By JONAS TERRADO
There was almost no dry eye on the part of the TNT Tropang Giga after ending a six-year wait to win another PBA championship by ruling the Philippine Cup Friday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Immediately after shaking the hands of counterpart Chito Victolero and members of the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots, coach Chot Reyes sat in one corner holding back tears as he completed a triumphant PBA return after almost a decade.
Reyes had been used to winning championships throughout his coaching career, but this was new to some of his TNT players like RR Pogoy, Poy Erram and Troy Rosario who finally savored the thrill of victory as PBA cagers.
Jayson Castro had gone full circle as his seventh championship may be the most memorable of all after winning it inside his high school alma mater where dreams of becoming a PBA star were started.
Kelly Williams, who was convinced by Reyes to come back after retiring last year, and Ryan Reyes also joined Castro in finally seeing TNT return to the winner’s podium after enduring hard times in the years following the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup triumph.
Mikey Williams’ first conference was perhaps something he couldn’t imagine, earning Honda-PBA Press Corps Finals Most Valuable Player honors after a series where he re-affirmed the belief of being one of the missing pieces in TNT’s bid to finally win it all.
“I have to give this really to the players. They really put in the effort, they stayed together through adversity,” said Reyes. “This is just a great reward for all their hardships.”
The Tropang Giga’s 4-1 defeat of the Hotshots could be a championship like no other in recent PBA seasons. Not only did the flagship franchise of Manny V. Pangilinan’s conglomerate break the drought, they also ended San Miguel Corporation’s run of success.
SMC had won the last 11 championships and its three teams — Magnolia, 2020 Philippine Cup winner Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer, were groomed to continue the trend.
But TNT was also picked to possibly spoil things after Reyes was brought back after spending nine years doing a juggling act as Gilas Pilipinas coach and as an executive in the corporate world.
TNT also worked out a trade with sister team NLEX to get its fourth pick in order to get Williams, a talented scorer the team hoped then would fill the void left by Ray Parks Jr. following a controversial dispute over a new contract.
The Tropang Giga won their first three games when the conference began at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City, but it wasn’t until the eliminations were moved to Bacolor that they began to show their true potential.
Williams slowly began to show his worth, Pogoy, Erram and Rosario were solid on both ends, Castro embraced a new role as a backup guard, Kelly Williams found the fountain of youth while bench players Reyes called as “Kurimaw” were also efficient, namely Kib Montalbo and Dave Marcelo.
TNT finished 10-1 and began a journey that made them the first since Batang Red Bull in the 2001 Commissioner’s Cup to beat all three SMC squads in the playoffs.
The Tropang Giga made short work of a sluggish Ginebra side in the quarters, survived San Miguel in a seven-game semis before dominating Magnolia with an average winning margin of 15.5 points.
As TNT continues to reap the reward of a lengthy conference, Reyes already has thoughts of a sequel.
“It’s been a long journey, but I’m very very proud with how the guys behind me played,” he said. “And as much as we want to savor this, we’re now looking forward to the next. On to the next. And we hope to compete well again.”