BOCAUE, Bulacan — Monday night’s melee between players from Gilas Pilipinas and Australia left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, but head coach Chot Reyes insisted that what happened was all a natural reaction of what the visitors started.
In a chat with media after the game, the 54-year-old mentor came to his wards’ defense and said that the Boomers’ Daniel Kickert was responsible for igniting the tension shortly before tip-off.
He had no idea why Kickert initiated the pre-game friction.
“Kickert was hitting our players during the warm-ups. He hit Carl Bryan Cruz, he hit Matthew Wright, (Roger) Pogoy, and he hit Calvin Abueva during the warm-ups,” Reyes revealed.
“I don’t know if he was trying to get into our minds, if he was trying to start something. Whatever his motive is, there was no excuse for him doing what he did during the warm-ups. Nakakita na ba kayo na tinira ‘yung kalaban sa warm-up, sa lay-up line? Hindi pa nag-uumpisa, pinag-titira na tayo. What do you expect us to do?” he explained.
Things started to escalate after Pogoy was called for an offensive foul for hitting Chris Goulding with an elbow. Reyes, however, said that the former FEU stalwart’s action didn’t merit an attack from Kickert.
“The foul of Pogoy on Goulding was an offensive foul, it was a basketball play. But he (Kickert) was the one who came in and decked Pogoy for the fifth time. You can’t expect to do that to a team five times and not expect them to retaliate. Unfortunately, that triggered the brawl,” he said.
Reyes also bared that the coaching staff instructed their players to not let the Australian forward’s antics get to their heads.
“We already restrained the players before the game. We already told them, ‘Huwag niyo na pansinin,’ when Kickert did all of those things at the start during the warm-ups. We already told them to focus on the game,” he said.
The fracas resulted to four Boomers and nine Gilas players getting thrown out of the game. Only Baser Amer, June Mar Fajardo and Gabe Norwood were left to play in a 3-on-5 situation.
Fajardo and Norwood later fouled out of the game to give Australia an 89-53 win by default.
“It is what it is. We’re going through the second round, and all I know that this team remains solid. We have each other’s backs and we have each other,” Reyes continued.
“We need to face those consequences because it is what it is. But one thing that they have to know about this team is that we were not going to back down,” he added.
Critics were unsurprisingly disappointed that the brawl had to mar an otherwise competitive matchup between the two squads, but the multi-titled coach just said that there were a lot more to the action than what meets the eye.
“I understand the disappointment. I understand that some are embarrassed, but you don’t know what happened. You have to be in the team, you have to be in our circle, to really understand what went down,” Reyes said.
“I know a lot of Filipinos, especially a lot of PBA players, are saying their piece, but they don’t know what happened. They don’t really know what went on. That’s all that we have to say.”