SIXTEEN years later and Asi Taulava feels that he has gone full circle.
Named to coach Yeng Guiao's 12-man roster on Friday, the NLEX slotman is just overwhelmed by this chance to represent the country anew, this time in Jakarta, Indonesia for the 2018 Asian Games.
"Wow. Like a Cinderella story," he sighed as he and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson completed the squad.
"It's kinda overwhelming to be part of the 14, then afterwards making it into the final 12. I don’t know what to say. I wasn’t expecting this to happen and for it to fall into place like this. I told you guys a few years back, I thought that I was done, but here again on a mission with the new guys," he continued.
"I'm just happy and excited, but I know this is not the end of the journey. The journey is just about to begin, so we gotta go out there and bust our tails. Given this opportunity to still be competing, to be part of the final 12 for the Asian Games, unbelievable."
From being an upstart greenhorn in the 2002 squad in Busan battling the likes of Yao Ming, to him beefing up the original iteration of the Smart Gilas squad in 2010 and going to war against Hamed Haddadi, a lot has changed in those years in between for Taulava.
And now, being the oldest member of the team at 45 years of age, the Fil-Tongan cager is hoping to bring every lesson he's picked up over the years of wearing the national tri-colors to this hastily formed squad as they eye to defy every rock thrown at them and make the country proud.
"I'm a lot smarter. I consider myself a rookie in 2002, and now I'm more experienced. I know what to do, what my strengths are, and what my weaknesses are. When I was younger in 2002, I tend to do a lot of things and I didn’t know what my strength was. Now I know what I have to do," he said, posting an Instagram photo of his 2002 memories.
With age comes wisdom, and for Taulava, he's willing to pass the torch to the future, especially with the abundance of youth this team has.
"Having guards like Stanley Pringle, Paul Lee, and Maverick Ahanmisi, they’re unbelievable. We open that middle and let them work, let them just dominate and attack the basket at the same time spread the floor. So we're being smart and find the open guys because that’s gonna be the key for us. Coach always says smart basketball, and that’s our strength as a team," he said.
Taulava is man enough to know that Father Time's going to catch him up sooner or later.
But if there's one thing he wants to accomplish in Jakarta, it's to lead the Philippines to a podium finish, a feat that hasn't been achieved since the the Centennial Team won the bronze medal in 1998 in Bangkok.
"It's long overdue," he testified. "I have been a part of the national team for the longest time. Before, we didn't win any medals in the Fiba (Asia) tournaments, but I came back and won silver in 2015. Now, I set my goals a little bit higher with these guys. Let’s go for gold."