Chot Reyes’ departure looms over Talk ‘N Text, but in a positive wayBy Francis T.J. Ochoa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines – In the world of one-game-at-a-time, coaches and players strive for as shortsighted a view of the future as possible. Where you are measured by your last performance, nothing matters beyond the next assignment. One game done, next one’s up.
As Talk ‘N Text moves within sniffing distance of yet another championship run, the Texters also push themselves closer to the inevitable. Chot Reyes is leaving. The mercurial mentor is answering a greater call as national coach of the Smart Gilas Pilipinas team that will shoot for a slot in the World Championships.
That parting of the ways is a full conference away. But somehow, amid the interwoven plots and subplots of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, that thread runs not as unobtrusively as Reyes would have wanted.
“We’re not really talking about it because I don’t want it to be a distraction,” said Reyes during the press conference Friday for the best-of-seven series between B-Meg and Talk ‘N Text at the Gateway Suites.
“I have to be disciplined to stay in the present,” he added. “When I made the decision last year that this would be my last season with the team, I’ve been able to prepare for it rationally.”
“Right now, the only overwhelming emotion is thankfulness that we’re in the finals.”
But as important as the task at hand is, Reyes, a known motivator, cannot begrudge his players if they try to put together a performance of the lifetime with his move in their minds. After all, motivation is a key factory with such a dynastic run – the Texters have made five straight Finals appearance thus far.
And so, his transfer to the Smart Gilas program looms over these Finals. However, it is not quite the distraction Reyes thinks it would be.
For one, none of his players are taking the other team in the championship equation for granted.
“First of all, I think that this will be the toughest championship series that I will be in and the team will be in,” said sweet-shooting swingman Larry Fonacier. “Going up against coach Tim Cone and probably the best team in the league right now, this is going to be the toughest.”
“But if we win, it will be one of the sweetest.”
Instead, his impending departure has become a galvanizing, rallying point for those whose careers will be most likely defined by their stint under him.
“We want to send coach Chot out with a great legacy by winning this one,” Fonacier admitted, before adding, “and hopefully the next so he can leave as a Grand Slam coach.”
Because this is what Reyes really is: A Grand Slam coach. In a cruel world shaped by results, Reyes was officially denied that title by a Petron squad that found an extra edge, an extra push for that advantageous inch, on allegations that the Texters had specifically picked it for a Finals opponent.
But a Grand Slam coach is not merely one because he steered his team to three titles in a calendar year. Grand Slam coaches are known for attaching longevity to excellence. They are known for establishing dynasties. Officially, the title is reserved for the likes of Baby Dalupan, Tommy Manotoc, Norman Black and Tim Cone.
Reyes and former San Miguel Beer coach Jong Uichico, who led the Beermen on their turn-of-the-millennium rampage, deserve to be in that list too, if only for the way their teams extended the shelf life of their dominance in the league.
Fonacier and the Texters, however, want to make it official.
“We really want to work hard for the common goal of winning the championship so we can repay coach Chot for everything he has done for our careers,” said Fonacier. “We owe a lot to coach Chot.”
Forward Ranidel de Ocampo, who will play a key role in the series against a Llamados frontline that is the biggest in the league, concurred: “Marami din akong natutunan sa kanya and nung nagsama kami sa Talk ‘N Text naging part agad ako ng championship [I also learned a lot from him and we both became part of a championship when we were together].”
“So syempre, gusto rin naming manalo para maganda ang pag-alis nya [So that’s why we also want to win so that his departure from the team would be a happy one].”
But more than a parting gift, the Texters would be inadvertently giving Reyes a huge boost if they send him off to the national team with the Grand Slam.
As Jimmy Alapag put it, Talk ‘N Text has thrived because of the “culture” of competitiveness Reyes instilled into the team.
De Ocampo was even more blunt: “Para sa amin, ang [As far as we’re concerned] championship is a habit.”
If the Texters give him the Grand Slam, if they can send him off on the wings of a championship, Reyes will have no problems carrying that culture of competitiveness, that championship habit to where it is needed the most: Inside the locker room of the country’s national basketball team.