Moala Tautuaa on Gilas stint: 'There is no better jersey for me to put on right now'
Mo Tautuaa poses for one final photo with fans before boarding the team bus. Dodo Catacutan

TAIPEI - Seeing Mo Tautuaa play the way he did against Japan was bitter-sweet for national coach Tab Baldwin, who of course knows fully well that the Fil-Tongan won't be able to suit up for Gilas in the Fiba Asia Championships three weeks from now.

Tautuaa, not eligible to play for Gilas under Fiba rules but with the team as a back-up for naturalized player Andray Blatche, put together his best game for his mother's homeland on Wednesday, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds in a 75-60 win over the Japanese.

The 6-7 Fil-Tongan also provided the day's highlight plays - two rim-rattling dunks that touched off a 29-point explosion in the fourth quarter that secured the Philippines' third win in four games in this tournament.

After seeing the bearded Tautuaa integrate himself to the system and finally get comfortable, Baldwin understandably dreads not having him around in the Changsha, China tournament.

"Mo's getting really good, but the sad thing is we won't be able to use him with (Andray) Blatche coming back in," said Baldwin of the former Brooklyn Net, who missed this tournament to attend the funeral of his uncle.

"To get really good as a team with pieces that are interchangeable is difficult. Andre's situation is what it is and his will and mind is with us but his body isn't. That's something we have to re-integrate with the team."

[See Tautuaa goes berserk as Gilas finds form just in time to hold off Japan]

No wonder the Gilas coach is praying Tautuaa can play for team as a local in the future.

"I'm saying prayers to get this guy eligible as well. Certainly, he's Filipino, there's no doubt about that. And he should be playing for his country, he wants to be playing for his country, and his country wants him here," Baldwin said.

Tautuaa said he, too, dreams of playing for the national team in the Fiba Asia, more so at this time when he is finally getting into the scheme of things and becoming more comfortable around his teammates.

"Today I felt more fluid with the team. We all knew where everyone was gonna be and you can tell by the passes we're giving each other and the trust we give each other," said the top pick overall in the last PBA Rookie Draft.

"That helped me because I'm not worrying where people are at as opposed to goin out and just playing."


How badly does he want to play in the Fiba Asia?

"It's a dream. There's no better jersey for me to put on right now," he said. "They gave it to me, it's something earned not given so  feel I've earned it given how hard I've worked to get to this point."

[See GALLERY Pinoy fans in Taipei go gaga over Gilas]

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