Three days after Gilas Pilipinas’ ouster from the FIBA Basketball World Cup, its former coach in Chot Reyes showed up looking at peace with himself.
“I feel very light. That’s the best feeling,” Reyes told Daily Tribune in an interview on Wednesday.
“In fact, I played golf this morning. I struggled because I haven’t practiced for two weeks. I also spent the past two days at home playing with my grandchildren. Last night, I was there (Mall of Asia Arena) to watch the World Cup.”
Reyes’ calm demeanor is way far from the restless, ridiculed mentor who failed to live up to the massive expectations of this basketball-crazy country.
Gilas Pilipinas, despite hosting the world’s most prestigious basketball spectacle, failed to advance past the first round as it fell prey to the Dominican Republic, Angola and Italy in the preliminaries before absorbing a disappointing loss to South Sudan in the classification match.
Although the Filipinos salvaged some measure of pride following their 96-75 win over China to shut down their campaign, Reyes was still the subject of hate as critics bashed him from the way he shuffled his players to the way he turned the courtside into his own runway.
“That suit? Yeah, it’s really expensive,” Reyes said.
“But these bashers don’t know that aside from being a basketball coach, I am also an executive coach. So while everybody is sleeping, I am delivering motivational speeches to private companies and various organizations.”
“Wherever I am, even during our recent training in Europe, I still work. I work hard. I think it’s just fair that I somehow reward myself.”
Reyes said the outcome of their campaign could have been different if everything went according to plan.
Based on their initial calendar, everybody should be onboard by 25 July — at least a month before the World Cup unwraps.
But it didn’t happen.
Naturalized player Jordan Clarkson — the most crucial piece in Reyes’ puzzle — didn’t report for training until 10 August while 7-foot-3 slotman Kai Sotto showed up hobbling with a back injury following a stint in the National Basketball Association Summer League.
Even Scottie Thompson, the most reliable playmaker in the roster, crashed with an injury. Although he was able to eventually rejoin the team, it was already too late and Reyes had to make the hard decision of cutting Chris Newsome in favor of the reigning Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player.
But Reyes’ biggest regret was the injury of Justin Brownlee.
“We were prepared to play with Bronwnlee just in case the deal with Jordan Clarkson doesn’t materialize,” Reyes said, referring to the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel import who knows the Filipino brand of basketball like the back of his hand.
“But he also got injured. Fortunately for us, our negotiation with Jordan turned positive and he was able to come here even if it was already late.”
“But inserting three players — Jordan, Kai and Scottie — into the lineup at the very last minute wasn’t easy. That’s 25 percent of our 12-man team. Remember that we played well in China because those players have been training together right from the start. But with the arrival of Jordan and Kai, we had to prioritize.”
Reyes said United States coaches Steve Kerr and Erik Spoelstra were impressed with the way they played and pushed their opponents to the limit.
“We had dinner with Steve Kerr and Spo (Spoelstra) and they said that ‘we watched your games. It was so close,’” said Reyes, who has a very good relationship with the Filipino-American Spoelstra.
“They said that they are struggling because they started training on 3 August. For them, it was not enough. Eh kami nga nabuo lang ng 18 August eh. That’s a few days before the World Cup na.”
“As I’ve said before, we were not a team. We were just a collection of talents and individuals, but we never developed into a team. We were not formed (as a team) the way we wanted.”
Reyes said he already has things figured out. In fact, he will take a break from coaching — even in the PBA.
“I will take a vacation and will stay away until I feel ready to go back,” said Reyes, strongly dismissing speculations that he will resurrect his international coaching career in the 19th Asian Games and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
“I have done my best as your national team coach. I think it’s time for me to go.”