RUMOR: The silent rift between the Manny V. Pangilinan group and the San Miguel conglomerate was the reason for the non-participation of five players from SMC-owned teams in the Gilas Pilipinas II program.
FACTS: When national coach Chot Reyes named 16 players last March to the training pool of the Gilas 2 program for next year’s Fiba-Asia men’s basketball championship, his original list included six names from San Miguel Corp.-owned teams, namely James Yap and Marc Pingris of B-Meg, Petron’s Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter and Barangay Ginebra’s Enrico Villanueva.
As a requisite, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) asked the six as well as the 10 other players on the list – Talk `N Text stalwarts Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel De Ocampo, Ryan Reyes and Kelly Williams, Alaska’s Sonny Thoss and LA Tenorio, Gary David of Powerade and Rain or Shine’s Gabe Norwood – to sign a letter of commitment to the team.
In the months that followed, only 11 letters came back. Of the six players from San Miguel-owned teams, only Villanueva committed to the Gilas program.
So what happened?
The initial uproar over what was initially labeled as an SMC “boycott” of the national basketball program run by people from the MVP camp has been followed by pregnant silence. San Miguel officials are not talking, the players’ lips seemed to be sealed and people from the MVP camp are not addressing the issue as forthrightly as they did other issues in the past.
League insiders revealed some of the SMC players initially expressed excitement over their inclusion in the national pool but fell “strangely silent” when the letters of commitment they were supposed to sign did not reach SBP executive director Sonny Barrios’ desk.
No one among the SMC officials contacted by Spin.ph to shed light on the issue agreed to talk. Barangay Ginebra alternate governor and incoming PBA chairman Robert Non declined to comment, while a text message to SMC Director of Sports and Special Assistant to the Office of the President Noli Eala – who used to run the show at the SBP – was not answered.
Reyes, who is also the Talk `N Text coach, admitted having talked to the five players involved, but would rather keep to himself what transpired during the discussions.
“Secret,” was his curt but loaded reply.
All Reyes would say was that he won’t force players who don’t want to suit up for the national team. “Ayaw ko namang magsalita ng patapos but for now, kung ayaw nila, bakit natin pipilitin,” said the national coach.
As a stop-gap measure, Reyes has already tapped Powerade’s Jayvee Casio, Sol Mercado of Meralco, Rain or Shine’s Jeff Chan, Alaska’s Mac Baracael and Talk `N Text’s Jared Dillinger to take the spot of the five SMC players. Team manager Butch Antonio has confirmed the new additions have already signed their respective commitment letters.
“With the players I have, I don’t have to even think about [the controversy]. Hindi ko na iniisip,” said Reyes. “The 16 that I have right now, that’s my team.”
Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, one of Reyes’ lieutenants with Gilas 2, admits the loss of Yap and Co. is a major blow to the team’s bid for a berth in the the 2014 world championships in Spain.
“Definitely, this is the national team,” he said. “You forget whatever inclinations and whatever team you play for knowing that you have to be so proud to represent your country.”
Caught in the middle is PBA commissioner Chito Salud, who nonetheless stressed that the blame should not be placed on the SMC group. He pointed out that the entire PBA board, representatives from the three SMC franchises included, had unanimously agreed to make 16 pro players available for the national pool.
“The board has collegially decided to make the players available to the pool,” he stressed.
At the same time, the commissioner said the players should be given the benefit of the doubt. “There’s no forced labor here. If a player passed up on the chance, he may have a very good reason."
But Salud was quick to add, "Of course, it’s a rare opportunity to play for the national team.”
Situations like this usually deserve an explanation. But in this case, the deafening silence reveals what a thousand words can't explain.