Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Moment of Introspection with Chot Reyes

A Moment of Introspection with Chot Reyes
by rick olivares

Chot Reyes was upset that his Talk 'n' Text team lost to Red Bull after leading comfortably in the early goings. "Those are the kind of games that get coaches fired!" he said with veiled anger. He paused then broke into a smile. "It's a good thing it's still early in the conference and we can only get better... and it helps that we won the last conference."

The longtime PBA Coach queued along with everyone else to listen to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's talk in Ateneo. Not only does he teach a class but he also gives talks. Even at his age and with his experience, there is always something new that he could learn.

As for coaching, that is something that he attributes to the great Baby Dalupan who pushed him to pursue it not soon after he was in college.

A day after the Blair talk, he was seated on the bench at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center watching his Tropang Texters in practice. Assistants Nash Racela and Bong Ravena were putting the team through the paces. Nearby team manager Virgil Villavicencio and Assistant Aboy Castro were filling up forms for the team's upcoming training in Serbia. He talked about the work ethic put in by his staff. Like players, Reyes looks for coaches with a keen eye for detail and who do their homework. He speaks highly of Altamirano, Binky Favis, Racela, Castro, and even former Ateneo Lady Eagles coach John Flores who knows a thing or two about preparation.

There's a misconception that pro basketball players do not listen to their coaches because they supposedly know all they need to know. A pro coach, describes Reyes, still has to teach. "He has to be more than that. He has to be able to communicate, to counsel, and cheerleader. He has to skillfully balance his getting angry and yelling with knowing when to hold back. But I am an animated coach."

Nearby, the Ateneo Blue Eaglets were patiently waiting their turn to take the court for their regular practice.

"If we only had this when I was playing..."

His voice trailed off. Reyes was referring to the support the Ateneo basketball program is now receiving; a far cry from his days as a Blue Eagle. He played during the First Dark Age and coached during the Second Dark Age. He manned the point guard slot then with Jeric Hechanova as his running mate. Jonel Ladaban was at the 3-spot with Rey Rances and Vince Araneta, a pair of 6-1 players holding up the frontline. Off the bench was Perry Martinez and Dave Dualan. "Oh we got pummeled," he smiled. But that team, in the era of the pre-three-point line, could bomb away from the outside. They even beat Allan Caidic's UE Red Warriors in one memorable shootout.

Those were the days when they even had to fight the school admin to get even their jackets. "No truth that even the basketball team got all the perks. This was the post-NCAA and no one got any perks." There was no Blue Babble Battalion to cheer them. There were lots of empty seats on hand at the games.

But for one brief summer, they were a powerhouse team. They had three great rookies in Jojo Lastimosa, Bennet Palad and Caidic, and they thrashed their opponents in the pre-season. Only this was the Blue Eagle team that never was. Caidic moved to UE while Palad found himself in UST. Lastimosa lasted another year and then there were none and they were done.

When he was coaching the Blue Eagles, his team -- with Eric Reyes and Olsen Racela -- came within two missed Ritchie Ticzon freethrows of making the UAAP Finals against La Salle. He gestured to Ravena who was nearby, whistle in his mouth directing the practice. "Bong led UE in that game against us."

In spite of their losses, Reyes, as the team's coach on the floor, gave everything he had on the court. It was a trait that he has tried to imbue in every team that he has coached in the PBA.

He talked of the recent PBA Fiesta Conference Finals battle with former mentor Tim Cone who remains a dear friend to this date. "Our friendship demands that we always give our best in each game. We accept no less."

If Cone's hallmark has been longevity as he's been with Alaska for more than a decade, Reyes's career has been marked by change. If he is known for being the only coach to steer three different PBA squads to All-Filipino championships, he attributes that success to the hard work of all involved.

When he won with Purefoods (with Eric Altamirano as his assistant), he inherited a great frontline with Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codinera. He also had some wondrous guards in Dindo Pumaren, Olsen Racela (who was then coming into his own as a pro player), and Glenn Capacio. "That was a super team," he said.

But when he won with Coca Cola that team was a rag tag bunch of discards with no stars (if ever there were, they were in the twilight of their career). "What made that team go was Rudy Hatfield," he points out. "Up to now, I am still looking for a new Rudy Hatfield whose energy and enthusiasm for the game is boundless."

Talk 'n' Text is unlike Purefoods and Coca Cola. This team is a more guard-oriented team. His bigs are terrific, but this is the post-Asi Taulava team where players like Harvey Carey and Ali Peek are scavengers off the boards and are recipients of drop passes.

Reyes looked over to his squad on the floor that was wrapping up the day's practice. "Jared Dillinger comes close. So does Mark Cardona."

If he can have a team that plays with the zest of the Hatfields, Dillingers, Cardonas, and Alapags of this world, he'd be a happy man. But he knows that life isn't like that. Like his old and overmatched Blue Eagle teams, his pro squads will scrap.

When he first scouted Dillinger several years ago, he was playing the point but had no outside shot. He was deemed to be a marginal player at best. About a year later, he received an overseas call to once more take a look at the kid. "He had transformed himself," beamed the coach. "He is performing close to the tag of 'franchise player.'"

As for Cardona, Reyes is most happy that he the prized player is starting to realize how good he can really be. "We were able to minimize his turnovers and get him to up his assists. The results speak for him."

His mobile phone rang and the coach excused himself. His day, he would describe later, is one of constant activity. "You only live once so you have to make the most of it. And you have to take the good and the bad."

Even those games that can get a coach fired.

Ten minutes after practice, Chot Reyes was off. It was family time.


I asked Coach how he'd feel if his son, Martin, made it to the senior varsity and his eyes lit up. "What father doesn't want his son to play for Ateneo?" He admitted it's a longshot but with a lot of hard work, who knows?

As it is, I only know of three father-sons combos who played for the Blue Eagles: Ric and Danny Francisco, Frankie and Louie Rabat, and Jimmy and Jean Alabanza. There have been uncles and nephews, cousins, brothers, but father and son is pretty rare.

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