AIR21 Express coach Franz Pumaren is optimistic his main man will be hailed as the PBA's best player at the end of the Commissioner's Cup.
“Asi ako sa award na 'yan, and it's not because he is my player," said the Express coach. "With his performance, I think it’s a justification already of the true meaning of the best player of the conference (award).”
“He led us all the way to the semis, saka kulang na lang kami ng isang panalo nag-finals pa sana kami,” he added.
Taulava put himself in the reckoning for the conference's top individual honor when he finished at No. 4 in the statistical race after a dream run that saw the Lina franchise reach the semifinals for the first time and fall just one win short of a maiden finals appearance.
Now the votes will decide if Taulava, at 41, will become the oldest winner of the conference award, which will be handed out before Game Three of the finals on Tuesday.
He was fourth in the stats race behind the Talk 'N Text pair of Jason Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo, who led the Tropang Texters to a perfect 13-0 (win-loss) record on the way to the finals against San Mig. In third place was San Miguel's June Mar Fajardo while teammate Arwind Santos finished in fifth.
However, Pumaren was quick to point out that Castro and de Ocampo got a lot of help in a star-studded Texters side - unlike Taulava who had to carry the seventh-seeded Express on his shoulders.
“Bakit ka kukuha sa Talk 'N Text, surrounded ng napakaraming mahusay na players 'yun, kumpara sa team namin,” said the former De La Salle coach.
Pumaren also insisted Taulava's averages of 14.44 points and 10.69 rebounds per game this conference was extraordinary, considering his age.
“Let’s face it Asi, if he wins, he stands to rewrite history," Pumaren said. "Wala tayong nakitang 41 years old na naglalaro ng high-level basketball sa loob 40 minutes kada game.
“Kahit si (former Ginebra playing-coach Robert) Jaworski noong araw, hindi ginagawa 'yun. And I believe it will take another decade or two para makakita tayo ulit ng ganyan,” he added.
With the closeness of the statistical race which comprises 40 percent of the tabulation, the award has come down to votes from the media (30 percent), players (25 percent), and the Commissioner's Office (five percent) in the balloting that ended in Game One.
PBA Press Corps president Barry Pascua of Bandera admitted the Best Player of the Conference choice was not an easy one to make.
“Masakit talaga sa ulo ang BPC race ngayon. Sabi ko nga sa kanila (members of the PBA Press Corps), tingnan niyong maigi (ang pagpili),” Pascua said. “Isa ito sa pinaka closest na BPC races."
Even De Ocampo believes Taulava has a shot at the award.
“Oo, iba talaga pinapakita ni Asi ngayon. Isipin mo nagawa niyang dalhin ang Air21 sa semis, one win away pa nga sila sa finals eh,” said De Ocampo, adding he feels the battle for the BPC award is a three-man race among Taulava, Castro, and himself.
With the Texters is in the thick of the hunt for the Commissioner’s Cup trophy, De Ocampo bared that winning the BPC is not a priority.
“Kami naman hindi namin pinag-iisipan yung manalo dyan (BPC), kung makukuha namin eh di okay. Kung si Asi, wala rin kaming problema,” he said. “Pero threat talaga si Asi.”
“Tingin ko nga kung nag-finals ang Air21, kay Asi na 'yang BPC na yan eh,” added de Ocampo.
Another BPC candidate, Santos, believes Taulava has a chance.
“Oo, pwede rin talaga si Asi dun sa BPC, deserving rin siya. Una maganda pinapakita niya, tapos nagawa pa niyang dalhin sa semis ang Ai 21 after ang mahabang panahon,” said Santos.
“Saka magandang inspirasyon pinapakita ni Asi para sa mga batang players na manatili ka lang focused sa trabaho mo, mag extra training ka, hindi problema ang edad, kahit 41 years old ka na, kaya mo pa rin pahirapan ang iba,” added the reigning PBA MVP.