FOR someone who has been playing for the national team for almost two decades now, Asi Taulava said there is no greater feeling than to suit up for flag and country.
At 42, the NLEX veteran center is set to become the oldest player to suit up in the Fiba Asia Championship in Changsha, China from September 23 to October 3, yet the feeling never grows old for the long-time national team player.
“There is no greater feeling than to wear the country's jersey and make our kababayans proud. It's one role I will never trade for anything,” said Taulava, who was part of the pool of players considered for the Centennial team in 1998, the year before he turned pro.
“I really wish that every Filipino who learns to dribble the ball will have one major goal in mind, to play for our country. I tell you, it's the best feeling out there, knowing that you're part of the elite 12 who will carry the colors of our country,” he added.
But the 6-foot-9 Taulava was quick to defend fellow big man June Mar Fajardo, who missed the current Gilas program for the Fiba Asian Championship owing to a foot injury.
“Let's leave the guy alone, he is there trying to recover (from the injury) and there's nothing much blaming and finger pointing can do to help our cause. Let's allow June Mar to heal and focus on his career. He doesn't deserve all the bashing and the criticism,” he said.
“June Mar was part of the national team before so there's no point questioning his patriotism. It just won't help our preparations. We're here already. We have our current pool, let's just focus on positive energies,” added the 2003 league MVP.
Taulava declared the coming Fiba Asia meet in Changsha, China might be his last tour of duty with the national team, but remains firm in prolonging his stint if ever the country wins the gold and clinches the lone Asian spot in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
“I'm already bent on retiring from the national team, but I am confident in the potential of this team (to rule the coming Fiba Asia), so if ever we'll get that ticket to Brazil, I might leave it up to the coaching staff of Gilas,” he said with a smile.
Taulava also shot down insinuations he is too old to play for Gilas by proving his worth in the team’s stint in the recent Jones Cup as proof of his performance against Hamed Haddadi and Iran, where he topscored for with 12 points.
“It's just my age that gets old. I am keeping this body in shape as best as I can and I am sure everybody notices it,” he said, while revealing the short chat he had with Haddadi, who expressed astonishment as to how the Fil-Tongan has stayed in shape at his age.
“They were asking me, Hamed and (Korean center) Ha (Seongjin), they said they still remember me from the 2002 Busan Asian Games, and all of the players I played against are mostly, majority retired, but I am still here,” he said.
During offseasons, Taulava is a regular fixture at the House of Pain training facility of well-known conditioning guru John Aquino at the Fort in Taguig.
“I just keep my body in shape, watch the food I eat, and totally turn back on things I did before which stunted my growth in the PBA back when I was young,” he said.
“If only I can turn back the hands of time, I would have changed all the bad things I did before. And even at 42, everything's not yet too late to correct all of those mistakes,” he said while insisting he no longer drinks alcohol and spends wee hours on gimmicks.
Taulava also shared the tough challenges posed by young big men Fajardo and Gregory Slaughter. Even the presence of Haddadi in the coming Fiba Asia is a perfect motivation for him to be physically ready for war.
“I love challenges. I won't have to tell you that I play better when I am faced with a lot of adversities,” he said.