective teams' championship droughts.
TNT has not won a championship since the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup, and are seeking their first all-Filipino title since the 2012-13 season.
Magnolia, meanwhile, won the 2018 PBA Governors Cup but they have not captured the Philippine Cup title since 2013, their Grand Slam campaign with Cone in charge.
"I think everything has been said," Reyes said. "The only thing left now is to get it on… Let's play a series that both franchises can be proud of."