MANILA, February 24, 2004  (STAR) By ABAC CORDERO and NELSON BELTRAN - Keeping Rich Alvarez on the bench last Sunday could easily earn Shell coach John Moran, an American, a lot of critics in the PBA.

But Coca-Cola coach Chot Reyes, a Filipino, is not going to be one of them.

"Itís surprising what he did last Sunday," said Reyes, referring to Moranís decision to bench this yearís No. 1 draft pick in the very first game of the season, one that Shell lost to Ginebra, 90-81, at the Araneta Coliseum.

"But I believe coaches should coach based on what they believe in," added Reyes, one of the finest bench tacticians in the land today.

In fact, Reyes admitted that Moran could have had a valid point in freezing Alvarez in his first game as a pro.

Moran said after the game that Alvarez has yet to blend well with the team. The former Ateneo cager played out his contract with Fash in the PBL and went full time with Shell only two weeks ago.

Bobby Kanapi, Shellís representative to the PBA board, said the management was satisfied with Moranís explanation in benching the top rookie.

"If he feels that Alvarez is not yet ready then I respect his decision," said Reyes.

"Especially when the crowd started shouting Alvarezí name in the third quarter. He (Moran) did not give in. As a coach, you have to make a decision because you have to make it and not because itís what the crowd wants," said Reyes, the 2002-2003 Coach of the Year of the PBA Press Corps.

Reyes said as a coach, heís always based his decision on what he feels is good for the team and not what the others think is good for the team.

"And that includes the media," Reyes said.

But asked if he would have done the same, he added: "Well, Iíve never been in that kind of situation."

So did Alvarez.

Because what he had hoped to be an unforgettable first game in the pro league turned out to be one he would rather forget.

Alvarez had looked forward to a grand debut for the Shell Turbochargers which made him No. 1 pick in the annual rookie draft. In fact, he had reserved for no less than 20 tickets for his relatives and loved ones in his first game in the PBA.

Instead, he watched helplessly from the sideline as the Turbochargers were beaten by the Barangay Ginebra Kings, 81-90, in the opening game of the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Conference at the Araneta Coliseum.

He went down in PBA history as the first top draft pick never to see action in his first game in the league.

"I feel bad having to remember my first game being benched," said Alvarez.

But heís quick to add heís not angry with coach John Moran.

"Maybe he thinks Iím not yet ready. Heís the coach and I believe him," said Alvarez.

The former Ateneo star had no inkling he wouldnít be used in the game with Moran, before the game, only telling him "just relax."

"Maybe, he really wants me to know the system first. I have attended only eight to nine practices in one-and-a-half weeks because of the PBL," said Alvarez.

Moran stuck with his main rotation of Marek Ondera, Chris Calaguio, Tony dela Cruz, Paul Ferreria, Mike Hrabak and Billy Mamaril despite repeated loud chants by the crowd of Alvarezí name.

"I feel happy for the crowd to do that and I want to give it back to them, hopefully in the next game," said 6-foot-3 Fil-Am forward.

Richís father Rudy, who himself is a former basketball player with stints with San Sebastian College and Far Eastern University in college ball, said he understood Moran but said he would be disappointed if his son is benched again in the second game.

"Kapag sa second game hindi pa rin ginamit, sasama na ang loob ko," he said.

The young Alvarez said he couldnít remember being benched in a game ever. "Iím hurt because no one wanted to be benched," he said.

Alvarez added that he had thought heís doing well in practice. "Iím making some mistakes but overall, I think Iím doing well," he said.

Incidentally, Moran lost his first game in the local pro league with the Turbochargers badly beaten in the battle off the boards Ė something which the team could have probably neutralized had the hyper-active Alvarez been fielded.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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