CHOT Reyes still vividly remembers that US trip 17 years ago when, acting on a tip by a contact in Detroit, he went to see a Fil-Am player at Oakland University then proceeded to Los Angeles to check out another prospect.
The year was 2004 and those two players that Reyes recruited for the national team were Kelly Williams and Joe Devance, who, together, account for close to three decades worth of careers in the PBA. Both are also still active.
"A contact from Detroit alerted me to a Fil-Am playing at Oakland U, so I went there to try him out in person and also to meet his mom. Then I flew to LA for Joe Devance. Kelly then met me in LA and we flew home together."
"Pretty productive trip, don’t you think?" Reyes chuckled, an understatement considering that Williams and Devance have won 17 championships and an MVP award between them, not to mention countless All-Star appearances.
Close to two decades later, Reyes and Williams' paths crossed again. The coach had just made a comeback of his own by signing in for a return to TNT, which, he feels, can still use a just-retired player who is months away from turning 40.
On Thursday, Reyes shared on social media a video teaser of one of his first practices as TNT coach and both fans and media were quick to spot an old, familiar figure from among those doing drills at the Moro Lorenzo Gym.
Yes, it was Williams who, after a hastily made decision to retire just last September before TNT entered the PBA Philippine Cup bubble in Clark, supposedly over 'internal issues,' is back on the court to reunite with his mentor and discoverer.
Was it hard convincing Williams to unretire?
"Nope," Reyes said. "It took a serious heart-to-heart convo, though."
The present situation, however, will be far different than it was the first time the two men were together at TNT when they won four championships with Williams the go-to guy alongside pal Jimmy Alapag.
This time, Williams, still one of the fittest PBA players active or retired that you'll ever see, thanks to his daily rigorous workouts, will be no more than a back-up to new TNT starting center Poy Erram in a frontline that also includes Troy Rosario, Chris Javier, and new recruits Dave Marcelo and Glenn Khobuntin.
Yet Reyes knows exactly what he'll get from this 39-year old, recently unretired player who on his behest was signed to a fresh two-year contract by the Tropang GIGA.
"His athletic ability, game and leadership skills," Reyes said.
Exactly what Reyes needs to get TNT over the hump.