'The Rock' Asi Taulava names the two toughest PBA players he has ever faced
Tough-as-nails players like Calvin Abueva and Rudy Hatfield come 'once in a blue moon,' says one-time PBA MVP Asi Taulava. Jerome Ascano

THE big fella goes by the moniker ‘The Rock,’  yet there are two exceptional players who top Asi Taulava’s list as the most competitive and toughest he ever played against in his 17-year PBA career.

They go by the names of Rudy Hatfield and Calvin Abueva.

For someone who had battled some of the best centers in the league such as Danny Ildefonso, Eric Menk, Jerry Codinera, Marlou Aquino, Kerby Raymundo, Sonny Thoss, and of late June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter, its two undersized but hardworking forwards who time and again turned out to be the thorn in Taulava’s side.

The 6-foot-10 Fil-Tongan noted their on-court tenacity and infectious energy are what set both Abueva and Hatfield apart.

“It’s a toss-up between Rudy and Calvin, Those two guys are rare gems,” said the NLEX veteran when the question was tossed to him one warm night in March while he was in a throwback mode as he looks back on his colorful and at times, controversial playing career.

‘H-Bomb’ came almost at about the same time Taulava entered the league in 1999 and played for several teams such as Tanduay, Coca-Cola, and Ginebra. ‘The Beast’ would arrive more than a decade later wearing the Alaska jersey.

The 6-foot-3 Hatfield retired when the 6-1 1/2 Abueva was in his rookie season.

Yet, despite the years apart, they somehow mirrored each other with their intense play and pesky defense.

While he may not have the opportunity to be a teammate with one of them in the pro league, Taulava did have the chance to play along with them in the national team.

Asi and Hatfield manned the post for the Philippine squad that came seconds away from making the finals of the 2002 Asian Games in Busan only to be ambushed by Lee Sang Min and South Korea, while he was ‘kuya’ and ‘unofficial’ roommate of Abueva during their time with Gilas Pilipinas 3.0, which won the silver medal in the last FIBA Asia Men’s Championship.

Although both Abueva and Hatfield are known for their defensive prowess, Taulava considers the former NCAA MVP from San Sebastian the more prolific player who has better offensive skills and a superior all-around game.

Still, the one-time league MVP considers the two as simply a cut above the rest.

“They come once in a blue moon. Nobody comes close to the two,” he stressed.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos