Heartbreakers: Mikee Reyes, Ricky Dandan, and the UP Fighting Maroons

Mikee Reyes in action against Adamson in this season's UAAP opener
Losing Mikee Reyes is the latest in a long line of sad, heartbreaking events for the hard-luck Fighting Maroons.

Being a basketball fan who studied in the University of the Philippines, every minute, every quarter, every game, every season of the UAAP is utter torture. Five last-place finishes in six seasons, no Final Four appearance that I can remember. On the one season where you’re actually optimistic about the core group and the recruits the team managed to get, the team is dealt a blow right after the first game.

Mikee Reyes, the starting point guard, was no longer with the team.

“I was really excited for this season,” goes a quote from Reyes from a GMA online article written by Mico Halili (great read. Go for it). So were many die-hard, hard-luck Fighting Maroons fans that were so desperate for this team to live up to its name.

That article has clarified many things. There was no bench altercation. No shouts from the spitfire point guard. No forced exit imposed by the coach. The escalation, however, remains disturbing and disappointing.

Anyone who’s watched a UP MBT game since coach Manny Dandan took over knows all about those fiery conversations during timeouts. It’s intense, and you sometimes wonder if that’s a proper way to talk to college students. The coach is tough on his kids, in a way that makes Coach Carter look like a petiks coach.

I was a row behind the bench during one game in the Filoil tournament, and Reyes was the one bearing the brunt of the coach’s ire. My heart sunk, imagining what it must have felt. Someone rubbed Reyes’ head to console him, but the guard looked intent to do right in the next possession. He’ll be fine, I thought.

It should be especially frustrating for Reyes, who was back after three years of waiting because of injuries. You’re back for the first time, you’re starting, you want to win, and you get yanked in the middle of a run. You’re told you’re not needed, after the coach professed you’d be handed the reins of the offense. I can sort of understand why he decided to leave the team.

On the other hand, what makes me wonder about this whole situation is what’s at stake for the individuals involved.

Dandan—and by extension, the team and the university—needs to win badly. UP is the Charlotte Bobcats of the UAAP, but even that’s not an accurate analogy because the Bobcats at least made the playoffs within the last decade. Why sabotage it by taking out of the equation the guard with most probably the best handles and best slashing ability on your team? What message are you sending by showing the kids that they’re expendable, that they will lose their spot at a moment’s notice? The environment at UP practices can’t be all that motivating, especially when the losses mount up year after year. Sometimes tough love isn’t the answer, and based on what we’ve seen in other leagues, it’s even a worse answer for young teams that constantly suck.

On Reyes’ side, while we understand how it feels to not be wanted, it’s still difficult to understand the decision to leave. As my girlfriend would probably say, “agad-agad?!” So you got benched. Isn’t that all the more reason to prove your worth? Lead that third team to complete wipeouts of the first and second teams during practice. Kick their asses, show them how it’s done. You say you’re not a quitter? Prove it by sticking it to the coach—not with any shakes of the head, but with the kind of play that got you the starting PG spot in the first place. Fall seven times, stand up eight, as the former Gatorade spiel went.

This whole thing reminds me of the Larry Brown-Allen Iverson relationship with the Philadelphia 76ers before. The thing with those two, though, was that they eventually learned to compromise and trust each other along the way. They still ended up having conflicts sometimes, but the coach needs to learn to reach out, while the player needs to take the coaching in stride.

I know these opinions have no benefit of being an insider; I never played any organized ball in this level, and I sure as hell ain’t no coach. I’m not present during team practices, and I can only watch from my lower-box seat at the MoA arena or on my couch, in front of the TV, when watching at home. This is all speaking from a curious Maroons fan’s perspective. It’s one that should ask some tough questions, regardless of what either party says, because I don’t see the logic in lowering your chances of winning when you’ve suffered through multiple 0-win and 1-win seasons.

Ultimately, it’s also a perspective that wants both parties to reconcile, preferably soon. Who knows, one practice down the road at the CHK Gym (or wherever practices are held these days), we’ll see a Coach Carter moment where Reyes asks for his spot back. Or maybe the player will just get a text to suit up and he’ll be on hand the next day. I don’t know. These all seem unlikely scenarios, especially given how much the coach has stressed the need to move on.

What’s done is done, and at the moment, Reyes is indeed no longer playing for the green and maroon of UP. The team is currently tied with Katipunan neighbor Ateneo at 0-2, but I don’t believe anyone thinks we’ll leapfrog the Blue Eagles sooner than they’ll leave us in the dust. At this stage, UP needs Reyes more than Reyes needs UP, but the outlook is still fairly bright for these Maroons. Alumni will still chant “UP Fight” whenever the boys step onto the hardwood, yearning for that ever-elusive victory.

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