Reynel Hugnatan is fondly known as “Papa Rey” within the Meralco Bolts mainly because of his status as the team’s elder statesman.
But he’ll have to be addressed as “Coach Rey” from now on.
Hugnatan made peace with a lengthy career and traded a spot on the roster for a seat among the Bolts’ coaching staff.
“I feel so blessed that I was able to play for 20 years,” Hugnatan said in Filipino. “So why don’t I take a chance at coaching? At least I’m still here.”
Hugnatan has been playing pro ball for the last 25 years. He started out with the Negros Slashers of the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association before taking his talents to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) where he played for Coca-Cola, Alaska and Meralco.
He’s been with the Bolts since 2011, although minutes have been scarce over the last few seasons except in the games that mattered, prompting some to label Hugnatan as “Playoff Reynel.”
The 2022-23 campaign was Hugnatan’s 19th season, but a coaching shuffle that led to Luigi Trillo taking over from Norman Black with Nenad Vučinić as an active consultant also opened an opportunity for the 44-year-old veteran.
“[Team manager Paolo Trillo] offered me if I could be part of the coaching staff,” Hugnatan recalled. “I felt that it’s time for me to call it quits and the opportunity is something that I don’t want to waste.”
Hugnatan has replaced his playing uniform and headband with a polo shirt similar to other Meralco coaches, a setup that began on Wednesday when the Bolts took a 97-89 win over the NorthPort Batang Pier in the PBA On Tour.
His role will be similar to that of Converge assistant and PBA legend Danny Ildefonso as someone who will guide Meralco’s frontline.
While Ildefonso did manage to return last season, Hugnatan has ruled out any chance of doing the same.
“I don’t see that happening. I’m happy with where I am now,” said Hugnatan.
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