SOMETIMES, a little time off can go a long way.
That’s certainly the case for Jai Reyes.
After stepping away from the game for a year, the former Ateneo guard has rekindled his love for the sport and has launched a comeback starting with Go for Gold in the 2018 PBA D-League Foundation Cup.
“Yung thought process ko, sobrang thankful lang talaga na I'm able to play again. And I wanna be competitive again as far as I can make it. Bahala na kung saan ako mapunta,” he said after his first game back in the D-League.
Reyes, 31, won two UAAP championships with Ateneo in college and was drafted 18th overall by Powerade in the 2010 PBA rookie draft. But his pro career with TNT, Meralco and the Tigers has been largely a fight for minutes.
The 5-7 guard has found success as an import in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) but, after a largely uneventful return to the PBA, he decided to walk away from the game and focus on his businesses.
“Dati kasi after college, it’s the PBA or you have no job. So when you get to this age, ilang teams lang sa PBA eh, so sobrang bilis ng turnover ng players," he said.
"Nararamdaman ko na yun with my contract with Talk ’N Text, although I'm playing kinda well before, paikli ng paikli, paunti ng paunti yung amount ng salary, because understandably so, may bagong players eh,” he said.
But a baller will always be a baller and Reyes was unable to resist the itch to come back.
The time off, however, turned into a blessing in disguise for Reyes who in his moments of reflections has seen the need to work on some aspects of his game and improve his conditioning for his comeback.
“With my year off, I was able to step away from the game and I was able to reflect kung ano yung kailangan ko. Na if I wanna be competitive again, I have to work on a couple of things talaga: being in better shape watching my nutrition and everything. Those were the things that I wasn’t doing kahit noong nasa PBA ako,” he said.
“So blessing in disguise din talaga na nakapag-pahinga ako for one year.”
Reyes finally made his comeback on Monday, collecting seven points, four assists, three rebounds, and two steals in his 21 minutes of action in Go for Gold's 88-75 win over Batangas in the D-League Foundation Cup.
“It’s really been a while,” he sighed, knowing that he’s still far from his peak form yet elated with how he was able to return to the court. “Honestly, kinakabahan talaga ako after that year off. Yung parang bago ulit akong naglalaro ng basketball. But I'm just happy to get through this game at nanalo kami. It was a total team effort.”
Realistically, Reyes knows that he’s far from the player that he was back in his Blue Eagles days. And as one of the elder statesmen at Go for Gold, he has embraced a leadership role in the team.
"Ssinabi ko talaga kina coach Charles (Tiu), TY (Tang), and coach Carlo (Tan) na I don't really need to score because this team is really talented. I just wanna be a leader, get my assists up hopefully, and I just wanna put the young guys in place kasi if we play as a team, mahirap kami talunin,” he said.
“My priority for the D-League is to be a leader for this team. I wanna win a championship in the D-League.”
Reyes is also set to suit up for Laguna Heroes in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) in what is turning out to be a hectic basketball comeback.
He's excited about that, too.
“Nung nakita ko yung MPBL, I was reminded ng UAAP crowds. So sabi ko, laruin ko na lahat. Andito na rin ako eh,” said the nephew of national coach Chot Reyes and former Alaska guard Gilbert 'Jun' Reyes.
Through it all, what we’re seeing is a better version of Jai Reyes.
“I’m just gonna keep on working hard. I’m just glad to be still playing. Sana, there are better things to come,” he said. “Alam kong malayo pa ako sa conditioning na gusto kong marating, and I can’t say yet na I’m in my peak shape, but what I can say is I’m on the right track.”