Sporting Chance: Ryan Reyes Ready for RP5

On: 18 February 2008

By Joaquin M. Henson, "Sporting Chance"
The Philippine Star, 17 February 2008

If invited, Sta. Lucia Realty rookie guard Ryan Reyes said yesterday he’s ready to play for the national team but at the moment, the only thing on his mind is winning the PBA All-Filipino championship.

Reyes, 24, was Sta. Lucia’s first round and third overall pick in last year’s draft. Only Joe DeVance and Samigue Eman were chosen ahead. The Realtors bypassed J. C. Intal, Doug Kramer, Ken Bono and J. R. Quinahan to tap the 6-2, 190-pound guard who honed his cage skills at the fabled Artesia High School in Los Angeles.

Artesia is known for its quality basketball program under coach Wayne Merino and has produced the likes of Jason Kapono, Ed O’Bannon, Charles O’Bannon and Avondre Jones. In a preview of the 1999-2000 season, Slam Magazine writer Bill Doherty said Artesia was “the best team in the West and the unscientific pick to be the finest team in the land.” The previous campaign, Artesia posted a 33-3 record with Kapono, now playing for Toronto in the NBA, and Reyes in the lineup.

Reyes said he never expected to be in the PBA finals so soon, particularly as Sta. Lucia got off to a 1-3 start this conference.

“At first, I thought it would take a while but so far, so good,” said Reyes who isn’t dreading the thought of going up against James Yap in the finals.

In the semifinals, Reyes took on Alaska’s Willie Miller and more than held his own. In Game 7 of the series, Reyes limited Miller to 10 points and scored 21, including a clutch triple down the stretch, as Sta. Lucia won, 92-84, to clinch it.

Reyes said facing two MVPs in a row is a big challenge.

“I’ll play James like I played Willie, stay in front every step of the way and not give him any open looks,” said Reyes. “I’ll play hard defense, the way the whole team does. James likes to come off picks. Once he’s open, it’s a sure shot. Willie’s more creative off the dribble and you also can’t give him a good look. I’m mentally prepared to defend James.”

Reyes said Sta. Lucia veterans Dennis Espino and Marlou Aquino are an inspiration to the team.

“We wouldn’t be in the finals without Dennis,” he continued. “He prepares us for every game. He’s cool and calm. He tells us what to do on the court and boosts our confidence. Marlou does the same thing. They’re great leaders for us.”

But teammate Kelly Williams is special.

“I’m glad I’m on Kelly’s side,” he went on. “He’s remarkable. He hits the big shots. He gets the job done on offense and defense. He clears the boards. I’m blessed to be his teammate.”

Reyes said Bitoy Omolon and Denok Miranda are two of the hardest-working players in the league. “Bitoy is a workhorse who can score and rebound,” he said. “Denok is a beast on defense, works very hard and is very smart. Bitoy and Denok hustle all the time and we feed off their intensity.”

Reyes said it doesn’t matter whether the series is long or short. “We basically rotate eight players like Purefoods so neither team has a big advantage off the bench,” he said. “How long or short it takes won’t make a difference.”

In Game 1 of the finals last Friday, Reyes fouled out in the fourth period and finished with only two points but compiled five assists, four steals and three rebounds in 19 minutes as Sta. Lucia stunned Purefoods, 109-97.

As for coach Boyet Fernandez, Reyes said he’s an inspiring motivator. “He may not be too experienced as a coach but he’s doing fine,” he said. “He’s a players’ coach and because he played the game, he teaches us what he knows. He got us to the finals.”

Reyes said his family in the US won’t be able to fly in for the finals.

“My wife (Christine Medina) is in junior college and she’s taking care of our two boys (Jalen, 6, and Brennen, 3),” said Reyes. “My two younger brothers (Raymond, 23, and Christian, 19) are both in school, My parents can’t get off work. But they watch the PBA games live on the net.”

After Game 7 of the Alaska series, Reyes said he immediately phoned his wife and parents.

“They were so happy for me,” he said. “During a game, I don’t pay attention to the stats and the crowd. So I didn’t realize how big Game 7 was for us. It was only after when I realized how huge the crowd was and what I did on the floor.”

Playing for the national team would be an honor, said Reyes.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I would be happy to play for the Philippines. Playing against teams like China and against Yao Ming would be awesome.”

Reyes was born in Los Angeles to Filipino migrants who met and married in the US. His father Lito is from Sto. Tomas, Batangas, and works for a mortgage finance company. His mother Evelyn Ignacio, a nurse, traces her roots to Pampanga and Caloocan.

After graduating from Artesia in 2001, Reyes played two years for Cerritos Junior College then took up kinesiology at California State-Fullerton. He is a semester short of earning his undergraduate degree.

Reyes saw action for Cebuana Lhuillier in the NBC and Henkel-Sista in the PBL before he was drafted by Sta. Lucia.

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