Vincent "Chot" Reyes is back in the PBA, reprising a role that he last played almost ten years ago as the coach of the TNT franchise.
He piloted the team during its most successful run from 2009 to 2012, where they won four championships. Before that, Reyes also won four titles with Purefoods and Coca-Cola in a PBA coaching career that is marking its 30th year.
If one were to ask a young Chot, then a newly-hired assistant for the Alaska Milkmen in 1991, that he would still be coaching three decades later, he would have doubted you.
"When I started, all that was on my mind was to do the job at hand. What I needed to do, I wasn't really thinking about what was my future, much less be around for this long," Reyes told to ESPN5.com.
DESPITE being out of coaching since 2018, Reyes and business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan talk weekly. Their conversations veer from basketball to politics, business, and the economy.
"Anything and everything under the sun," said Reyes.
But he was caught off-guard when in early February MVP decided to ask casually at the end of their conversation if he wanted to coach TNT again.
Reyes said he needed to consult with his family before deciding. He mentioned that he did not remember if he considered rejecting MVP just that he kept an open mind the decision.
By February 13, Reyes and the team had agreed in principle, and the announcement was made soon after.
Reyes will be handling a team that is vastly different from the one he coached before. With the recent retirements of Kelly Williams and Harvey Carey, Jayson Castro and Ryan Reyes are the only holdovers. Ranidel De Ocampo is now an assistant coach.
Just like the Tropang Texters were in 2008, Tropang Giga is very capable of winning a PBA crown in 2021. TNT had made two of the last three finals, only to fall short to San Miguel and Ginebra.
Consultant Mark Dickel, who left the team in the offseason, constructed a squad that is sound on both ends of the floor.
"I think they're coming off a very good system," Reyes said. "I think the system of Coach Mark Dickel was very sound offensively, defensively. I have always liked the way they do things, so that's a plus. We're not looking to make too many changes to the current team, so that's another plus."
NEVERTHELESS, the 57-year-old coach stressed that championship aspirations for this squad should be tempered.
"There are very high expectations, but that's the least of my worries. My only concern really is how to get the best out of my team," he added.
He also is not the kind of person to make guarantees.
"For me, I can't bother myself about those expectations or the other things that go around for me. It's just, my focus is on how to put the hardest-working, best-conditioned team. Emphasis on the team on the floor."
Castro and Ryan Reyes, he added, had been passed the mantle of leadership since he last coached the squad.
"They have a deeper understanding of what it takes to win. I would like to think that they have a deeper understanding of what I expect of them as well. Not only as individual players but as leaders," said Reyes.
"But at the same time, they have to constantly challenge themselves to put their best performance physically on the floor, to go with the emotional and spiritual elements of their leadership," he added.
Being a proponent of shared leadership, the coach said he also expects stars like Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Poy Erram, and Ray Parks to lead when they are on the floor.
Reyes is also excited at the prospect of having De Ocampo beside him as an assistant. RDO is the latest of his former players who have tried coaching. The other ones include his predecessor Bong Ravena, who played for coach Chot in Purefoods, and 2011 PBA MVP Jimmy Alapag, who had a successful stint with Alab Pilipinas in the ABL.
"I really consciously try to develop the players to become more than just players so that they can really do well even after the PBA. Whether it's in basketball, in coaching, or in a completely different industry, in a completely different field," said Reyes.
"So, the fact RDO is here, and taking his first few steps in the coaching field, then that gives me a lot of pride and joy."
ALTHOUGH they are pegged as one of the top teams in the PBA today, Reyes noted three things that the Tropang Giga need to improve.
First is bench scoring, which was only good for 10th in the league in the bubble. In the offseason, the team was able to lock up free agents Dave Marcelo, Glenn Khobuntin, and Ping Exciminiano, and extended Simon Enciso, Samboy De Leon, Lervin Flores, and Almond Vosotros for the next season.
Another issue was rebounding. Even though the team collared the fourth-most boards inside the bubble at 45.8, Reyes is hoping that his big men could get some more inside.
"We did pretty well in our rebounding department, mainly our guards rebound so well. But we should make sure that our bigs come in and give us big numbers on the rebounding side. If you ask me now, those are the two things that we want to shore up," Reyes said.
Lastly was 3-point percentage. As a high-volume 3-point shooting team that launched the most attempts at 39.1 per game, TNT was the third-worst in terms of accuracy, making a measly 30.2% from rainbow country.
The next PBA season is set to tip off on April 9, and there is a likelihood that Reyes will be trying something new in the upcoming months: Coaching inside a bubble.
Reyes admitted that he has mixed feelings about it, but is up to the challenge.
"In the end, whatever the PBA decides, it is incumbent upon us to make the adjustments because this is our job, this is our profession," Reyes said. "And you know, in just like any other profession, whatever the demands are, you have to step up and get it done. That's just the way it is."