Chot Reyes has had the opportunity to handle some of the strongest teams over the course of his celebrated coaching career, but there’s that one team that really is a cut above the rest for him.
Speaking in Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ Coaches Unfiltered presented by SMART, the 57-year-old admitted that San Miguel Team Pilipinas that played in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship was the greatest he has ever mentored.
“The greatest team that I ever coached might be the 2007 Philippine national team, sa Tokushima,” the many-time national team drillmaster told the podcast also supported by Mighty Sports and Choi Garden.
That team, on paper, was undeniably loaded. It had two PBA MVPs in Asi Taulava and Eric Menk, and four more who would go on to win the said award — Kelly Williams, Jayjay Helterbrand, Jimmy Alapag, and Mark Caguioa.
Two of the best marksmen of their time in Dondon Hontiveros and Renren Ritualo were part of that crew, too. Then there’s the versatile Danny Seigle, as well as the sweet-shooting Mick Pennisi and Kerby Raymundo.
Completing the unit was a young Gabe Norwood, who was just coming off a stint with NCAA Division 1 school George Mason University. The reserves of the squad? James Yap, Ranidel De Ocampo, and Tony De La Cruz.
Despite the stacked talent of the team, it only finished ninth among 16 teams. The group stage was already a challenge in itself for the Filipino cagers, as it landed in Group A, with eventual champs Iran, Jordan, and China.
The Philippine team, all in all, finished with a 5-2 win-loss record, including a 3-0 sweep of Group G in the quarterfinal round, and a narrow 78-76 victory over its Chinese counterparts in the classification round.
“That was the old format pa noon, ‘di ba? Now in the first round they take the Top Three. Doon Top Two lang. Eh we were in that group with Iran, Jordan, and China,” Reyes, who first coached the national team in 2005, recalled.
That team did not have ample time for preparation, since the Philippines had just returned to international play after seeing its suspension lifted by FIBA months prior to the continental meet.
The country was suspended by basketball’s governing body back in July 2005 after a long-standing feud between the Basketball Association of the Philippines and the Philippine Olympic Committee.
Despite everything, Reyes is proud to have handled such a star-studded team. Not only because of the caliber of the players he was able to work with, but with the fact that they all played as a unit.
“That was the most talented, and they played together,” said Reyes, who six years later would steer Gilas Pilipinas to a silver medal finish in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and booked the country’s first World Cup trip in 40 years.
It has been 13 years since, but as he looks back on that particular stint, Reyes could not help but wonder about some of the what-ifs, such as the addition of a naturalized player on that team.
It was only in 2011 when the national team began utilizing the services of a naturalized player. It had Marcus Douthit for the FIBA Asia Championship of the said year, and then for the next edition of the tilt two years later.
Following Douthit was former NBA cager Andray Blatche, who made his debut in the 2014 World Cup. He also went on to play in two FIBA Asia Cups, and was also part of Gilas in the 2019 Worlds in China.
“I can just imagine if we were allowed to have a naturalized player. If we had a Marcus Douthit or an Andray Blatche in that team, that team could’ve won everything,” the outspoken Reyes said.
“That team could’ve won it all. That was a very, very super complete team.”