Chot Reyes has always felt impressed with Chito Victolero, that he calls the Magnolia head coach a credit to the profession.
The champion mentor shared that he’s aware of how the 45-year-old has been handling the Hotshots even while he was away from the PBA.
“Even when I was not in the PBA, just watching from a distance, I’ve always been impressed because he has a very different way of doing things, but very effective,” he said.
“And it is, I think, he’s a credit to our profession.”
Victolero, himself a former pro cager, got his first PBA coaching gig as the lead assistant of Sen. Manny Pacquiao in Kia back in 2014.
But it was really with the Hotshots where he emerged as one of the league’s best coaches. He joined the storied ball club in 2016, and his maiden season saw him lead the team to the semifinals of all three conferences.
They made their first Finals trip together in the 2018 Philippine Cup, though the championship they so desired didn’t come until the Governors’ Cup of the same year. They first needed to defeat Alex Compton and Alaska in six games.
It was the franchise’s first title since the 2013 edition of the season-ending tilt, or since completing the historic Grand Slam feat under Tim Cone.
At the season’s end, the former Mapua Cardinal was adjudged by the PBA Press Corps as the Coach of the Year.
“I think we need more young coaches like him to come in and just breathe life to the local coaching profession,” Reyes expressed.
Now, Reyes and Victolero will figure in a battle of wits, as TNT and Magnolia vie for 2021 Philippine Cup supremacy.
“Tim Cone was a special challenge. Leo Austria was a special challenge. And now, it’s going to be Coach Chito Victolero,” said the 58-year-old moments after the Tropang Giga beat San Miguel in the semis’ Game 7 Sunday night.
Despite the exciting chess match, though, Reyes says that it’s never about him and his counterpart. Instead, it’s a team game.
“As I said, it’s a team game. It’s never about me and them. It’s always going to be a team game,” he said.
The former Gilas Pilipinas coach went on to praise the way Victolero has built his Hotshots, noting how he was able to keep his core while welcoming Calvin Abueva, who arrived from Phoenix via trade last February.
“I really love how Coach Chito has put his team together. The trade to get Calvin was, you know… He resisted the urge to break up his team,” he said.
“He kept the nucleus very intact. And then, he added some really great pieces with [Jerrick] Ahanmisi and Calvin. And now, he’s back in the Finals. What, that’s three out of the last four All Filipinos? So that record speaks for itself.”
This will be a clash of the top teams after the eliminations. The Tropang Giga were the no. 1 seed with a 10-1 card while their foes finished third at 8-3.
Victolero – whose Magnolia dispatched Meralco in six games to enter the Finals first – has said that his side is the underdog regardless of whom it plays. Reyes has been aware of that. His response?
“I don’t think, at this point, any one of you is going to believe anything the coaches will say, you know. Ano na ‘to, ‘di ba, you take everything with a grain of salt. There’s a reason why they’re in the Finals,” he said.
“And any Finals, any competition, that’s why we love sports, right? You’ll never know,” Reyes continued.
For him, it’s actually a ’50-50 chance’ for both squads in the best-of-seven affair, as he has lots of respect for Victolero and Magnolia.
“The fact that we’re playing, then we always have a 50-50 chance. That’s the same in the Finals,” Reyes said. “I respect Coach Chito a lot. He’s done an excellent job with his team.
“But for now, I think for us, we’ll just focus really on what we need to do as a team.”