Photograph courtesy of SGA CHARLES Tiu will forever be a student of the game despite being one of the country’s brilliant coaches and scion of a prominent business family.

While most basketball coaches follow the same path of breaking into the profession when their playing days are over, youthful tactician Charles Tiu would call his journey unexpected.

“Honestly, I did not expect it (going into coaching). I really had no idea at all,” Tiu said in a conversation with Daily Tribune.

A wide-eyed college student back in 2009, Charles would accompany and watch his brother, Chris, practice with other talented college players in the then newly-established Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas men’s national team program — the Smart Gilas.

There, he met who would be one of the biggest influences in his coaching career — Serbian coach Rajko Toroman.

Tiu fancied the professionalism, dedication and knowledge shared by Toroman, one of the best international coaches, while whipping the inexperienced Gilas into competitive form.

“I watched their practices a lot and became a close friend of coach Rajko,” the 35-year-old Tiu recalled.
He was surprised when Toroman gave him a once-in-a-lifetime offer.

“One day he told me: ‘Do you want to be an assistant coach?’ I was just 21 years old then and to be asked to be an assistant of the national team, of course, I would do it in a heartbeat,” he said.

“It all started there.”

Thus, the beginning of Tiu’s coaching career.

For about 15 years after accepting Toroman’s proposal, Tiu would see himself traveling across the world, accumulating knowledge from other mentors, getting a deeper understanding of the game, handling former National Basketball Association players and guiding college stars.

Tiu is currently calling the shots for ballclub Strong Group Athletics and College of Saint Benilde in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

He also served as deputy for Powerade, Barako Bull and Meralco in the Philippine Basketball Association as well as head tactician of Nueva Ecija in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League before.

“Obviously, coach Rajko (is a big influence), coach Norman Black who I played for and some of these other coaches. But I saw the dedication of coach Rajko. His love for basketball is just incredible. He watches almost all basketball games and he instills discipline in his players,” Tiu said.

“Along the way, I met a lot of great coaches. I was lucky I got to work with some. I try to learn from everybody and try to pick the best that I can get from everyone. But of course, it’s really a hard job to be a coach.”

Bigger responsibility

He, however, acknowledges that while basketball is his passion as a scion of one of the country’s most prominent business families, he also has obligations to fulfill.

Tiu is the son of industrialist Jerry and Lianne Tiu, whose family owns or controls various top corporations such as Discovery Suites hotels, Sterling Bank, a steel firm and Mega Publishing Corporation, among others.

“I try to balance my business obligations and coaching. I told my family that you don’t know how long you can coach and there’s almost no job security,” said Tiu, who earned a management degree from Ateneo de Manila University.

“But I enjoy it for now. It’s a passion. But of course, down the road I guess there’s time for me to go back to the business and probably start focusing there,” added the former Ateneo varsity player, whose brother Chris walked away from professional basketball in 2018 to concentrate on the family’s business empire.

Tiu doesn’t exactly know how long his coaching gig will last but he just wants to enjoy the moment doing what he loves.

“To be honest, I don’t know, it’s really something that I haven’t thought about. I know I’ll be here for this year but who knows what will happen next year or the next couple of years. For now, I still enjoy it. Although yes there were days that you wondered if this is what you want to continue to do,” he said.
“But the way I see it, I’m helping a lot of these kids. I give a lot of opportunities to a lot of Filipino players. That’s really my goal. I just want to give back and help improve people’s lives more than anything.”

Memorable stint

His coaching stint has been nothing but memorable for Tiu.

After steering the Blazers to a runner-up finish in the NCAA in 2022, Tiu was able to bring SGA to a silver medal haul in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Tournament where he got to coach former NBA superstar Dwight Howard along with Andray Blatche, Andre Roberson and McKenzie Moore.

“It’s pretty cool. We’ve coached some NBA players in the past but I don’t think we really had a guy with the level of Dwight Howard. It was a pretty cool experience for me,” Tiu said.

“Obviously, we didn’t win, we fell short but it was an honor to coach him. He’s such a good player, he’s such a nice person off the court. It’s something you can share since it’s a nice story to tell the future kids or future generations. I’m thankful we had the opportunity to bring him here. I’m very thankful for team owners Boss Frank and Jacob Lao.”

On a serious note, Tiu himself learned a valuable life lesson in coaching.

“I think for me basically (I learned) to be kind to everybody. You never know what a person is going through, what the players are dealing with in their homes or their situations,” Tiu said.

“In the industry also, the basketball world is so small, you never know you may cross paths with somebody who may help you or you may help them. So, I’d say just treat everybody nicely as human beings and try to help as many people as you can.”

Feet on the ground

Despite his flourishing and successful coaching career, Tiu remains humble and unassuming.

He wants to keep on improving and stay hungry while keeping his feet on the ground.

“No. 1, I would like to think our parents really raised us well. Secondly, I don’t really think I have achieved much success. I always think I’m the worst coach. I always want to improve. I always want to stay hungry and I just think there’s a lot more to achieve, to grow as a person. I guess that’s what keeps me motivated,” Tiu said.

“I don’t think my teams win because of me. I just do my best, put in the work and give credit where credit is due. I give credit to God. I give credit to my players.

“Basically, I don’t think I’m that good of a coach, that’s how I just keep grounded.”

Basketball never stops for Tiu.

Or until he decides to finally call it quits.