April 02, 2023

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | 20 Years in the PBA: What young players can learn from Reynel Hugnatan

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | 20 Years in the PBA: What young players can learn from Reynel Hugnatan

Some athletes’ careers burn bright and fast — soaring in college and fizzling out in the pros.

Some last a few years in the PBA, but fall to an unexpected injury.

Some, still, gain a bad reputation over many years, until finally their team decides they are no longer worth the trouble.

Then you have Reynel Hugnatan. Drafted in 2003, the 44-year-old is a rarity in the PBA — a player who has outlasted countless of his contemporaries, is arguably in better shape than many younger players, and was even nominated for Most Improved Player in 2022.

I asked him, what’s your secret? And he said: It’s not a secret. He just has a code, one that he’s more than willing to share with the next generation of basketball players.

Here are Reynel Hugnatan’s guiding principles to lasting 20 years in the PBA.

Be disciplined.

While a team can provide coaching, or even a nutritionist, Hugnatan says athletes themselves are ultimately responsible for the choices they make outside of practice. This is true for staying in shape during the off-season, as well as eating healthy all year round.

“Maraming gulay sa probinsya namin,” shares Hugnatan, who hails from Bacolod. “Hindi nawawala ‘yung gulay sa bawat kain ko.” He’s kept a veggie-rich diet part of his routine, from his days with the Negros Slashers, to his current team, the Meralco Bolts.

It’s easy to stay lean when you’re young. But as you get older, your body changes, as does your role on a basketball team. So Hugnatan encourages younger players to take an active role in their nutrition and training, something that has helped him be less injury-prone over the years: “Kung gusto mo tumagal, health mo ‘yung puhunan mo.”

Stay professional.

Talent is one thing, professionalism is another. While some teams may have patience at first when a talented player acts out or is habitually late, professionalism spells the difference between a short and long career.

“Malaking bagay ‘yung pagiging professional. Ang swerte nga natin, basketball ‘yung hanapbuhay natin, ‘di ba?” Hugnatan says. This is especially true in the Meralco Bolts, which places a big emphasis on a professional working culture. “Ang daming tao na pangarap ‘yung trabaho natin. Kaya dapat on time ka dadating, at maayos kang makikitungo sa mga tao.”

Embrace humility, reject complacency.

“Siyempre iba na minutes ko ngayon. At okay lang ‘yun, ganu’n talaga. Ang mahalaga, kung kailan ako tawagin ni Coach [Norman Black], dapat ready ako,” he says.

Hugnatan explains that this means approaching trainings with the same humility that he had as a young player: “Kaya kahit matagal na ako sa PBA, hindi ko pwedeng isipin ‘yung, ‘Ah, ‘di ko kailangan gawin ‘yan, matagal na ako,’ o di kaya ‘Okay na yan, alam ko na yan.’ Never ko iniisip ‘yun. Hanggang sa kaya kong ibigay at kaya pa ng katawan ko, gagawin ko lahat.”