REIGNING PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo believes Asi Taulava can be a major asset for the next Gilas Pilipinas team, saying the evergreen center can add size and experience to the natonal side's frontline in the coming Fiba-Asia championships in China.
Widely regarded as the best big man in the PBA today, the 6-10 Fajardo said Taulava, at age 42, is still one of the toughest opponents he faces in the pro league.
“Makakatulong talaga si Asi, kasi malaki siya saka maganda ang nilalaro niya ngayon," said Fajardo, who came across the Spin.ph story on Taulava’s interest to join the tryouts for the third incarnation of Gilas to be coached by Tab Baldwin.
The gentle giant form Pinamungajan, Cebu insisted Taulava is playing so well that he doesn’t look his age.
“Hindi siya mukhang 42 eh, malakas talaga siya eh. Isa rin siya sa mga nahihirapan akong kabantayan. Malaki kasi siya at malakas eh. Mabigat siya tapos beterano pa,” he said.
“Pag si Asi kalaban ko napupwersa talaga ko at nasasagad ako sa ilalim,” added the San Miguel Beer superstar.
Fajardo said having someone like the 6-9 Taulava also brings a lot of upsides since it opens the option for him or naturalized player Andray Blatche to slide to the 4 spot if the need arises.
“Pumoposte rin kasi si Asi kumbaga back to the basket siya, pwede mo siya asahan sa ilalim na makipagbanggaan,” he explained.
“Tatlo na lang kasi kami na 6-9 pataas at pumo-post up sa liga eh. (Ako, si Asi at si Greg Slaughter), the rest malalaki pero kadalasan front to the basket na,” Fajardo said.
Taulava, he said, is also another wide body to throw against Iran giant Hamed Haddadi.
“Siguro (kaya niya si Haddadi). Baka kaya. Kasi malaki siya at malapad, kaya niya gamitin katawan niya eh. Saka beterano siya, maasahan mo talaga sa rebound,” said Fajardo.
Taulava’s former mentor at Air21, Franz Pumaren, reiterated that Taulava can be useful for Gilas with his size, experience and skills that can complement those of Blatche.
“If you want experience, a dependable big guy coming off the bench, I think pupuwede talaga siya (Taulava). Sino ba kukuning naturalized? Si Blatche? He can always complement Blatche, dahil si Blatche, big guy na sumo-shoot sa labas, so sa ilalim mo ilagay si Asi,” said Pumaren.
“Saka may developed medium range jumpers 'yan. Nung time namin sa Air21, I gave him the license to shoot from 12 to 16 feet,” he added.
Defense-wise, Pumaren also believes that Taulava can still match well with the big guys in Asia.
“Imports nga dito ang binabantayan niya (sa PBA) di ba? Ang lalaki ng kabantayan niya, o kasinglaki niya. It means to say, he can still compete with the other big guys pa rin,” he said.
“In fairness to Asi, he is quick for a guy. Nakakatakbo pa rin 'yan. Kaya fit talaga sa system ni coach Tab, based sa naklita kong system niya sa SEA Games ha,” added the councilor from the third district of Quezon City.
Former national coach Joe Lipa also supports Taulava’s inclusion to Gilas.
“I think he can help, for Fiba Asia purposes ha. Asi fits the bills, a big who can help. We will always need a guy like that, so we will need Asi for his height and size,” Lipa said.
“In the Fiba Asia, there are a lot of big men who can run and pass well. So we will need all the big men we can have in that team for us to compete and match up well,” he added.
More than Taulava’s size, Lipa appreciated Taulava’s eagerness to play for the national team.
“And the fact that Asi is very sincere in his bid to play for Gilas, malaking bagay 'yun. Ang katulad ni Asi na sincere lumaro para sa bansa, malaking bagay 'yun,” he said.
“Yung sincerity na ganun ni Asi, hindi dapat binabalewala yun. He is really more of a Filipino than other Filipinos. He is a big asset and his pride for the country when he carries our Philippine flag is immense,” added the coach who led an all-amateur Philippines side to a bronze medal in the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul.