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How TNT’s Mendoza, Exciminiano ended up in KCS

Proud was TNT head coach Chot Reyes of how Gryann Mendoza and Ping Exciminiano led KCS Computer Specialist during the Visayas Leg of the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup.

For the decorated tactician, the way Exciminiano and Mendoza performed gave the Tropang Giga extra weapons when needed.

“Obviously, that is going to be a luxury for us to know that we have those types of players, game-ready players, on the reserve,” said Reyes.

But the two’s stint with Coach Chot’s younger brother Coach Mike would not have been possible without the former’s son and the latter’s nephew, Coach Josh.

While TNT was in the PBA bubble late last year, Coach Josh was the team’s satellite scout, collating data remotely and translating it to the team. In his free time, he worked with a small group that had Mendoza, Exciminiano, Chris Javier, and Valandre Chauca.

“So, they were my players talaga, Gryann and Ping. Even we started the skeletal practices, wala pa yung main guys namin so I focused on the other guys, Gryann, Ping, and even Glenn Khobuntin,” shared Coach Josh.

How well was Mendoza doing under Coach Josh? Well, his drills were already advanced, including draining 20 straight threes. He was also dunking and doing everything else.

Last February, Mendoza then went to Coach Josh, asking if he could play for KCS.

“So nagpaalam siya if he can play with KCS. I wanted him to play, then nung nalaman ko kay Coach Mike pa, okay lang.

“Some of his terminologies and systems are what we do so we are confident that they will be coached properly,” said Coach Josh.

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If Mendoza can go, why not bring Exciminiano as well, wondered Coach Josh.

The case though of Exciminiano was different. Mendoza, though healthy, had been a practice player for TNT since 2018. Exciminiano, on the other hand, was coming off a ruptured Achilles he sustained early in 2020.

That’s when Coach Josh decided to talk to Exciminiano.

“After a few days, nag-usap kami ni Ping on getting his confidence back so I thought of bringing him to KCS as well. He was worried, asking me if I knew players who were able to recover from that type of injury,” recalled Coach Josh.

“Si Ping was very hesitant to join. He was worried about the situation, the bubble, and being away from his family because hindi naman siya bisaya. It’s not like Gryann na madaming friends dun. Nung umokay si Coach Mike, it took him a couple of days to decide to take the chance.”

Safe to say, it was not TNT who loaned the two to KCS but TNT asking KCS for a huge favor.

“Actually, baliktad na ni-loan namin sila. It was actually kami yung nakiusap if they can accommodate them. Gumawa si Coach Mike ng paraan to make space for them sa team,” clarified Coach Josh.

“Ang importante is for them to get game reps that mattered. Iba yung reps kunware sa scrimmage or sa garbage time.”

Coach Josh was confident that Mendoza can deliver in the league. And he did, averaging 11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game during the elimination round.

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Exciminiano’s case though was different as he only played in three games during the elimination round after sustaining a hamstring injury. It got Coach Josh worried.

“When he struggled with a different kind of injury, I was worried.

“We might have wasted the time of KCS. Nagworry din ako that the injury would affect him mentally. Galing siya sa major injury that he might not get the peace of mind that he wanted,” Coach Josh lamented.

But come playoff time, Exciminiano got healthy while Mendoza only got better.

In the finals, Exciminiano averaged 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.0 steals, leading KCS to the championship. Mendoza also did his share, especially in Game Three against MJAS Zenith-Talisay, pumping a complete line of eight points, five rebounds, and two assists while playing solid defense.

“I’m very proud. I’m happy for them because it was a long time coming. They can be major contributors to a basketball team.”

But with the Grand Finals of the tournament still three months away, both Mendoza and Exciminiano have a choice — should they go back to TNT or remain in KCS?

For Coach Josh, the answer is simple, saying, “That’s what they worked hard for. They deserve to play in the Grand Finals.”

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