The inevitable

Photo by Tristan Tamayo/ INQUIRER.net

As much as he’d love to hold on to the record for most Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) coach of the year (COTY) awards being handed out by the PBA Press Corps, former Gilas Pilipinas mentor Chot Reyes feels San Miguel’s Leo Austria is capable of matching—or even surpassing the mark—after winning the award for the fourth time in six years.

“I think it’s only a matter of time that the record will be broken,” said Reyes, who owns five COTY awards named after the legendary Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan.

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Reyes has not coached in the PBA since leaving TNT in 2013 to answer the call for Gilas Pilipinas, which he steered to a Fiba World Cup appearance—and its first win in more than four decades—in 2014 when the gritty Filipinos pulled out an 81-79 overtime victory over Senegal in Seville, Spain.

“First of all, I’m very happy for Leo and I think it was a close call between him and coach Tim [Cone for the awards last season],” Reyes said.

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“I have no illusions that the record will not be broken since it’s been a while since I’ve stopped coaching. I treasure the record, but I’ve also moved on.”Austria steered San Miguel to two championships last year, including a fifth straight Philippine Cup. The Beermen’s title defense remains on hold as the league has suspended the All-Filipino conference—with its entire 45th season in danger of being scrapped—because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cruel as it may sound, Reyes said the suspension of the PBA season helps the Beermen as six-time most valuable player June Mar Fajardo recuperates from injury without missing games. “He’s just a very important part of the equation for coach Leo,” Reyes said.

Humble and unassuming, Austria said his mind-set has not changed since he took over the Beermen job in 2014.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria. INQUIRER PHOTO/TRISTAN TAMAYO

He refuses to compare himself with the league’s coaching greats and insists his success boils down on his players’ commitment to winning.

“I’m always grateful for the recognition, but my attitude doesn’t change,” Austria told the Inquirer.

“It doesn’t hamper my routine. Every day is always an opportunity to work hard and the success of the team always comes first.”

Austria said it was easy to sell his coaching philosophy to the Beermen when he first took charge as the franchise had not won a title in three years.

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“We got outstanding players individually and I give them leeway so they can also express themselves on the court as long as they know what’s good for the team,” Austria said. “For me, its always important to always give players confidence because that’s one way to earn their respect.” INQ

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