Gilas Pilipinas Men did not go down without a match alongside Lebanon on Wednesday evening in Jakarta, Indonesia despite falling behind by 21 points to start the final frame.
However, Chot Reyes’ men found a way to storm back.
Fielding an unusual five of Poy Erram, Carl Tamayo, William Navarro, SJ Belangel, and Rhenz Abando, cutting Lebanon’s lead down to nine, 83-74, with less than five minutes left in the game.
And for Chot Reyes, his gamble somewhat paid off during that time.
“I was really looking for a spark off the bench.
“We started off well with that starting unit but when Lebanon got a hang of defending that starting unit, they were stopping the things that we wanted to do,” recalled Reyes. “We thought if we get other guys on the floor, then they would be able to do a good job. With those fresh legs, we were able to chase more defensively.
“I think the most important thing; Poy Erram’s defensive presence is big for us. We could not play him a lot in the first half because of his three quick fouls. But I think that was the important factor there. Very pleased with Will Navarro’s defense as well. That is what I was looking for from that guy,” he continued.
But just as he thought the momentum had shifted on their side, Lebanon picked it up once more.
Six-foot-nine Jonathan Arledge and 6-foot-8 Hayk Gyokchyan were all over the plays, driving to the basket and knocking down three that sucked the life out of Gilas.
Lebanon eventually took a 95-80 win with Arledge tallying 19 points on two triples with six rebounds while Gyokchyan got 19 as well on four treys with eight boards.
Facing bigs like Arledge and Gyokchyan is something that the likes of Tamayo, Kevin Quiambao, and Geo Chiu have to get used to, according to Reyes. Those types of bigs are a rarity in the local scene.
“First of all, it’s not a question of not only our bigs defending those shooting bigs but our ability for all of our guys to pick out those shooters. It’s a learning experience for our bigs to be able to help inside of the penetration from the guards of Lebanon and still, at the same time, get out and defend their men from the outside,” he said.
“Like I said, continuous development and learning. What do we have? Our power forwards Carl Tamayo and Kevin Quiambao have played a total of one year in college. It’s a huge, huge experience for them. Geo Chiu isn’t even the starter of his collegiate team so you can imagine the learning he can get from this experience.
“Like I said, very pleased with their progress and their abilities to fight it out. Sure, the Lebanese players were very skilled but that’s the only way to learn,” he closed.
Chot to ‘bashers and haters’, ‘We’d rather take that shot then miss than not take it’
The “nitpicking” and “bashing” of Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes has reached international media as well.
During the post-game press conference of Gilas Pilipinas and India, a reporter from Indonesian outlet Mainbasket asked the PBA’s only six-time Coach of the Year what his thoughts were on the online criticism he has been getting.
Apparently, whenever Mainbasket posts about Philippine basketball, it leads to comments that are calling for Reyes’s head.
Reyes though gamely answered the question of the Indonesian reporter, baring that he has completely shut himself off social media.
“Number one, I have a secret — I don’t read those comments. I completely logged off. So I don’t see those comments,” he quipped.
“Of course, people tell me but in the end, the way I see it, I was given this job. I didn’t volunteer for it or apply for it. I was happily retired and doing my work, enjoying my life and coaching my professional team. But my predecessor stepped down and somebody has to do the job. It took a long time for me to accept it,” he continued.
“I’ve only been here for four months and we haven’t had the opportunity to get our best players yet until today. Up to this point, we don’t have the chance to put our best team together. I know that all of the negative comments come with the territory. I know in my heart that I am doing my work and doing it for my country. There is no other intention behind it except to serve my country. That’s the only way I know how to serve my country.”
The Gilas program was coming off a successful 2021 with Tab Baldwin handling it.
Fielding a young Philippine squad, the national team swept the 2021 Asia Cup Qualifiers and put on a gallant stand in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament-Belgrade.
However, on the eve of the Lunar New Year, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas announced that Baldwin had “stepped down” from his post. The federation then selected Reyes to hold the fort.
What came next though was… a struggle for the program.
In the World Cup Qualifiers and in the ongoing Asia Cup proper, Gilas have only won thrice so far with all of the wins coming at the expense of India.
Then in the 31st Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines was dethroned by Indonesia after a three-decade reign.
Reyes re-emphasized that this is all part of the process the country has to go through heading into the 2023 World Cup.
“I’m just keeping myself focused on the big picture which is to put the best team in 2023. Everything we are doing now is preparation to build up for 2023. That’s where people can judge me, how well that team plays. I’m sure that by that time, we would have our best team.
“But all the tournaments we have played so far, we did a very poor job in the SEA Games, I took responsibility for that and I didn’t blame anyone. All of those things, that’s all part of the process. The losses, the difficulties, the adversities are all part of it,” he said.
“I just tell the players to just keep focused on the big picture and if we can consistently overcome this, it will only make us stronger for 2023. Just like in a basketball game, we are going to get our hits, we are going to get our bumps, we are going to get down big but we will never give up. To all the bashers and online critics, they just really don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. I mean it’s easy to comment when you are just watching on TV. I don’t really mind them and stay focused on doing my job,” he responded.
Gilas, who are already assured of a playoff spot in the Asia Cup, will next face New Zealand.
During their past two encounters, the Tall Blacks have run roughshod on the Filipinos, winning by an average margin of 35.5 points per game.
Reyes knows that Sunday will be another tough night in the office for Gilas. But he would rather die trying than wave the white flag.
“Very important. Number one, at least it gets us to the next phase to get a chance to move forward and number two, it prepares us for New Zealand,” Reyes said about how important Gilas’ 101-59 win over India was. “We know that New Zealand is a strong team but the one thing you can’t take away from these players is the fight in them. We have a deep level of fight in our hearts. We know that we don’t have our best team and best players here but it’s not going to deter us and not stop us from playing at our best. That’s all we can do and ask for. Not only from the players but also from the coaching staff. Coach Nenad [Vucinic] did a good job in preparing this team. Coach Jong [Uichico] and Coach Sandro [Soriano], everyone is pitching in.
“We know that New Zealand is going to be tough but this is what we live for. The hours of extra work, lifting weights, going two to three a days, it’s all for moments like this. When you are prepared to play a game no one expects you to win. All we can do is give ourselves a chance, a shot. In life, that’s all we ask for, get a shot. That’s why we love the game,” he added.
And for his so-called “bashers and haters”, Reyes had this to say.
“No matter how difficult it is and adversity, we have a chance. For as long as we have a shot to have a chance. For as long as we have that shot, we’ll take it. We’d rather take that shot then miss than not take it. Right there, bashers and haters and all, we’d rather take that shot then miss than not take it. “
Up next for Gilas is India on Friday before facing the Tall Blacks on Sunday.