IT was hard to imagine, but at 45, Asi Taulava would have already been making retirement plans in his last season in the PBA. In a sudden twist of fate, the oldest player in the country’s professional cage league is being recalled to serve the flag and country.
“It means the world to me,” Taulava told FOX Sports Philippines in an exclusive interview. “I thought when I was playing in the FIBA Asia (2015) that it’s going to be my last one being called for duty. I screamed from the TV room ‘I made it, we made it back!’ when my name was one of those announced. It’s just a blessing. I guess the man upstairs has plans for me playing basketball. He’s given me this opportunity.”
Taulava has been part of the national team program since 2002 and had seen the rise and fall of Philippine basketball. He was even with the national team that lost a heartbreaking match against Korea on Lee Sang-min’s wayward triple that quashed the country’s hopes of playing for the gold medal.
The Fil-Tongan also saw the Philippines being suspended in FIBA competitions after internal squabbles in the association prevented the country from competing in the 2005 SEA Games and 2006 DOHA Asian Games.
In 2015, he last suited up for the Tab Baldwin-mentored Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Championship at a time when the Philippine squad couldn’t get big men like June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar. The then 42-year-old player pushed himself to help the national team to a second place finish.
Now reunited with Yeng Guiao, his coach with the Powerade Pilipinas team that placed eighth in the FIBA Asia Championship in Tianjin, China in 2009, Taulava is just blessed to provide help.
Guiao believes Taulava can be an asset even on a short period of time.
“Maraming seven footers na makakalaban tayo. Makakatulong si Asi. Maraming big bodies. If only for five or six minutes a game, he can relieve the other guys and make that contribution, it would be a big help for us,” said Guiao.
For Guiao, picking up James Yap, who is now one of Rain or Shine’s mainstays, is no brainer.
“The shooters are always a premium in the international game. We know he’s older, but he’s wiser. He has a lot of experience tuck under his belt. He’s a leader. He can play well under pressure. Those things can really help. Pagdating sa international game, ang daming sumo-zona na matatangkad at ang hahaba. Your only other option is to make the outside shot,” added Guiao.
Yap is also happy to be reunited with Guiao, who played a big part in his only inclusion in the national team throughout his PBA career.
“Hindi ko ini-expect ito. Syempre nung dumating siya, it’s an honor ulit na makapag-represent sa bansa natin. I’m excited rin for Coach Yeng sa kanya kasi ako nakapaglaro talaga sa national team, yung na-line up ako. Happy ako na magkasama ulit kami,” added Yap.
It took nine years for them to reunite and although they are now playing different roles from the ones they had previously, they are one on the idea that it’s never too late for anything.
“It’s never too late. These (Taulava and Yap) are two of the hardest working guys and as long as you are working hard, taking care of your body, and you’re committed to what you do, matagal aabutin ng career mo,” added Guiao.
Taulava is a living testimony to that.
“It’s not and I am a living testimony to that. As long as you give up or somebody tell you that it’s over and your too old to do something. You’re never too old to learn. The game of basketball is bigger than life. Every opportunity that you want to get out and learn something, you can do it if you put your heart and your mind into it,” said Taulava.