Chot picks 2007 PH team over 2013 class
Aug. 10, 2013 marked the biggest accomplishment of coach Chot Reyes’ career when he guided Gilas Pilipinas to a victory over South Korea in front of its home fans at the Mall of Asia Arena to secure a place in the FIBA World Cup.
But for Reyes, that Gilas squad which eventually placed second in the FIBA Asia Championship wasn’t the best he ever had in his coaching career.
“The greatest team that I ever coached might be the 2007 Philippine national team sa Tokushima,” Reyes said in Thursday’s edition of Coaches Unfiltered.
It may sound a bit strange that he will choose a team that failed to progress to the second round of the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship held in Tokushima, Japan, but Reyes felt he had a lineup with plenty of talent to compete for that year’s crown and a place in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Team Pilipinas had a backcourt comprised of that year’s PBA Most Valuable Player Mark Caguioa and partner Jayjay Helterbrand of Barangay Ginebra, shooters Dondon Hontiveros of San Miguel Beer and Renren Ritualo and Talk ’N Text teammate and future Gilas legend Jimmy Alapag.
The frontcourt had San Miguel’s Danny Seigle, who was able to make a stirring comeback after years of dealing with injuries, fellow Class of 1999 members Eric Menk of Ginebra and Asi Taulava of TNT, PBA Rookie of the Year Kelly Williams of Sta. Lucia, Red Bull Barako’s Mick Pennisi and Purefoods’ Kerby Raymundo.
Also part of the squad was a young and athletic Fil-American named Gabe Norwood, who a year ago was part of George Mason University’s unlikely trip to the 2006 US NCAA Final Four.
The Nationals spent the months as a team, even receiving permission from the PBA to have them skip the season-ending Fiesta Conference to prepare for the FIBA Asia tilt.
In the lead-up, the Philippines played numerous tune-ups including a third place finish in the William Jones Cup in Taiwan and a victory in the four-team Manila Invitationals against Lebanon, China and Syria.
“I think that was the most talented and they play together,” said Reyes. “That was a fantastic team.”
But the Philippines was included in a difficult group comprising Iran, Jordan and China, which elected to skip fielding its main squad since it is assured an Olympic berth being the host. Reyes later described it as the “Group of Death,” especially with only the top two teams advancing to the next phase of the Asian Championship.
Team Pilipinas fell 75-68 to the Rajiko Toroman-coached Iran on opening day, spoiling a 15-point performance by Raymundo. The Purefoods star along with Alapag starred the following day as the national side defeated China 79-74 to stay in the hunt for the next round.
But their bid came to a crushing end the next game, losing 84-76 to a Jordan side led by naturalized player Rasheem Wright and relegating them to the consolation round for ninth to 16th places. The Philippines won all three games to place ninth.
Iran, led by Hamed Haddadi, Samad Nikkah Bahrami and Mahdi Kamrani, wound up beating Lebanon in the final to claim a spot in the Olympics. Looking back, Reyes felt an additional piece may have resulted in a different outcome.
“I can just imagine if we were allowed to have a naturalized player, if we could have had a Marcus Douthit or an Andray Blatche on the team, that team could have won everything. That team could have won it all. That was a very, very super complete team,” he said.
Reyes waited six years before realizing his international success with the World Cup berth. The following year, Gilas won just one out of five games in Seville, Spain but gave teams like Croatia and Argentina a run for their money.
Still, there’s reason for Reyes to ponder on what could have been for the 2007 team.