Chot Reyes didn't see most, if not all, of the not so nice words that were said about him after he coached Gilas Pilipinas to a silver medal finish at the recent 31st Southeast Asian Games.
Reyes, a well-known savvy user of social media, turned away from all of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram after the Philippine national team lost out on the regional meet gold for just the first time since 1989. Many had called the result a downer. A disappointment. A debacle, even.
"I'm logged off. I'm not on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I don't see anything being written about me," he told reporters in his first interview in a group setting since the SEA Games in Vietnam. "It's the gift of silence. Because I'm logged off, that distraction is not in the picture, ang dami kong nagagawa."
While his eyes were no longer witnesses to all his haters and doubters who have propped up anew, Reyes remained candid enough about where he stood at present: the subject of the fiery ire of a basketball-crazed country. As he put it, "Alam niyo naman ang nangyari, 'di ba? With that loss, I am, today, the most hated man in Philippine basketball."
As it turned out, though, what was believed-to-be a bad thing in the new PBA season tipping off so close to that sorry loss, was actually a good thing. Reyes needed to turn his attention to something else, needed to shift his energies onto something new, needed to prep and prime for another thing altogether. He got just that: TNT Tropang Giga's title defense in the 2022 Philippine Cup.
"Believe it or not, it was a welcome relief for me. Upon my arrival (from Hanoi), at 6 or 7 in the morning, I went straight to TNT practice," he shared. "For me, it was really a gift: the gift of busy-ness. I'm just keeping myself busy and preoccupied."
After opening day, the Tropang Giga's bid for back-to-back titles is going well, as they came out on top of a finals rematch against the Magnolia Hotshots. Somehow, someway, Reyes moved on from a historic loss that may very well shake up basketball in Southeast Asia -- the Philippines, included.
"Ang daming nagtatanong, 'Paano ka bumangon?' Sabi ko naman, 'Simple lang, bumangon ako,'" he detailed. "Hindi ko pinangarap. Hindi ko pinagdasal. I just stood up. Nobody else can pull myself up but myself."
And it's not just the multi-titled mentor who has newfound fuel to the fire, as the Tropang Giga themselves have a newfound chip on their shoulders. Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, and Kib Montalbo were also part of the silver-finishing SEA Games squad. They haven't logged out of social media just yet, but they're also not sweating the fiery ire still coming their way.
"We embrace the challenge. Ako, gutom talaga ako. I hate losing, but a single loss is just that -- a single loss.," expressed Montalbo. "It won't define us. It won't define our career."
Like their head coach, TNT players laser-focused on the now-ongoing All-Filipino conference. Not only are they determined to win back-to-back championships, they're also as determined to be able to raise their shot-caller over their shoulders once more. In triumph. In celebration. In the process, raising him from all his haters and doubters.
"Gusto ko siyang ipaglaban. I know what he gives to the team. He's a great mentor to all of us," exclaimed Montalbo. "One game at a time, as always, pero we're in attack mode. We're attacking, not defending, champions. We're hungry for the title."
That goes both ways, as Reyes is thankful for his players, considering them one of the select pillars of his support system. In that light, he believes guiding them to the promised land once more -- after the rough road they had just gone through -- is a worthy thanks.
"Really, my refuge and source of solace is the team, the players who continue, in spite of everything, to give their trust in me," he remarked. "As long as I know I'm doing my best, I'm doing the job I've been asked to do, I'm going to do it, regardless of what other people say."
It remains to be seen if the Tropang Giga, indeed, have what it takes to win a second straight championship, especially with top gun Mikey Williams still negotiating a new contract. Nonetheless, they're the defending champions -- defending champions who feel that their backs are up against the wall.
From both sides of the spectrum, they have motivation: the heart of a champion and the hunger of a squad targeted by haters and doubters. That looks like a recipe for success, if there ever was one.