WITH Air21's unblemished record on the line, Asi Taulava said he continues to work double time to keep the Express' dream run going.
Since the PBA Governors Cup started two weeks ago, the 41-year old slotman has chalked up impressive numbers of 20.40 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while leading the Express to two wins for the best start to a conference in franchise history.
Now he has vowed to keep churning out double-doubles - he had seven double-doubles in the last Commissioner's Cup and two in two games in the season-ending tournament - to keep the Express run going, beginning with the game against Ginebra on Tuesday.
“I have to get a double-double always. That’s the only way I can help my team. If I slack off and I don’t get a double-double, I know we’re in for a long night,” Taulava said.
“You know, if I come through with my usual double-double numbers, that gives our team a good chance at winning and for tonight, I am going back to get those digits to help our team tally three and zero,” he added.
The 6-9 big man bared that his performance since his return to the PBA after spending a year in the Asean Basketball League is a product of hardwork, fuelled by his desire to "make up for the lost time."
The man-mountain slotman is not only working out like he has never worked out during his entire career, he has also been avoiding food and alcohol that will have dire effects on his game.
“I haven’t been drinking alcohol lately. No, never during a conference because I believe it adds up to trouble to my knees,” he said while revealing he has been doing household chores as well.
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one of the secrets I keep to prevent injury and getting myself conditioned. Yes, I just eat out with my family then go back home,” he added. “It’s just practice, home and game venues for me as of late.”
The hardwork has been paying off so far.
“The past two conferences, we’ve been just trying to reach the playoffs. This is something new, turning over a new leaf after the semifinal conference run we had last conference,” he said.
“It looks like the (energy of our late run last Commissioner’s Cup) has spilled over into this conference. And I like the mentality of our teammates right now, everybody’s focused on winning.”
Now that he is getting mentioned among the top candidates for the Most Valuable Player award along with leader June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer and Ginebra's Greg Slaughter, Taulava said the desire to bring Air21 to the next level has sweetened the pot for him.
“I like the feeling right now, three big guys battling it out on top. For me, it’s such an honor to be with the two younger big guys. It’s been a long time,” he said.
“Call me double-bladed this time. But I am not going to be a hypocrite, I am after that individual title, but I am not putting it ahead of my obligation to my team."
“It’s been 11 years since I played to my full potential. I am feeling better now. If I have the chance, I’ll grab it by the neck,” added the 2003 league MVP.
Taulava said it all boils down to consistency.
“At the end of the day, it all boils down to where I bring my team and to what role I played there. Right now, I always make it a point to be the kuya and inspiration of my teammates,” he said.
“How people judge me after this season is what it will make me. Of course, I try to be the best when the current season ends. That way, I can serve as an inspiration to the young ones and benchmark to becoming an ageless hardcourt warrior,” Taulava said with a laugh.
“It’s been a while since I had an off-night. Really, I can’t remember. And I think, we should also give credit to coach Franz (Pumaren) for the confidence and motivation he has given me,” he said.
And is he due for an off-night against the tall lineup of Ginebra?
“No, I am not expecting that at all. I know coach Franz will be breathing down my neck. I don’t want him to lose faith in me … and that’s an extra motivation for me to go out there and please my coach,” he said. “I am working for myself and my team!”
“Like I said, with the success of this team, everything else follows.”