(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - It didn’t take long for Chot Reyes to come to terms on an agreement where the 44-year-old coach will call the shots for Talk ’N’ Text in the PBA starting Feb. 1 up to 2010.

Reyes got a phone call from Ricky Vargas, who represents the PLDT franchise in the PBA Board of Governors, last Saturday afternoon and was invited to a meeting with chairman Manny Pangilinan that night. They had another meeting to seal the deal the next day. In all, Reyes said the discussion took less than two hours.

“There was no pre-selection process,” said Reyes yesterday. “There was no application. From what I gathered, Mr. Vargas spoke with Mr. (Robert) Non about my availability when they saw each other at a PBA executive committee meeting last Thursday. That was when Mr. Vargas indicated an interest for me to coach Talk ’N’ Text.”

Reyes was previously contracted by Non to coach San Miguel Beer.

Explaining his approach to the new assignment, Reyes said he will focus on three priorities.

“First, I’m looking to improve our individual and team defense because the stats show that’s where we need a lot of work,” said Reyes. “Second, I plan to build relationships with the players. Third, I intend to focus on the attitude and mindset of the players. I hope to create a culture of performance. I want the team to mirror PLDT-Smart as a successful and aggressive market leader. The team should be no different from our corporate owner.”

Reyes said his immediate goal is to transform the Phone Pals into the hardest-working, best-conditioned team in the PBA. “We’ll shoot for the semis then take it from there,” he continued. “I think with our talent, we can go far for as long as we play together. Winning will take care of itself.”

Reyes said he expects to call his first practice on Feb. 4.

“We’ve got seven weeks to get in shape, mentally and physically, for the March 23 opening of the next conference,” said Reyes. “We’ll probably do team-building during a weekend in an off-site. Team-building isn’t just a one-time thing. It requires daily reinforcement. We don’t want lip-service. We’re going to build deeply-ingrained values, what it takes to be a team, and we want it to show in our behavior. We want the players to portray, emote and show these values which we will revisit constantly.”

Reyes said losing Asi Taulava is water under the bridge and he isn’t dwelling on the past.

“Whether or not Asi should’ve been traded is not an issue because it’s done,” said Reyes. “We’re moving on. We’re keeping the team intact. We want things to settle down. Of course, if there’s a fantastic deal being offered, we’ll consider it. But we’re not making any changes in the lineup for the moment. I’ve worked with nearly all the players so it won’t be a problem adjusting. I’ve known Donbel (Belano) since the MBA and I worked with Harvey (Carey) when Jeffrey (Cariaso) brought him in for the draft, hoping we could sign him for Coca-Cola. We’re retaining Bong (Ravena) in the coaching staff and I’ll bring in Aboy Castro, Nash Racela and Dennis Aenlle.”

A blue-blooded Atenean, Reyes said it won’t be difficult working with La Salle stars Mac-Mac Cardona, RenRen Ritualo and Don Allado.

“I’ve worked with them on the national team,” said Reyes. “No problem with us. As far as I’m concerned, they’re now wearing the blue uniform of Talk ’N’ Text.”

Reyes said coaching the Phone Pals is the perfect alignment because of his loyalty to Ateneo, involvement with the national team and MVP’s support of the three squads.

As for the national team, Reyes said he foresees no conflict with his work at Talk ’N’ Test, at least this year.

“It depends on the PBA’s direction,” said Reyes. “There are three international competitions this year – the Champions Cup, Jones Cup and Stankovic Cup. If the PBA approves, I could gather the national pool for a one-week camp then practice once a week like what we did before. But everything depends on the SBP and PBA. I’m ready to do what is necessary to put the national team back on track.”

Reyes said in the coming Fiesta Conference, the Phone Pals will be reinforced by an import who is big, versatile and strong.

“What we need is a defender with an inside game, a rebounder, a guy who can run,” said Reyes. “We’re not looking for someone with an outside shot although if we find an import who can shoot from the perimeter, that’s a bonus.”

Reyes said the Phone Pals are one of the PBA’s most talent-laden teams. “We’re versatile with quite an offensive arsenal,” he continued. “We’ve got solid management support and we’re hungry. We’re out to prove ourselves. Those are our strengths. But our weaknesses are basketball-wise, our defense and from a mental standpoint, our lack of confidence because losing is pervasive.”

Reyes said he believes in fate and God’s will.

“Things happen for a reason,” he added. “I was lucky to be with a first-class organization like San Miguel and I can’t thank management enough for giving me the opportunity to work with the Beermen. Now, a new challenge is before me and I’m just as fortunate to be with Talk ’N’ Text. I want the Talk ’N’ Text fans to be proud of our team. I want to bring back our pride.”

BOXING: Ramirez wants 2 Cuban mentors for RP By Dante Navarro Wednesday, January 30, 2008

BANGKOK – Despite the Filipino boxers’ debacle in the ongoing first AIBA Asian Boxing Olympic Qualifying tournament here, Philippine Sports Commission chair Butch Ramirez remains supportive of the sport tipped to deliver the country’s first Olympic gold medal.

In fact, Ramirez said the sports body will be tapping not just one but two Cuban coaches to oversee the program of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines both in the elite and grassroots levels.

“This time, we have to change our plan,” said Ramirez, who arrived here Monday to provide support to the RP Smart-PLDT boxing team. “I am not taking anything away from our local coaches but these Cubans could really help us if we want to elevate our boxing program to the next level.”

Ramirez said the move has the blessings of ABAP president Manny Lopez, who felt sorry for the dismal campaign of the national boxers with four – flyweight Violito Payla, featherweight Orlando Tacuyan Jr., lighweight Genebert Basadre, lightwelter Adam Fiel – of the five sent here all dropping their initial assignments.

Only bantamweight Joan Tipon remained in the hunt for an Olympic berth but the Doha Asian Games gold medallist, who advanced to the semifinal round with a resounding victory over Pakistan’s Mukamamad Ali, will have to hurdle a Thai opponent in Worapoj Petchkoom to earn a ticket to Beijing.

“Manny has already agreed since this project will be in a close collaboration with the ABAP,” said Ramirez, who along with boxing patron Manny Pangilinan and Lopez, will fly to Havana, Cuba next week.

The ABAP chief welcomed Ramirez’s move “as long as it will be a collaborative effort among ABAP, PSC and other boxing stakeholders.”

According to Ramirez, the more experienced Cuban mentor will be tasked to supervise the training and preparation of the elite athletes in coordination with the local coaches in time for the second AIBA Asian Boxing Olympic Qualifying tournament in Kazakhstan this April.

Ramirez stressed that it doesn’t necessarily have to be “Cuba’s finest” but should have the expertise and technical know-how to help the Filipinos end their quest for the elusive Olympic gold medal.

“It’s all about dedication and the Cubans fully know that,” said Ramirez.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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