Photo from PBA

TNT coach Chot Reyes opted to stay in one corner of the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga as his players whooped it up shortly after the PBA Philippine Cup title became theirs.

Reyes looked like a man both relieved and satisfied with having to steer the Tropang Giga back to familiar territory in his first conference back in the PBA after a nine-year absence.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Reyes after TNT lifted the Jun Bernardino Perpetual Trophy with a 94-79 win over Magnolia Pambansang Manok Friday, Oct. 29.

“But I’m very very proud with how the guys behind me played,” he added, opting to deflect the credit to his players who finally gave TNT its first championship in six years.

But many would still credit Reyes for bringing back the winning attitude that TNT had been searching for in the years following his departure in 2012 to focus on handling both Gilas Pilipinas and matters related to the corporate world.

In between 2012 and his return to the PBA sidelines this year, TNT would win just twice (2013 Philippine Cup under Norman Black and 2015 Commissioner’s Cup with Jong Uichico) before enduring a drought that saw multiple coaching changes and talented rosters that could only collect runner-up trophies.

The Tropang Giga management decided it was best to bring back Reyes in hope of reliving the franchise’s golden years when the multi-time Coach of the Year gave the PLDT franchise four titles between 2009 and 2012.

But TNT had to weather the challenge of having to win the title against fellow pre-tournament favorites from corporate rival San Miguel Corporation, namely defending champion Barangay Ginebra, San Miguel Beer and Magnolia.

Not only the Tropang Giga lived up to the billing, but they also finished the elimination round that was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions with 10 wins against one defeat.

TNT, however, had to endure a tougher road come playoff time, first eliminating a Ginebra squad which struggled throughout in the quarterfinals before enduring a tough seven-game battle with SMB in the semis, making it two wins against SMC squads.

They then nailed the final SMC team in Magnolia, which may have had the superior lineup with Best Player of the Conference Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, Paul Lee and Mark Barroca on the fold.

But the Tropang Giga put on a collective effort on both ends to put away the Hotshots in five games, as rookie Mikey Williams established himself as the star of the future with his huge championship performance.

Troy Rosario, Kelly Williams and Poy Erram overcame injuries to provide solid work in the series, RR Pogoy had a quiet-yet-effective contribution while Jayson Castro and Ryan Reyes, among the few holdovers from Reyes’ last PBA championship, relished the backup roles.

Even less-than-heralded players like Kib Montalbo, Glenn Khobuntin and Dave Marcelo, who didn’t play the clincher amid reports of a fight with Magnolia’s Aris Dionisio at Quest Hotel where both teams were billeted, even did the share with the intangibles they provided.

“I have to give this really to the players. They really put in the effort, they stayed together through adversity. This is just a great reward for all their hardships,” said Reyes.

Reyes eventually got the traditional victory ride given to winning coaches at the end of a championship series. But the Tropang Giga mentor, who tied Uichico for fourth all-time with his ninth title while also joining Norman Black and Tim Cone as the only coaches to win a championship in four different decades, has set his sights on trying to win another title.

“As much as we want to savor this, we’re now looking forward to the next,” he said. “On to the next. And we hope to compete well again.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (