AT 41, Reynel Hugnatan remains a key part of the Meralco Bolts in the PBA as he winds up a long, accomplished career.
Perhaps none of that would've happened had he not decided to attend a tryout for the Negros Slashers 22 years ago.
Before making it to the PBA, Hugnatan was part of the Negros Slashers for the entire duration of the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) from 1998 to 2002 - a gig he got after a high school friend asked to join him to a tryout.
“Hindi dapat talaga ako mag-MBA noon. Mag-aaral pa dapat ako,” Hugnatan revealed to SPIN Sidelines.
Hugnatan said close friend Raymond Tubeza asked to join him in a tryout held during their school break. At that time, Hugnatan was already part of the University of Manila Hawks varsity team and just went home to Bacolod for a vacation.
“’Yung kaibigan ko kasi, nung time na ‘yun, siya ‘yung nagdala sa akin sa UM. May tryout ang Negros Slashers, tamang tama umuwi kami Bacolod nun. Parang break namin sa school,” said Hugnatan.
At first, Hugnatan was hesitant to join Tubeza in the tryouts but nevertheless relented, thinking he needed to stay in shape when he goes back to the UM varsity team.
“Nung time na ‘yun, siya ang may gustong mag-tryout sa Negros Slashers. Ako naman, wala akong alam. Sinabihan niya ako na samahan mo ako. Nung time na ‘yun, sige samahan kita para pagbalik kong Manila, nasa kundisyon ako,” said Hugnatan.
What was supposed to be a 'papawis' for Hugnatan turned into an opportunity of a lifetime. From the hundreds that joined the tryout, Hugnatan and is friend were part of the 30 that made the first cut.
A day later, Hugnatan already received an offer to be part of the Slashers. He accepted.
“Nung time na ‘yun, kinuha kaming dalawa. Ang daming players eh. Sa 30 na lang na kununin, nakuha kaming dalawa. Next day na uli, nung la-line up na, ako ‘yung nakuha, ‘yung kaibigan ko, hindi nakuha,” said Hugnatan.
In deciding on whether to stay in school or play in the MBA, Hugnatan consulted his mother. At the end of the day, with him needing money at that time, Hugnatan chose to play professional even though he was still a teenager.
“Binigyan agad ako ng offer sheet nun. Parang binigyan ako ng P15,000 a month ata ‘yun. Nung 1998, student lang ako nun, malaki na sa akin ‘yun. Eighteen or 19 years old pa lang ako nun. Nung time na ‘yun, kinausap ko muna mama ko kung sa MBA ako o mag-aaral ako. Sabi ng mama ko, ikaw mag-decide.
“Ako naman, kailangan rin namin ng pera. Sabi ko bahala na, mag-MBA na ako kasi sayang ‘yung ino-offer sa akin kesa mag-aral ako. Okay naman mag-aral pero siyempre ‘yung pera ang iniisip mo. ‘Yung time na ‘yun, pera ang iniisip ko eh. Buti naman, naging okay ang desisyon ko,” said Hugnatan.
It was a decision that he truly didn’t regret to this day.
Hugnatan was part of the Slashers team that reached the finals in the inaugural MBA season in 1998, finishing runner-up to the Pampanga Dragons.
Hugnatan would later win an MBA crown in its final season in 2002. After the league disbanded, Hugnatan applied for the PBA draft and was picked ninth overall in the first round by Coca-Cola.
“Naging aksidente lang talaga,” said Hugnatan.
Watch the full interview with Reynel Hugnatan below.