On a rainy Friday afternoon, my boys and I found ourselves in the bleachers of the Meralco basketball court –“Home of the Bolts.” We were invited to the practice session of the Philippine National Team by Gilas coach Chot Reyes. Son M interviewed Chot first for his school paper. Then I sat down with the man of the hour to ask him about the great journey ahead.
There are so many good basketball players in the league . How did you choose the members of the team?
Chot: I have a system. The players I chose are the ones that fit the system. They’re not necessarily the best individually ,but together as a team, they make sense. It’s all about teamwork.
How do you deal with egos ?
Chot: There are no selfish players on board. They work as a team. They have to because it’s the only way to win. Look, these players , they joined the team because they want to represent the country. They want to bring honor the Philippines. No one is paid a single centavo to play for Gilas.
How are you getting ready for the FIBA World Championships?
Chot: Aside from the daily practices in Manila, we’re leaving for China, Miami and Europe . They (ponting to the players) have to experience and get used to playing against much taller opponents. We’re also arriving early in Spain so the players can practice and play their best game there.
What’s your strategy in playing against the much bigger foreign players?
Chot: We’ll rely on our speed, hustle and outside shooting.
What do you hope to accomplish in Barcelona?
Chot: Realistically, I’m not even looking at winning the championship or anything like that. The goal is to win two games in the initial round. Winning two games will put the Philippines in the top 16 teams in the world. That’s what we’re aiming for.
(Earlier, my boy M asked Coach Chot what are the chances of Gilas in winning in Spain. The seasoned coach jokingly said , “We have two chances — slim and none!” We all laughed at that. Then he turned serious and said , “We’ll fight. We’ll fight until there’s no fight left in us. We’ll give it everything we’ve got! All heart!”)
What can you say about critics who say that you have non-Filipinos playing for the national team?
Chot: The international rules allow that. The US team, for example, recruits from other countries . We are playing by the rules.
What is next for the team after Barcelona? Will there still be a Gilas team next year?
Chot: Definitely! Win or lose, we’ll come back a better team. Next year the goal is to win the FIBA Asia Cup so we can qualify to play for the Olympics in 2016.
What can you say to the youth who aspire to be basketball players?
I encourage boys and girls to enter sports. Not only basketball. All kinds of sports — baseball, taekwondo, golf etc. Be determined and be the best at your chosen sport. And when you have the opportunity to represent the country, do so. There’s no greater glory for an athlete than to play for one’s country.
Lastly, what is your message to the Filipino fans?
Chot: Please support us. Dream with us. Pray for Gilas . We will give our best for the country. We will do our best for the Filipino people. PUSO!