A total of 42 championships and tons of experiences coaching in the international basketball competitions.
That’s the best way to sum up the brain thrust of the Gilas Pilipinas team with head coach Chot Reyes, a nine-time PBA champion, being assisted by Tim Cone and Jong Uichico on board our Philippine men’s basketball squad.
Cone, the winningest coach in PBA history and the only mentor to win two grand slams in Asia’s pioneering professional basketball league, has been reunited with Chot Reyes since the last time they worked together nearly a decade ago.
Both coaches first worked together back when Cone was still a newbie coach in the PBA and one of the young mentors he hired back then to become his deputy was Reyes, his former rival in the Inter-Village basketball tournaments in Dasmariñas, Makati.
Reyes became an assistant coach to Cone and they won their first championship together at Alaska in 1991.
In 1993, Reyes got his first head coaching job at Purefoods and since then has formed a coaching rivalry with Cone. Their head-to-head encounters in PBA championship series is 3-3.
But amid the rivalry, both coaches were able to form a strong connection on and off the court.
When Cone became head coach of the Centennial Team, he brought in Reyes to become his assistant coach and vice versa when the latter became the head mentor of the Philippine squad, tapping the American mentor as his deputy.
“Chot and I worked together for many years, with Alaska and the Centennial Team together and then back when he was as national coach in mid-2000s. Our wives are best friends and they work together in their own business. The connection is really strong between Chot and I,” said Cone.
But Cone is also thrilled to work with Uichico.
Six years removed from coaching in the PBA, Uichico spent the past few years working as head of the Basketball Coaches Commission while also leading the technical group.
He spearheads the group under the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to educate aspiring coaches, referees and technical officials at the grassroots level, but always makes himself available for flag and country where he serves as an assistant coach.
“I got the opportunity to work with Jong during the Southeast Asian Games three years ago. I’ve always watched Jong from afar and he’s a Ron Jacobs protege and Ron was the absolute legend. He’s almost like a god in basketball. Getting to know him that kinda lets me see what Ron used to do. I’m really fortunate to know both of them,” added Cone.
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“A lot of people think I’m the old guy and everybody’s learning from me, but no, I’m the one learning from them, truly.”
Before his last coaching stint with as head mentor of TNT, Uichico was one among the most successful coaches in the PBA.
He won nine championships, capturing multiple titles as coach of San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra before winning his last crown with TNT in the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup.
But Uichico had gone full circle when it comes to serving the national team – as a player, as an assistant coach and as head coach. It’s not surprising why he is more than willing to play whatever role being given to him as part of the Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff.
“Wala naman talagang designated specific roles (in Gilas coaching staff). It just comes. Coach Tim is more or less in charge of the defense. I’m in charge of the scouting. Josh (Reyes) is in charge of the offense. Then, of course, Coach Chot is more overall. Without saying, we get to our roles just going with the flow. We just fill in the spots where we think we can help,” said Uichico.
Uichico and Cone relish the opportunity of working with Reyes and they all get along together as a unit.
“We worked in the last window together in the last window. Wala kaming sapawan. We just play our roles. We do our jobs and we give in to each other,” added Uichico.
Uichico and Cone might be the most over qualified assistant coaches to help out Reyes in the coaching staff, but together, the three of them provide more credibility and rich basketball know-how to our national squad.
“I don’t run Chot’s system offensively. I don’t run the dribble drive. So I don’t know the dribble drive well. So for me to coach the dribble drive, it’s kinda silly. I mean Chot knows it more than I do. Josh (Reyes) knows it more than I do. I’m kinda learn it as I go along,” said Cone.
“What I try to do is try to make sure the players are fundamentally sound and take a look at what the fundamental details they’re doing. So my contribution is probably more on the defensive side. I pride myself in our own defense at Ginebra through the years.”
Cone last coached the national team to a gold medal finish in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila and to be back in the Philippine squad gives him an opportunity to continue some unfinished business.
“I contribute where I can and to me, I’m just trying to get the guys a defensive mindset. I kinda think I’m in charge of their mindset defensively, not necessarily their techniques at how they do it, but just focus on defense. I’m always the one who’s talking about defense because I know Chot and Josh will totally take care of the offense,” said Cone.
Cone describes Reyes as the master of the dribble drive, but considers Uichico as probably the best scout in their group.
“Jong is the lead scout. He’s the one who studies the other teams, presents our schemes and what we’re going to do. I kinda help Jong a little but there, but that’s really his baby. Mine is just telling the guys, ‘don’t forget to play defense.’ That’s what I’ve been telling them all the time, don’t forget to play defense,” said Cone.
“We all get along extremely well. Jong is super humble. He reminds me a bit of Erik Spoelstra, how humble he is. So we get along really well. I’m not the kind of guy who wants to put my imprint on things. I’m very willing to take the background and sit in the back seat. I don’t need to be the driver. I do a lot of driving with Ginebra and that’s a lot already. Ginebra is a special case. I’m very happy to stay in the background and lend support whenever I can. So I think it works out. It’s not just three of us trying to be the man. We’re not. Jong is super humble and will never try to be the man. I’m not the kind of guy who’ll try that stuff either. This is really Chot’s team. We’ll just support him.”